LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — A new council based at the Utah State University aims to combat the ever-growing issue of food insecurity in the state.

The Utah Food Security Council was created with the passage of Senate Bill 133 sponsored by Sen. Luz Escamilla in the 2022 legislative session. The council will help provide recommendations to lawmakers as they coordinate efforts to relieve food insecurity in Utah.

Community members are welcome to join the council meetings held on the third Wednesday of each month at Utah State University Davis County Extension Room 133 and 135. There are currently 12 active members in the council — all experts in their own fields. The council plans to add another three members from the Utah Community Health Workers Association, Utah Farm Bureau and Utah Division of Indian Affairs in the future.

“Food insecurity is one of the most pressing issues facing Utahns, and I am eager for the meaningful policy recommendations and initiatives that will come from the Food Security Council,” Escamilla said. “In the final days of the 2022 legislative session, my bill to codify and establish the council at Utah State University was one of my top priorities.”

According to an annual study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one in 10 Utah households experience food insecurity and more than 102,000 families in the state do not have the resources to buy enough food.

SB 133 appropriates around $75,000 from the general fund in 2023 for USU to develop statewide efforts addressing food security as well as promote programs that contribute to “healthy eating and active lifestyles.”

“The USU Hunger Solutions Institute is already in place as an integrated academic, Extension and community organization dedicated to finding solutions to Utah hunger,” said Heidi LeBlanc, director of the USU Hunger Solutions Institute and the Create Better Health Utah (SNAP-Ed) program. “Now, as we host this new council, we will be able to increase partnerships and collaborations at state and grassroots levels. We will strive to provide solutions, discuss ideas, and create innovations that help individuals and families who wonder where their next meal will come from gain food security.”

Escamilla also introduced another bill in 2020 to create the Task Force on Food Security with the aim of increasing public awareness of the hunger problem and maximizing enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, among other goals.

The task force met for the first time in June 2021, where three working groups, including Economic Stability, Policy and Access to Healthy Foods, and Outreach and Community Food Resources, were established to make recommendations to the Utah Legislature.

“Food insecurity is generally a symptom of broader financial insecurity,” she said. “Food is often one of the only variable expenses for households on a tight budget, as opposed to car payments, rent, etc., which means it is frequently the first expense to be cut. The Utah Food Security Council will be a great help in implementing lasting policy solutions to help increase access to food for all Utahns.”