Wednesdays from Washington: Learning the importance of persistence in Congress

This blog post was written by Arizona State University graduate student Paige Mollen. In addition to studying Food Policy and Sustainability Leadership at ASU, Paige is the Co-founder and President of the Mollen Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of childhood obesity.

“Don’t give up” and “never take no for an answer” were words that resonated throughout the office of the Honorable Rosa DeLauro, Democratic Congresswoman representing the 3rd District of the great state of Connecticut. These words of wisdom from her mother were passed down to ASU Food Systems and Sustainability Leadership cohort during our week-long immersion in Washington D.C. They have served her well.

A tireless advocate for America’s working families, Congresswoman DeLauro has served as an elected official since 1990. She is Co-Chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy committee, Chair of Labor Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations subcommittee, and the USDA and FDA subcommittee responsible for food and drug safety.  She is also a member of 62 house caucuses.

After thirty years of public service, the spirit of passion that filled the room was palpable and infectious. During the visit, our cohort discussed all things related to food systems, including hunger and poverty in the United States, school lunch, senior nutrition, and the need for sustainability to be included in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Most pressing was the Covid-19 Economic Relief Package. Mind you, this was in the early stages when travel wasn’t restricted; all states were open for business as usual and prior to any “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home” orders.  She addressed the immediacy of food security measures and the race against the April 1st deadline for the new federal rule on able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) to be rescinded. Nearly 700,000 Americans were at risk for losing SNAP benefits.

When asked for advice on speaking to members of Congress and Senate from our home states that may not consider food policy a priority, she replied that going in without a plan is like a “death sentence.”  First and foremost, she stated that it is necessary to know what you are interested in and how that member can help you. It is important to go in “armed with what you care about.” “You won’t get a second bite of the apple” if you don’t know what you are talking about.

Most exciting was the open invitation to inform her on what is missing in agricultural policy as students of the trusted Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture. This was an opportunity of a lifetime as future food policy leaders to be up close and personal with an incredibly inspiring Representative of the United States of America, paving the way for the next generation of leaders to follow.  This was a visit indelibly etched in our minds and hearts.