Monthly Archives: November 2013

Batten Food Policy Trip to DC

by David Goodman, MPP 2015

On November 8, I joined other students from Professor Galen Fountain’s Food Policy short course on a remarkable trip to Washington, DC. Professor Fountain, who was the clerk for the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee for over 20 years, provided us with access to an impressive array of policy-makers and committee staff, including an intimate lunch and discussion with a former Senator and an audience with the current Deputy Secretary of Agriculture.

Our day started in the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing room, where we met with both majority and minority staff members who seemed drained but optimistic from a morning meeting of the conference committee working on the long-overdue Farm Bill (this would become a theme as we shuttled around the Hill).

Our second stop took us to the Senate dining room (Senators and their guests only), where we were greeted by former Senator Blanche Lincoln, a friend of Professor Fountain’s (he had previously worked on the staff of Senator Dale Bumpers, who preceded Lincoln as Senator from Arkansas) who served as Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee for two years until she was defeated in the 2010 midterm elections. We had a spirited discussion about her major legislative accomplishment during that time, the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition programs (including the National School Lunch Program), which introduced the first non-inflationary increase in per-child funding since 1973. In what would become another theme of the afternoon, Senator Lincoln pointed out the difference between how she handled negotiations over that legislation – by finding common ground with the minority party and working from there – and how she sees Congress working today.

Following lunch we met with the jovial Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee staff in the opulent Appropriations Committee room in the Capitol. They discussed the relative ease with which they get their bill through Congress due to their (usually) non-controversial content, and the difficulties they have faced in the absence of an agreed-upon Senate budget for the past few years.

We headed down off the Hill into the world of NGOs. We met lobbyists from the American Meat Institute (represents companies that process 95% of the country’s red meat), the World Food Program USA (the lobbying arm of the eponymous United Nations program), Feeding America (representing 200+ food banks), the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (a coalition supporting sustainable agriculture), and a private lobbyist who has worked on food and agriculture issues both on and off the Hill. Though they represent divergent interests, they all agreed on the difficulty posed to their lobbying efforts by the shrinking moderate contingent in Congress and the delays in reauthorizing the Farm Bill, which contains many provisions of interest to their clients and is now two years past its reauthorization date.   

Our day ended at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), where we were greeted by its second in charge, Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden, and USDA’s budget and program analysis staff. Secretary harden talked about USDA’s priorities in the upcoming Farm Bill, and focused specifically on securing funding to help a new generation of farmers get started in the business, as well as finding new avenues to support the public’s growing interest in knowing more about where their food comes from.

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Politics, position, and seniority aside, the one recurring thing we heard from everyone we met was admiration for Professor Fountain. I’d like to take the opportunity to repeat that from the perspective of his students as well. 

 

 

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Batten Hosts Housing and Homelessness Symposium

by Elena Weissmann, MPP 2014

On November 1st, Paul Martin teamed up with the Charlottesville Housing Advisory Committee to host an all-day symposium about Charlottesville’s issues of housing and homelessness. Several Batten students joined community activists and representatives from the Thomas Jefferson Area Coalition for the Homelessness, Virginia Supportive Housing, the City of Charlottesville Department of Neighborhood Development Services and Department of Social Services, and the Albemarle Housing Improvement Program for a series of presentations and panels addressing Charlottesville’s continuing struggle with homelessness.

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Participants hear from Kaki Dimock of TJACH, about homelessness in Charlottesville.

The Great Hall was filled with lively discussion on Friday as the participants discussed Charlottesville’s emerging emphasis on “housing first” — a policy goal of providing rapid supportive housing for those in need rather than using housing as a reward for participation in prerequisite services.

Charlottesville Mayor Satyendra Huja welcomed the guests, and briefly discussed the success of the Crossings model. He concluded by reminding the participants of the universal goal that “Everyone deserves a roof over their heads.” Following his welcome, TJACH Executive Director Kaki Dimock took to the podium to discuss the physical effects of homelessness, both directly on individuals and indirectly on the city’s social fabric. She spoke about the social tendency to draw conclusions based on what we see and imagine despite the contradicting convictions wrought through our emotions. Kaki focused on the humanness of homelessness, reminding participants of the universal struggles these individuals face: fatigue, hunger, embarrassment, and social isolation. The pervasive problem of avoiding the issue of homelessness altogether, Kaki said, stems from our inability to recognize these human elements and the actual people behind our impressions of homelessness.

Participants also heard from City service providers Melissa Thackston and Kathy McHugh (from the Departments of Neighborhood Development Services and Housing, respectively) about Charlottesville’s housing problems and prospects. The presentations drew from the May 2013 Coalition for Housing Opportunity series of reports, which detailed the need for the newly formed coalition, its objectives, and Charlottesville’s housing challenges. Thackston spoke about the majority of Charlottesville residents who spend over one-third of their income on housing, and the challenges this presents for nutrition, quality of life, educational achievement, and ability to save for the future. Her presentation underscored the importance of housing as a foundation for many other community goals. To complement this presentation, McHugh narrated the institutional challenges faced by the City to provide supportive housing, including limited land and profit-seeking developers, and legal limitations imposed at the city and state levels. Her presentation drew many questions from the audience about the City’s ability to overcome these challenges through policy and leadership, which was certainly apt discourse for the Great Hall.

The symposium also included a discussion of the economic impacts of homelessness, in which presenters illustrated the relative costs of palliative services such as ER visits, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens as they compare to the cost of preventative services such as the provision of supportive housing like the Crossings. They demonstrated how the Crossings halved the cost of sustaining the lives of each formerly homeless individual, at the very least. The “Housing First” goal was also expounded upon in other presentations that focused on the City’s ability to create more than a social net, and to focus on moving people toward housing services. Some of the challenges in reaching this goal are derived from gaps in the provider spectrum (either through funding, timing, or capacity), which points to the need for an inter-agency coalition to identify and account for these gaps.

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Participants mingle and discuss the prospects of housing and homelessness in Charlottesville.

There were several other equally compelling presentations included in the symposium. Each of the presenters was visibly passionate about ending homelessness in the Charlottesville area, and the participants left with a contextualized understanding of the policy and leadership necessities for achieving this goal.

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Batten Ballers Update: Week 3

Fresh off the heels of last week’s tough loss, the Batten Ballers fought until the overtime buzzer tonight at Slaughter Gym. With our largest showing yet, the squad of 10 took on a scrappy group of undergrads, and were ultimately defeated after a 2-minute overtime by a single point. The Ballers had some terrific rebounds and steals to complement their offensive game, with the entire team contributing to the scoreboard through baskets, assists, and some great passes. The Ballers ended the two halves with a 36-36 tie, coming just shy of a win in the last second before the buzzer. Next week, we take on our last regular season competitors – join us in Slaughter Gym at 6pm to secure another win! ImageImage

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