Whitmer establishes Food Security Council 

Susan J. Demas

A council that examines causes of food insecurity in Michigan and suggests policy solutions to combat them has been created within the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHSS), according to a Friday executive order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Established through EO 2020-167, the Food Security Council is “tasked with identifying and analyzing the origins of and solutions for food insecurity in Michigan” and with assisting Whitmer in making sure Michigan residents can access food. 

“No one should have to worry about how they are going to put food on the table the next day,” Whitmer said in a news release. “Food insecurity is a very real and prevalent issue for many Michiganders, and COVID-19 has only made the problem worse.”

The council is tasked with identifying what causes food insecurity in Michigan. It will also examine policies to work against food insecurity, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, and assess returns on investing in such policies so councilmembers can make recommendations to the governor. 

In three months, the body is required to turn in a report on short-term findings of how food insecurity has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. A conclusive final report needs to be turned in to Whitmer in 18 months. The Food Security Council will dissolve 90 days after that.

350K Mich. families will get additional SNAP benefits during pandemic

Phillip Knight — whom Whitmer appointed as chair of the Food Security Council — called combating Michigan’s food insecurity a “non-partisan challenge.”

“Creating food security is the first step towards self-sufficiency, and while it starts in the field, it is sustained in the workplace,” Knight said. “Our hungry neighbors are worthy of our investment in them as we seek to fulfill the directives given to the council.”

In May, Whitmer extended Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to 350,000 households in Michigan — some of whom had already received the maximum benefits allocated by DHHS. 

Close to 1.5 million people are already receiving SNAP dollars through the state’s Food Assistance Program. 

Appointed to the council is Michael Rice, the state superintendent of public instruction, plus Robert Gordon, director of DHHS; Gary McDowell, director of the state Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD); and Jeff Donofrio, director of the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (LEO). 

The council consists of 16 members, all who represent “various sectors” affected by food insecurity in the state, according to Whitmer. They are listed:

  • Amy Baker, of Pentwater, quality management director at Peterson Farms. 
  • Patrice Brown, of Detroit, food access manager for Eastern Market. 
  • Alex Canepa, of Ann Arbor, state policy manager for the Fair Food Network. 
  • Kimberly Schriever Edsenga, of Grand Rapids, senior counsel for Meijer, Inc. 
  • Juan Escareño Jr., of Detroit, director of government and community relations for the Midwest Independent Retailers Association. 
  • Phillip Knight, of Fenton, executive director of the Food Bank Council of Michigan and the radio host of “Food for Thought” on WJR 760 AM. Knight chairs the governor’s Food Security Council.
  • Diana Marin, of Ann Arbor, supervising attorney for farmworkers and immigrant workers rights at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. 
  • Dawn Medley, of Lathrup Village, associate vice president of enrollment management and the chief enrollment officer at Wayne State University. 
  • Kenneth Nobis, of Saint Johns, co-owner and operator of Nobis Dairy Farms, a senior advisor and former president of the Michigan Milk Producers Association and current member of the Michigan Dairy Marketing Program Committee. 
  • Delicia Pruitt, of Bay City, medical director of the Saginaw County Health Department. 
  • Todd Regis, of Flat Rock, vice president and director of legislative and community affairs for UFCW Local 951 and the director of their foundation. 
  • Tammy Rosa, of Gladstone, nutrition program quality assurance specialist and caregiver programs manager for the Upper Peninsula Area Agency on Aging.  
  • Michelle Schulte, of Suttons Bay, program director for the Inter-Tribal Council of Michigan. 
  • Laurie Solotorow, of Birmingham, director of the Michigan Health Endowment Fund Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles Program. 
  • Wade Syers, of Muskegon, food safety educator for Michigan State University Extension. 
  • Pam Yager, of Okemos, social mission manager for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. 

State Sens. Kevin Daley (R-Arcadia Twp.) and Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and state Reps. Pauline Wendzel (R-Watervliet) and Angela Witwer (D-Delta Twp.) were also nominated to the council as non-voting members.