By Kevin Concannon, Under Secretary
I recently spoke at the BIG TEN conference in Minneapolis. The BIG TEN is a USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) sponsored event focused on improving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) performance at the state and local level. Participants are from the Midwest States: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. In the past few years, they’ve worked with decreasing resources while managing an increasing workload. So when I walked into a room full of dancing and cheering human service workers, I was taken aback. The energy was just incredible!
Turns out, that “energy” is one of the reasons the Midwest Region FNS holds this conference every year. It’s to invigorate and rejuvenate those who really put federal nutrition assistance programs to work: the state and local agencies. Most days out of the year, these people look hunger in the face, the face of children, of families, of the elderly. But that Wednesday, the day was laden with dancing, cheering and encouragement. I’m sure I saw a fist-pump or two, and Wisconsin state workers even showed up in themed T-shirts. States were awarded for their SNAP accuracy and participation achievements and applauded for being a large part of America’s safety net against hunger that now touches 1 in 4 Americans. They were also invited to workshops to help them improve how they implement SNAP, with topics ranging from effective interviewing to workload management to successful payment accuracy. But perhaps most importantly, and I heard this from several event participants, is the opportunity this conference provides for networking. With over 400 attendees, BIG TEN is an ideal place to share best practices and effective techniques for managing SNAP. Because the goal is the same across the states: help low income people access nutritious food.
It was certainly a pleasure to be amongst those who help feed those in need, and to see the pride they take in making sure that every person who needs help receives it.