Public Contract Law Journal

Recipe for Success: Why USDA’s Increased Participation in the HUBZone Program Is a Win for People Living in Poverty

by Caitlin M. McHale

Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University. mchale.caitlin.m@gmail.com; cmchale@gmu.edu.

I. Introduction

The Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 White House Budget made the Trump Administration’s priorities for the future of the country very clear: it increased investment in defense and national security, called for dramatic spending reductions, and promised a more streamlined, efficient federal government.1 At the same time though, the budget proposal slashed funding for programs that largely benefit the 40.6 million Americans living in poverty.2 For example, it called for a twenty-one percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the federal agency tasked with, among other things, administering food assistance programs for the nation’s most vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.3 It also advocated deep cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which assisted forty-two million Americans in 2017,4 and the Meals on Wheels program, which serves food to 2.4 million seniors per year.5

An issue at the center of this debate is something to which all can relate: food. While the President’s penchant6 for Big Macs and fried chicken is a personal choice, the poor often have no, or limited, choice in what they eat. Access to food, especially healthy food, is a major concern for people living in poverty.7 Fast food often is cheaper and easier to access than healthier, fresh food options.8 Children living in poverty often are hit hardest by the lack of affordable, healthy food.9 For many such children, the only meal available is what is served in their cafeteria during the school day.10 Despite the fact that the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) feeds more than 31.6 million children daily11 and so many children living in poverty rely on this program to fulfill their basic need to eat, many politicians have tried to reduce program funding.12

Cutting funding for programs that feed poor children is bad policy, but so is spending taxpayer money on federal programs that do not work or are wasteful and duplicative. The central question then, in today’s legislative and political environment, is whether there an efficient way to use existing government programs in new ways to accomplish governmental, economic, and social welfare goals?

One answer, at least, lies in federal small business contracting programs. The government and advocates for the poor can use existing federal contracting programs to serve multiple purposes — to accomplish the Administration’s goal to use taxpayer dollars more efficiently,13 to spark job creation and economic growth, and to help people living in poverty. In particular, they can leverage the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) Program through the NSLP. To facilitate this, Congress should amend the Small Business Act to increase USDA’s participation in the HUBZone Program.14 USDA’s increased participation in the Program will help provide children living in poverty with healthy, local food while creating jobs and increasing capital investment in economically disadvantaged communities.15

Part II of this paper provides a brief overview of the federal contracting process, the HUBZone Program, child nutrition concerns, and the NSLP. Part III analyzes how federal contracting, specifically through USDA’s increased participation in the HUBZone Program, can benefit people living in poverty and the communities in which they live, and proposes several amendments to the Small Business Act. Part IV explores potential opposition to these amendments. Part V introduces two additional public policy recommendations. Ultimately, this paper demonstrates that utilizing the HUBZone Program is a win for the government, a win for business owners, and a win for people living in poverty. It shows that existing government contracting programs can be leveraged in new ways to assist people living in poverty by creating jobs and encouraging economic opportunity, all while making sure children living in poverty are properly fed.

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