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Schroeder Center for Health Policy Hosts Panel Discussion on Housing, Food and Water Policy  

Randy Rosso, Sarah Bedard Holland, Professor Jen Mellor, Tom Fitzpatrick On February 29th, the Schroeder Center for Health Policy hosted a panel discussion, “Health Starts at the Kitchen Table,” about the role of housing, food, and water policy in shaping the overall health of communities. The discussion, moderated by Jen Mellor, Paul R. Verkuil Professor of Economics and Director of the Schroeder Center, brought together three distinguished speakers, Tom Okuda Fitzpatrick (‘04, JD ‘10), Randy Rosso ('95, MPP ‘99), and Sarah Bedard Holland, who shared their knowledge and experience with a capacity crowd of students and local community leaders. 

Bedard Holland and Fitzpatrick During DiscussionEarly in the conversation, the three panelists agreed that there is a mutual tie that allows water, housing, and food policy to intertwine - long-standing racially discriminatory policy decisions. As Fitzpatrick, the Executive Director of HOME of VA, explained during a brief history of discriminatory housing policies, “Neighborhoods were purposely defined by federal agencies during the Great Depression era based upon race, now it is more and more recognized as ‘redlining’,” adding, “And sadly we see the same health disparities now as we did 20 to 30 years after these boundaries were drawn.”  

Bedard Holland and Rosso During Discussion Bedard Holland is the CEO of Virginia Health Catalyst, an organization that strives to ensure Virginians have equitable access to comprehensive oral healthcare – including clean, affordable, reliable tap water. When detailing the work her organization does, she noted that, “Very simple policy solutions can be made by having a conversation with a community and with people directly.” After a phone call with a provider, Bedard Holland learned that fluoride varnishes, an easy procedure to strengthen and protect tooth enamel and a key priority for VHC, were being under-utilized because they were limited to dental offices. Virginia Health Catalyst successfully advocated for changes to the law and, in 2020, fluoride varnishes were integrated into routine well-child visits.  

Health Starts at the Kitchen Table Full PanelOn improving food policy, Rosso, founder of The Food Data Nerd, highlighted the broad success of federal COVID-19 responses to food insecurity among families including the increased Child Tax Credit and easier access to food assistance such as SNAP, WIC and school meals. He noted child poverty rates have now doubled, and there has been a sharp uptick in food insecurity resulting from these policies expiring or being discontinued. Rosso also explained that some policymakers seek to put additional restrictions on food assistance, like those on the WIC program, and that would make it harder for families and would undermine efforts to reduce food insecurity.  Health Starts at the Kitchen Table Full Room

While the panelists shared their experiences and insight, they shared the same piece of advice for students interested in policy and policy studies; passing the policy is 50 percent of the work, the other 50 percent is long-term effective implementation. Fitzpatrick, Bedard Holland and Rosso all encouraged students interested in these issues to get involved in their local communities through volunteer work and internships and underscored the importance of voting and civic engagement.