The National Commission on Hunger will hold a public hearing Thursday in Portland to hear testimony on how to ensure Americans have access to sufficient, healthy food.

The congressionally appointed commission has been charged with developing innovative reforms in both public and private food assistance programs in an attempt to reduce or eliminate food insecurity. The 10-member commission will provide recommendations to Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The recommendations will include ways to more effectively use USDA programs and funds.

The public hearing in Portland is part of a series of meetings the commission is holding across the country. Portland has a connection with the commission’s work through Kevin Concannon, a former Maine Department of Health and Human Services commissioner who is now the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. The hearing is being held in collaboration with the USDA, RTI International, the Maine Hunger Initiative at Preble Street and the Maine Council of Churches.

A study by Good Shepherd and Feeding America, a national hunger relief organization, released last October shows that one in seven Mainers – an estimated 17,000 to 18,000 people – go to food pantries and meal programs for food. That includes more than 50,000 children and 45,500 seniors.

Maine is ranked 35th in the nation for food insecurity among senior citizens, with an estimated 16 percent of the elderly lacking consistent access to an adequate supply of food, as defined by the USDA.

Invited speakers giving testimony in Portland will include Portland Mayor Michael Brennan, state Sen. Justin Alfond of Portland; Mary Mayhew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services; Robyn Merrill of Maine Equal Justice Partners; Kristen Miale, president of Good Shepherd Food Bank; and other leaders of nonprofit and civic organizations. They will give their testimony between 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m.

The general public can offer testimony between 2 and 4 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine. The hearing will be held in the Lee Community Hall in the Wishcamper Center on Bedford Street.

People can also submit testimony through the commission’s website.

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