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Mississippi lawmakers address health equity during session, American Heart Association recaps policy

American Heart Association

As Mississippi's 2021 Legislative Session comes to a close, advocates spanning many issues are reflecting on what did and did not make it past the finish line this year. Among the most prevalent topics emerged several policies that improve health equity in Mississippi.

Following last week’s Sine Die, the American Heart Association highlighted the policy progress made in 2021. The organization focused its advocacy work this year on policies that would support funding for SNAP incentive programs and improve water access in schools.

Expanding SNAP Incentives

The American Heart Association supported House Bill 115, by Representative Becky Currie (R-Brookhaven) and Representative Price Wallace (R-Mendenhall), as well as Senate Bill 2163, by Senator Nicole Boyd (R-Oxford). Although the House bill did not move, the Senate version got traction thanks to a bipartisan group of senators -- SNAP Incentives passed out of the Senate Public Health Committee as well as on the Senator floor. Unfortunately, this legislation did not survive when transferred to the House. The American Heart Association considered the policy’s attention and movement this year a win and will continue to work with lawmakers to expand SNAP Incentives next legislative session.

“Food insecurity is a very serious issue in Mississippi,” said Justin Martin, executive director of Tupelo/Lee County Hunger Coalition and an American Heart Association Advocate. “It sees no color, gender or age. I work daily so that all Mississippians can have the food they need to have a quality life.”

Water Access in Schools

The American Heart Association also worked with lawmakers to help make water bottle refill stations the new normal in public schools, aiming to improve access to free, clean drinking water for Mississippi students.

“Water is critical to a child’s overall health,” said Jennifer Godwin, school nurse for the Lamar County School District and advocate for the American Heart Association. “But for many Mississippi children, drinking water is not a part of their day, nor is it available to them. And a passing sip in the hallway is not enough.”

The American Heart Association supported the Water Access in Schools Bill, House Bill 925, sponsored by Representative Kent McCarty (R-Hattiesburg) and a group of bi-partisan co-sponsors. Though the bill did not pass this year, the American Heart Association said it was encouraged to see the topic getting attention in the Legislature.

“My mother has worked in public education for nearly 30 years and seeing her passion for the success of her students has made a huge impact on me,” McCarty said. “She has seen first-hand the struggle of students striving to keep up while dehydrated or undernourished. This is a basic need that all children should have access to, especially in the space where their ability to pay attention impacts their education outcomes.”

“Both of these health equity policies had such strong early success,” added Kathryn Rehner-Sullivan, Mississippi government relations director for the American Heart Association. “We were hopeful we’d see them through to the finish line this year. But we are grateful to our bill sponsors who worked so hard to advance health in Mississippi through these efforts. We look forward to continuing this work with our legislative champions.”

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