Don’t Cut Programs for the Hungry

By Beacon Staff

As Congress crafts a budget that addresses our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges, the Montana Food Bank Network and our network partners – 196 food pantries, meal sites, shelters, senior centers and after-school programs – are urging our elected officials to safeguard nutrition assistance and other safety net programs. The number of families struggling to make ends meet increased significantly during the recession. With unemployment still hovering around 9 percent the need for food assistance remains high and the Montana Food Bank Network and our partner agencies are already pressed to meet the need in our communities.

Congress is now proposing cuts that would eliminate federal food assistance for hundreds of thousands of low-income seniors, women, infants, and children, pushing more people to local charities for food assistance. At the same time, Congress would reduce support for local emergency food providers, like the Montana Food Bank Network. Not only will our statewide Food Bank Network be unable to meet the increased demand for food assistance if these cuts to nutrition programs go through, we will have to reduce current levels of support for existing clients.

Programs like the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which primarily aids low-income seniors and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) make sure that the most vulnerable Montanans have enough to eat. CSFP is an efficient and effective use of federal resources, providing thousands of seniors in Montana with a monthly box of nutritious food tailored specifically to combat the ill effects of senior hunger by providing nutrients typically lacking in their diets.

TEFAP is an income-based federal program that provides food at no cost to low-income Americans in need of short-term hunger relief through organizations such as the Montana Food Bank Network. While we rely on generous donations from individual donors and community and business partners, the healthy and nutritious foods provided through TEFAP are the backbone of the charitable food system, providing up to 100 percent of the food that flows through our local hunger-relief agencies.

Last year, the Montana Food Bank Network distributed nearly 2 million pounds of TEFAP commodities which was more than 25 percent of our total distribution. Without support from TEFAP, our food bank and network partners could not provide even the current levels of food, nor could we meet added demand if the funding levels and structure of SNAP (formerly the Food Stamp Program) and other federal nutrition programs are eroded as has been proposed by Congress.

More than 175,000 Montanans rely upon the food bank and our partner agencies to help feed their families. Last year, there were over 175,000 thousand individual visits and 8.4 million pounds of food distributed across the state of Montana to 196 partner agencies. There has been a 107 percent increase in household visits since 2009. This year, many agencies are seeing double-digit increases. TEFAP provides the agencies with foods that are high in protein, fruits, vegetables and staple food items such as cereals, pastas, and special foods for vulnerable populations including children and seniors. The proposed cuts to TEFAP would devastate operations like the Montana Food Bank Network, which are already struggling to meet the rising demand for their services.

If TEFAP food purchases drop as expected by 50 percent, the Montana Food Bank Network and our network partners will likely face empty pantries, beginning this summer and continuing into the holiday season and beyond. With one in five Montana children living in poverty and one in seven Montana neighbors struggling with hunger, demand for charitable food remains high across the state of Montana. We must keep TEFAP and all of the nutritional safety net programs strong – the health of our communities depends on it.

While we agree that Congress and the President need to make tough choices to get our nation’s fiscal house in order, deficit reduction shouldn’t come at the expense of the most vulnerable among us. We urge you to contact Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Rep. Denny Rehberg to let them know that you support the federal government doing its part to feed our hungry neighbors here in Montana and across the country during these trying times.

Peggy A. Grimes is the executive director of the Montana Food Bank

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