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Reed: Nutritional safety net insufficient

November 28, 2013

Pointing to a R.I. Community Food Bank report showing that 66,500 Rhode Island households do not have the money to purchase adequate food, Sen. Jack Reed is calling for increased funding to soup kitchens, food banks and emergency shelters nationwide.

Reed and 25 of his Senate colleagues wrote to the conference committee that is negotiating the Farm Bill, which includes funding for nutrition safety net programs. The version of the bill passed by the Senate would cut $4.1 billion in nutrition assistance over the next 10 years from programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while the House version would cut nearly $40 billion from the same programs over the same period. The conference committee is looking to craft a compromise bill that can pass in both chambers.

“Congress needs to do more to help thousands of hungry Rhode Islanders meet basic nutritional needs and alleviate hunger,” Reed said in a written statement. “Our food banks are working overtime to feed hungry people in the communities they serve, but they’re already stretched thin. I urge bipartisan support for our nation's emergency food assistance network in the Farm Bill.”

“Instead of just shifting the burden to local food banks,” Reed suggested. “Congress needs to work together to improve the economy and provide cost-effective resources to support programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).”

According to Reed’s office, TEFAP is a means-tested federal program that provides food commodities through organizations like food banks, soup kitchens, and emergency shelters. It helps feed children, seniors, and families at risk of hunger and poor nutrition by enabling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase surplus foods from American farmers and ship it to states with high rates of unemployment and low-income families. State agencies administer the program and leverage the funding by partnering with local organizations to distribute the TEFAP commodities and storage and distribution funding with private donations of food, infrastructure and manpower.

Last year, Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, helped secure $311 million overall for TEFAP, and Rhode Island received approximately $1.4 million. This year, Reed is seeking to increase mandatory funding for TEFAP resources under the Farm Bill by $330 million per year for over the next ten years.

The Rhode Island Community Food Bank says that, while the number of households that are “food insecure” has risen from 58,000 to 66,500 during the Great Recession (2008-2012), the donations of food it receives has dropped by 2 million pounds during the same period.

“This has created a significant gap in the food supply,” the Food Bank’s 2013 Status Report on Hunger in Rhode Island said, “with food donations dropping at the same time that the need for food assistance remains at a record-high level.

It states that 15.4 percent of Rhode Island homes don’t have sufficient income to buy enough food, the highest rate in New England. The Food Bank’s member agencies give out 1.5 million meals to needy Rhode Islanders every month.

About 68,000 people visit food pantries supplied by the Food Bank each month, the agency said, an increase of 1,000 people over last year.
“The severe SNAP cuts recommended by the House can’t be easily made up by food banks and other charitable organizations, in fact, it will put even more of a strain on these programs,” said Reed, who earlier this year signed a letter to Farm Bill negotiators urging them to protect SNAP from funding cuts and harmful policy changes.

“Instead of reducing hunger assistance for vulnerable Americans we should be reducing wasteful subsidies for big agribusinesses," the senator said.

Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron


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