Congressional budget cuts threaten nutrition safety net

As Congress crafts a budget that addresses our nation’s long-term fiscal challenges, Foodshare and our partner agencies – more than 350 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 near 10 percent in greater Hartford, the need for food assistance remains high and Foodshare, along with other social service agencies, is already hard-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 Foodshare. Not only will we be hard pressed to meet the increased demand for food assistance if these cuts to nutrition programs go through, we will likely have to reduce current levels of support for existing clients.

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 Foodshare. While we rely on generous donations from individual donors and community and business partners, the healthy and nutritious food provided through TEFAP are a strong component of our inventory, providing 20 percent of the food that flows through our local hunger-relief agencies.

Last year, Foodshare distributed over 3 million pounds of TEFAP commodities. Without support from TEFAP, our network partners could not provide 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 128,000 of greater Hartford residents rely on Foodshare and our 300 partner agencies to help make ends meet. Last year, over 12 million pounds of food was distributed to these agencies, many of whom have experienced a 30 percent increase in client visits since the recession began in 2009. 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 smaller operations like St. Francis Hospital Emergency Food Bank, which is already struggling to meet the rising demand for their services. According to Joan Dauber, Founder and Manager of the food bank, “Without TEFAP funding I do not know where we will find the resources to continue providing services that we are presently providing. The need for assistance is steadily increasing while there is no economic recovery insight.”
If TEFAP food purchases drop as expected by 50 percent, Foodshare and our partners will likely face empty shelves, beginning this summer and continuing into the holiday season and beyond. With one in seven greater Hartford residents struggling with hunger, demand for charitable food remains high across the state. We must keep TEFAP and all of the nutritional safety net programs strong — the health of our communities depends on it.

While I fully understand 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. I urge Senators Richard Blumenthal and Joseph Lieberman and our Congressmen to do the right thing and ensure that the federal government does its part to feed our hungry neighbors here in Connecticut and across the country.

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