Commetnary: Congress must help feed the community

Commetnary: Congress must help feed the community
September 14
03:00 2017

By Clyde Fitzgerald

Every year, my team and I set about the daunting task of creating a budget for Second Harvest Food Bank so that we can execute our work with the constant and earnest effort it requires. Not only is this budget creation process a practical essential for a nonprofit of our size, it is clear to us that it is also a moral document, meant to convey priorities.

We know, for example, that every dollar that we allocate to feed seniors demonstrates our respect for our elders; every budget line for Kids Cafe, BackPack, and school pantry programs shows our commitment to future generations. 

The budgets proposed by our elected officials in Washington are, likewise, moral compasses for our nation, reflecting our values and direction. We urge, therefore, that programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP – more commonly known as ‘food stamps’) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) be fully funded, as authorized by the Farm Bill, because we believe that these programs provide essential assistance to people at a time of great need and importantly reflect the principles on which our great nation was founded.

As introduced, the FY2018 House budget does not reflect or protect these values. This budget would decimate the SNAP program, which is our country’s largest nutrition assistance program and one which helps to ensure that children do not go hungry when a parent loses a job, when a health emergency strikes, or when a family’s wages simply are not enough to make ends meet. The vast majority (two-thirds) of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and people living with disabilities that preclude or limit their ability to sustain themselves through employment. In 2015, SNAP lifted 4.6 million people out of poverty. Nearly half of these were children.

The proposed House budget cuts this time-tested, workable, efficient and humane program by $154 billion over 10 years. Currently, 781,392 North Carolina households are enrolled in SNAP. The Center for American Progress reports that proposed budget cuts would cause 252,745 households in our state to lose SNAP in 2023.

While we have all felt a sense of relief as our economy locally and nationally has begun to recover, unfortunately, the economic conditions of our most vulnerable neighbors have not. In the 18 Northwest North Carolina counties served by Second Harvest, service-industry jobs are the fastest growing, dominated by low-wage positions that lack benefits or sick leave and frequently provide only part-time hours. Until we address all of the factors contributing to poverty, we cannot adequately address food insecurity. SNAP benefits (averaging only $1.39 per person per meal) remain a modest stabilizer for families with a great positive impact for our communities.

Reducing access to SNAP will dramatically increase food insecurity in our communities. However, the proposed budget additionally includes a dramatic $27 million reduction in TEFAP. This program supplied 23,141,220 pounds of essential food to North Carolina in 2016. While TEFAP amounts to a little under 13 percent of the food Second Harvest distributes, it is one of our primary and consistent sources for healthy, nutritionally balanced food –something none of us can do our best work without.

While I am incredibly proud of what we and our partners do to assist our neighbors in need, local anti-hunger organizations are already working at capacity and, indeed, many are stretched too thin. Federal nutrition programs provide nearly 20 times the amount of food assistance as do private agencies. We believe that everyone – the public and private sectors, charitable organizations and individuals – has a role in feeding the community.

We must do this work together. If you agree, tell your member of Congress. Be a difference maker!

Clyde Fitzgerald is CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina.

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