Feeding our neighbors

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By Tamara Sandberg, Kentucky Association of Food Banks

As Congress crafts a budget that addresses our nation's long-term fiscal challenges, the Kentucky Association of Food Banks and our network partners - 1,068 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 at 10 percent in Kentucky, the need for food assistance remains high, and our network is already pressed to meet the need in our communities.

Now, Congress is 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. Not only will our food banks 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, which primarily aids low-income seniors, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program make sure that the most vulnerable Kentuckians have enough to eat. CSFP is an efficient and effective use of federal resources, providing 23,630 seniors in Kentucky with a monthly box of nutritious food tailored specifically to combat the adverse 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. 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 33 percent of the food that flows through our food bank network. Sixty percent of the food that was distributed last year by Feeding America, Kentucky's Heartland in 42 counties came from the TEFAP and CSFP programs.

We could not provide even the current levels of food assistance without support from TEFAP, 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 620,000 Kentuckians rely upon local food pantries to help feed their families. Each year, 40 million pounds of food are distributed at Kentucky's 1,068 food pantries. This year, many of these 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, with special foods for vulnerable populations including children and seniors. The proposed cuts to TEFAP would devastate operations like Feeding America, Kentucky's Heartland, which are already struggling to meet the rising demand for their services.

If TEFAP food purchases drop as expected by 50 percent, our member food banks and network partners will likely face empty shelves beginning this summer and continuing into the holiday season and beyond. With one in seven of our Kentucky neighbors struggling with hunger, demand for charitable food remains high across Kentucky. 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 Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul and the U.S. representative for your district to let them know that you support the federal government doing its part to feed our hungry neighbors here in Kentucky and across the country during these trying times. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and they will direct your call.

n Tamara Sandberg is the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. The association is made up of seven Feeding America food banks serving all of Kentucky's 120 counties.