Increased Need and Federal Program Cuts Creates “Perfect Storm”

49-Million-Hungry-PeopleWhile the economy may be showing signs of improvement, food banks across the nation continue to see unprecedented need. Now, as a result of the cut to SNAP benefits last month, 47 million Americans just saw a decrease in their monthly food assistance, and food banks are bracing for even higher need as more families turn to food banks more often to make up the shortfall.

At the same time that demand increased, the cost of doing business for food banks increased in recent years, creating a perfect storm for hunger-relief charities. Grocery prices grew 7.4 percent in the last two years, and gas prices rose 30.5 percent over that period. Rising food and fuel make it harder for food banks to purchase and distribute enough food for their clients.

The fact that federal food bank support through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) also declined over this period has only made things harder for hunger-relief charities. At the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, we could not provide current levels of food assistance without support from TEFAP, which provides nutritious commodities for distribution through emergency feeding agencies.

TEFAP commodities declined nearly 30 percent in FY2011, leading to 40 to 50 percent decline in TEFAP deliveries to food banks in 2012. While TEFAP deliveries were up in 2013, TEFAP is expected to decline again in 2014 by a projected 25 percent. Food banks also saw a cut to already meager TEFAP storage and distribution funding this year due to sequester cuts, resulting in fewer resources for transporting food to those in need.

That is why we are so pleased that the House farm bill recognized the heightened need at food banks nationwide by including an additional $300 million in TEFAP commodities. But welcome though it is, this increase is not enough to make up for the TEFAP declines we have experienced in recent years, let alone the increased demand that will be created by the cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) included in the same bill.

We doubt that our food bank will be able to meet the increased demand created by the SNAP cuts that just went into effect in November, which resulted in over $900,000 being cut in one month from NWI families in need. We can absolutely guarantee that we will not be able to meet the need if Congress goes through with additional cuts to SNAP proposed in the farm bill.

Together the enacted and proposed SNAP cuts would result in 3.4 billion lost meals for hungry families in 2014 alone, which is more than the meal distribution of the entire network of Feeding America food banks nationwide. Food banks would have to double our annual distribution to make up the lost SNAP benefits, and that is simply not possible.

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana is doing its best to help struggling families in our community, but we cannot do it alone. We rely on the generous support of our many volunteers and donors, and we count on the federal government to do its part by funding critical programs like TEFAP and SNAP.

This holiday, in addition to volunteering and donations, there is another important way you can help needy families in our community. Tell our members of Congress to protect hunger-relief programs in the farm bill. Congress is expected to vote on a final farm bill before Christmas. The best gift we could make to needy families this holiday is to make sure food banks and SNAP have the resources alleviate hunger all year long.

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana is located in Gary and supplies food to almost 100 pantries and soup kitchens in Lake and Porter Counties. In addition to distributing food to their member agencies the Food Bank also runs the BackPack, Kid’s Café, Food Rescue and Pantry on the Go programs and offers pantry referrals. Last year the Food Bank distributed over 5.1 million pounds of food, and served over 5,000 individuals a week.