With nearly one in seven Ohio families lacking reliable access to food, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined 18 senators on a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack urging him to distribute existing funding to purchase additional Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) foods for distribution to food banks in Ohio and across America. TEFAP, which helps supply low-income senior citizens and families with nutritious food, includes foods such as canned fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, beans, pasta, peanut butter, rice, and soups.
"With our economy still on the mend and with paychecks failing to keep pace with the rising cost of food, many Ohio families are still struggling to balance mortgage payments with grocery and utility bills. In Akron and Columbus last year, I met working parents who were originally volunteers at the food banks they now rely on," Brown said. "TEFAP helps fill the gaps for many Ohio families by providing nutritious food--in many instances through local food pantries and banks. But without additional support from the USDA, Ohio food banks could face bare shelves in the face of rising demand. By using existing funding, USDA can purchase additional food for the TEFAP program and help ensure that fewer Ohio families have to go hungry this year."
Without any additional purchases of TEFAP commodities by USDA, the funding levels for the program will drop by approximately 45 percent in FY2011 from FY2010. Many food banks in Ohio and across the country could face the prospect of seriously depleted food stocks in the coming months.
"A recent USDA report shows that the number of people in America facing hunger in 2009 increased by more than 14 million people since the economic recession began in 2007. According to a 2010 report by Feeding America, one in eight Americans--a staggering increase of 46 percent since 2006--are now receiving emergency food assistance through the organization's nationwide network of food banks .Despite generous support from a wide variety of private donors, food banks could not meet the need in their communities without TEFAP commodities," the senators wrote. "In light of the urgent circumstances [food banks] face, we respectfully urge you to use your administrative authorities to direct existing funding to increase the availability of TEFAP commodities purchased in FY2011."
While serving as Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Hunger, Nutrition, and Family Farms, Brown wrote the Hunger-Free Schools Act, which would help reduce paperwork and enroll already-eligible students in childhood nutrition programs through direct certification. Brown's bill was the centerpiece of the anti-hunger component of a new law, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. During Agriculture Committee consideration of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, Brown successfully passed two bipartisan amendments to the legislation. One of those amendments, a piece of legislation offered with Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN), ensures greater access to summer feeding programs for children. Another amendment, offered with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), authorizes a pilot program to provide affordable organic choices in school feeding programs. This program is a crucial first step in proving the viability and value of organic foods in the over 30 million school lunches served each day.
Brown visited food banks in Akron and Columbus last November. More information about the TEFAP program is available at the USDA's website here.
In addition to Brown, the letter was signed by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), John Kerry (D-MA), Jack Reed (D-RI), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Max Baucus (D-MT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR.) The full letter to Secretary Vilsack is below.
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
Millions of school children all across America are eagerly counting down the days until the beginning of summer vacation. Meanwhile, the more than 20.5 million children in this country who rely on the free and reduced price National School Lunch Program may be wondering about their next meal. For these children, the summer is not a time of fun and excitement, but instead a time of hunger and hardship. USDA's Summer Food Service Program reached 2.3 million children per day last July, leaving over 18 million children and their families to rely on the nation's food banks to provide them with needed nourishment.
This year, food banks are facing the prospect of bare shelves. Without immediate Federal support to provide additional food through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), our nation's food banks will likely fall short in meeting food demands -- not only throughout the summer months but also later in the year and during the holiday season. That is why we respectfully request that you use your administrative authorities to distribute existing funding to purchase TEFAP commodities in FY2011.
A recent USDA report shows that the number of people in America facing hunger in 2009 increased by more than 14 million people since the economic recession began in 2007. According to a 2010 report by Feeding America, one in eight Americans -- a staggering increase of 46 percent since 2006 -- are now receiving emergency food assistance through the organization's nationwide network of food banks.
Despite generous support from a wide variety of private donors, food banks could not meet the need in their communities without TEFAP commodities. TEFAP provides foods at no cost to low-income Americans in need of short-term hunger relief. Food banks play a critical role in distributing TEFAP commodities. In FY2010, TEFAP provided approximately $655 million worth of healthy and nutritious foods. The figure includes commodity purchases mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill and bonus commodity purchases appropriated in FY2010.
Currently, the need for emergency food assistance is at unprecedented levels at the same time that the agricultural markets are very strong. As a result, there are scant supplies of surplus agricultural products -- products that USDA traditionally buys and distributes as bonus TEFAP commodities. USDA is currently delivering TEFAP commodities to food banks. We recognize and appreciate the recent purchase of commodities by USDA. However, if USDA makes no additional bonus purchases in FY2011, TEFAP spending levels will drop by approximately $295 million -- a reduction of 45 percent between FY2010 and FY2011.
The dramatic decrease in TEFAP commodities will severely affect efforts to combat the growing need for emergency food assistance. Without additional purchases, too many of the nation's food banks will face the prospect of seriously depleted food stocks in the coming months. We must do what is necessary to ensure that our neighbors have adequate access to the necessary foods to nourish themselves and their families.
As our nation continues on the path to economic recovery, food banks and the struggling families, seniors, and children they serve, desperately need your immediate help this summer. In light of the urgent circumstances they face, we respectfully urge you to use your administrative authorities to direct existing funding to increase the availability of TEFAP commodities purchased in FY2011.
Thank you for your consideration of this important request and for your ongoing support and dedication to efforts to help end hunger in America.