Farm commodity programs face cuts from U.S. legislators
NORTH LIBERTY– North Liberty Food Pantry Executive Director Tina DuBois is concerned the pantry’s inventory could be pared down considerably, if federal legislators continue to trim agriculture-related appropriations spending.
On June 16, the U.S. House of Representatives passed discretionary spending bill H.R. 2112, which provides funding for Agriculture, Rural Development and Food and Drug Administration initiatives for fiscal year 2012. The bill, passing by a narrow 217-203 vote, was largely supported by House Republicans; just 19 of the 236 voting Republicans voted against it, whereas all 184 Democrats voted against its passage.
The reason U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa) voted against it is because of the steep cuts to important programs that support rural Americans, needy women and children and the nation’s farmers, he said.
Congressman Loebsack visited the North Liberty Community Food and Clothing Pantry on Friday, June 18, to discuss the details of the bill with DuBois and Pantry board members.
The bill appropriates $192 million for the Commodity Assistance Program, which is $54 million less than the current level and $57 million less than requested. Also within the bill are cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP.
“I believe that even some Republicans realized these cuts were going too far, because this bill cuts back the programs by another 20 to 25 percent,” said Loebsack. Pressure to end deficit spending and reduce the federal budget is impacting all legislation, he said, but, in his opinion, “we cannot balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”
DuBois said the cuts do not just impact the poor, but also the elderly, disabled and families with children who struggle to put food on the table in today’s tough economy.
“Studies show hunger is related to many other things, like school achievement, abuse, domestic violence and drug abuse rates,” said DuBois. “A 20 to 25 percent cut is a huge percentage in a budget this big.”
This May, said DuBoise, the federal government slashed commodity assistance to programs that benefit pantry users by 30 percent. One such program is TEFAP, which provides purchased and bonus commodities to states for distribution to households and organizations that offer food to low-income people, like food banks, meal sites, senior centers and shelters throughout America. Food network providers all over the country are urging constituents to contact their state legislators to urge them not to make the cuts.
One is every six Americans is “food insecure,” DuBois noted, meaning they are not sure if or when they will have their next meal.
And that number does not appear to be diminishing; the North Liberty pantry continues to see a steady increase in visits, up 25 percent already in 2011.
“Commodity foods provided to the pantry through federal subsidies are the healthy foods we want to have on our shelves all of the time,” said DuBois. “Vegetables, fruits, whole grains and meat.”
Because of federal subsidies, the pantry is able to purchase those foods for pennies on the dollar, between zero to 14 cents per pound. Generally, the pantry would spend about $10,000 per year for those types of foods. If the government cuts are approved, the pantry could be facing a $150,000 sticker shock to purchase commodities in the future.
And Congressman Loebsack said the impact of this appropriations bill would not stop with the hungry.
“This cuts commodities subsidies to farmers, so everyone will be affected: farmers, those who use these programs, administrators,” he said. “Food prices would go up. Clearly, impacts to the Iowa farming community affect all of us.”
Loebsack described this appropriations bill, and its passage in the House by just 14 votes, as “unfortunate.”
The bill was introduced in the Senate on June 16. Loebsack said there is generally an October deadline for appropriations bills, but a continuing resolution could delay its vote and keep the programs funded at 2010 levels.
“A lot is bound up in debt ceiling negotiations and deficit discussions,” he said. “You can cut all the discretionary spending you want, but it’s not going to put a dent in the deficit.”
“Maybe there are things in the USDA budget that need to be readjusted,” she said, “but let’s not take a hatchet to it.”