|David Lee (photo: Feeding America)|
The proposed House of Representatives version of the 2012 Farm Bill “slashed nutrition” by 20%, he said, adding that this includes a “terrible, terrible cut to WIC,” the popular program available to lower-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children under the age of five. To emphasize the significance of the proposed cuts, he mentioned Washington staff “dropped coffee cups” when they heard this.
On a positive note, he mentioned the Senate version of the 2012 Farm Bill restores WIC funding. “Everybody’s punting. It’s really, really scary out there,” reiterating the impact to people seeking food assistance. Not many news organizations have reported on these cuts, for instance, a September 23 report by Harvest Public Media overlooked nutrition cuts in the House version of the bill, which recommended significant cuts to Federal food assistance programs (see chart below).
|Federal Spending on TEFAP Food and Funds |
FY 2009-FY 2012 in millions. (source: Feeding America)
The atmosphere that fosters cuts to food assistance programs is “exceedingly, exceedingly toxic.” David Lee keeps emphasizing the significance of the problem. These cuts have special meaning because the timing of advocacy for maintaining food assistance programs is critical.
The annual Federal budget appropriations bill has not been passed, and deficit reduction is controlling all parts of the debate, he added. Additionally, the super-committee comprised of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats are required to find $1.2 trillion in cuts over a ten-year period. Significant cuts to nutrition programs are still on the table. October 14 is the date the committee must come up with it’s initial recommendations, and must vote by November 30 in order to have a full vote in Congress by December 23. It will be a “fun holiday season,” he adds sarcastically.
On the subject of the Charitable Tax Deduction, Lee says President Obama has proposed changing this deduction to help pay for the $450 billion jobs bill. Capping the deduction at 28% would reduce funds to charitable organizations by $7 billion. This cut combined with government cuts to public food assistance will put significant pressure on food banks. Lee added that “charity cannot do this alone,” noting that the SNAP (Food Stamps) program provides $64 billion in benefits to recipients.
Lee: “You guys have to raise hell”
The 2012 Farm Bill fight to retain nutrition and food assistance programs will be “really, really scary.” Lee said “commodity and agriculture interests seek proportional reductions" in all components of the Farm Bill, meaning both farm subsidies and nutrition programs. Last week the American Farm Bureau said nutrition programs “should carry their own water” by accepting a 30% cut in food assistance.
How will food banks cope? Declining charitable donations and cuts to nutrition programs combined with an increased demand for food assistance will put severe impacts on food banks' ability to serve impoverished families.
Advocacy made a big difference in maintaining funding in the 2008 Farm Bill. He gave an example of how a unlikely partner could help the food fight. The 7-11 corporation advocated on behalf of retaining funds for SNAP because so many people in poor neighborhoods without a quality grocery store purchased food items from the convenience stores.
Why is advocacy important? He noted the situation required “all hands on deck” to pressure legislators to maintain funding. He gave workshop participants their marching orders with a three-pronged approach.
- Engage and educate public officials
- Foster and encourage local media contacts
- Mobilize external partners and other stakeholders