Staggering. Irresponsible. Indefensible. Those are just some of the words that describe the cuts to safety-net program that the House Appropriations Committee approved on Tuesday when they marked up the House version of the FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill.
With more than 50 million people facing hunger, the unemployment rate still hovering near 9 percent, and one in eight Americans seeking food from Feeding America food banks, the proposed cuts to safety-net programs that keep millions of women, infants, children and seniors from going hungry would be devastating:
- Funding for commodities offered through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) would be cut by 51 million and the administrative funding that helps defray the cost of storing and distributing them would be reduced to 37.5 million -- a cut of 23 percent. Reducing the support for food banks, church pantries, and other local agencies that provide emergency food assistance would force communities to cut back services or turn away clients at a time when need remains at unprecedented levels.
- Funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides monthly food boxes serving predominantly low-income seniors, would be cut by 38 million, resulting in a loss of benefits for more than 100,000 of our most vulnerable seniors.
- The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) nutrition program is cut by 832 million, which would result in 325,000 to 475,000 mothers, infants and young children being pushed off the program, depending on the rate of food inflation, placing them at increased nutritional risk.
These cuts will reduce the capacity of food banks, pantries, shelters, and soup kitchens to respond to hunger in their communities at the same time that they will see the need increase as participants lose their benefits and turn to local charities to make ends meet.
As if this isn't bad enough, Congress is considering capping the charitable giving deduction, which would have a significant impact on the ability of nonprofit organizations that rely on the charitable deduction to raise much needed funds and on Feeding America's ability to fulfill its mission of providing emergency food assistance.
In the last four years, the number of people seeking assistance from local Feeding America food banks has increased by an overwhelming 46 percent. Any cuts to safety-net programs would push even more struggling families to our network of food banks and pantries, at a time when many are already hard pressed to meet the need in their communities. What's worse, the cuts proposed by the House subcommittee would weaken our ability to feed even the 37 million people we currently serve.
Funding anti-hunger programs is an investment in our future. It saves money in health care costs and improves children's performance in school. It is also the moral and ethical thing for Congress to do.
We keep hearing claims that the deficit must be reduced so that our children do not have to bear its burden. But we will not leave a better future for the next generation by pulling the rug out from under them now.
We recognize the need to cut spending, but it should be done by cutting non-essential and ineffective programs -- not those for which there is tremendous need and which have proven themselves to be highly effective, like the federal nutrition programs.
Our country must not balance the budget on the back of its poor. Urge your representatives in the House to reject the proposed cuts to nutrition assistance when the FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations bill goes to the floor. Instead, ask members to work with their colleagues to craft a budget that addresses the deficit while safeguarding programs that protect our most vulnerable citizens.
Follow Vicki B. Escarra on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vickiescarra