More than 25 million Americans rely on food pantries, soup kitchens, and other emergency food programs to feed their families at some point during the year. That's nine percent of our population. And the problem is getting worse.
Our food banks are now reporting that demand for emergency food is up at least 20 percent in the past several months. Some report that demand is up even higher - 30 to 40 percent, or more. Meanwhile, donations of commodities to food banks through the USDA bonus commodity program have declined more than 75 percent over the past four years, leaving shelves at emergency feeding organizations emptier than they have been in decades.
There is a solution - the passage of the 2007 Farm Bill, which is stalled in Congressional debate. The Bill will provide millions of dollars in aid to food banks through the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and make substantial improvements in the Food Stamp Program.
Adequate investment in food and nutrition programs is absolutely vital to food banks and the hungry Americans they serve. Any further delay, or an extension of the 2002 bill, will significantly increase the number of at-risk families, potentially overwhelming the capacities of the nation's food bank system. Only 11 percent of the people fed by food banks are homeless --many are the working poor, who just can't make ends meet in these tough economic times.
Complicating an already dire situation is rising food prices. Basic staple foods have seen a double-digit hike in prices during the past year, with eggs costing 36 percent more today than a year ago, and milk up 29 percent.
Approximately 1.3 million people have been added to the Food Stamp program in the past year, but as food prices rise, the purchasing power of food stamps falls, reducing access to adequate amounts of nutritious food for many people.
With the rise in unemployment, surging energy prices, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the spike in the cost of food, our economy has tumbled into a recession that is creating a drastic increase in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time. Struggling to fill an unprecedented need, food pantries are sometimes forced to give people less, or worse, turn people away when they run out of food.
We urge the Congress and the Administration to quickly enact a new Farm Bill that will allow for additional food to be made available to food banks to help meet the growing demand. Time is running out and the lives of our most vulnerable - including more than 12 million children and 3 million seniors - are at risk.
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