01/10/2014 01:14 pm ET Updated Mar 12, 2014

America's Struggling Families Need a Farm Bill

Earlier this week I was accompanied by Deputy Under Secretary Janey Thornton and Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator Anne Alonzo as we visited a food pantry in the District of Columbia, Bread for the City, to draw attention to the importance of nutrition assistance programs for millions of Americans who are still struggling to put food on the table. While we were there, we were happy to announce additional support for food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries across the country in the form of $126.4 million worth of surplus fruits and vegetables to be distributed through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

Programs like Bread for the City are vital to our nation's nutrition safety net, but they cannot meet the need alone. After the automatic benefit cuts to SNAP that began on November 1, we heard numerous stories of food banks saying they were unable to bridge the gap - and they will struggle even more if there are additional significant cuts to the program. That is why it is so important that Congress act to pass a Farm Bill that preserves programs like TEFAP and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that help American families get the nutrition they need.

Today in his weekly column, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke about the role of the Farm Bill in preventing hunger:

Secretary's Column: A New Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to Fight Hunger Here at Home

By Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

America's farmers and ranchers work hard every day to put healthy food on our tables. Thanks to their incredible productivity, we have the capacity to produce enough food not only for every American family, but for much of the world.

In a nation with such an abundance of food resources, it is unthinkable and unacceptable that any American go hungry. Unfortunately, even as the economy recovers and more Americans get back to work, millions of hardworking folks still need help putting food on the table.

America's food insecure families are just one group of Americans counting on Congress to finish the work of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill that adequately invests in America's nutrition safety net.

To help families in need, the U.S. Department of Agriculture maintains a nutrition safety net through a wide range of programs. These include the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which helps ensure adequate stocks at food banks and food pantries; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that helps families put food on the table; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children which is focused on mothers and their young families.

For example, right now, many food banks and emergency food centers are dealing with increased winter traffic and their resources are stretched thin. To help support these food banks and pantries, USDA this week was able to purchase an additional 155.6 million pounds of wholesome, high quality, domestically-grown fruits and vegetables to be donated through TEFAP. Last year, the program resulted in more than 640 million pounds of extra food in food banks across the nation and added $498 million to the farm economy.

Meanwhile, USDA remains focused on delivering a reliable and modern assistance effort through SNAP. Our efforts to crack down on fraud and abuse while modernizing the SNAP program have led to one of the lowest error rates in history for the program, and a fraud rate of 1.3%.

And while we have worked hard to provide even healthier meals to the 31 million kids who eat school lunch and 13 million who eat school breakfast, USDA has established ambitious goals to expand the reach of summer nutrition programs that feed more than three million low-income children daily when school is out.

Many of these efforts to provide a strong, dependable safety net for American families rely on passage of a new Farm Bill that supports strong nutrition programs.

Although the holiday season and its focus on giving have passed, this is no time to forget that too many American children and families are still struggling to make ends meet, particularly in the wake of an automatic SNAP monthly benefit reduction that began late last year. Millions of folks count on the nutrition safety net as they strive to get back to work - and they're counting on Congress to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to maintain this important effort.