The Farm Bill is in the final stages of being passed by the Senate on Tuesday. Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee and community agencies that feed the hungry year round are bracing ourselves for an anticipated surge in need for food at local pantries and soup kitchens during 2014 due to cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the first line of defense to food insecure individuals falling below the poverty level.
According to Feeding America, 76 percent of SNAP households enrolled include children, seniors or the disabled and 91 percent of benefits go to households with income at or below the poverty line. In November, All SNAP participants saw their benefits cut with a family of four losing an average of $36 per month in SNAP benefits resulting in more than 1.9 billion lost meals nationwide.
In addition to the federal nutrition programs, one in eight Americans annually rely on assistance from Feeding America food banks like Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee. The number of people served each year by our network of food banks increased nearly 46 percent from 2006 to 2010, largely due to the recession, and has not abated since.
Our Feeding America National Food Bank Network position is that we cannot support the farm bill agreement because of the deep cuts to SNAP, however, we also recognize that failure to pass this farm bill would not ensure a better long-term outcome for SNAP and the low-income families it serves. Feeding America Food Banks are pleased that the conferees rejected deeper cuts and harmful policy changes to SNAP contained in the House-passed farm bill, which would have cut benefits or eligibility for millions more people. We urge Congress and the president to work together to develop policy solutions that help alleviate the pressures facing low-income struggling families and help them get back on their feet.
In Northeast Tennessee last year, the Food Bank distributed 8.8 million pounds of food and served more than 40,000 individuals who visited food pantries, soup kitchens or participated in Food Bank programs like the Mobile Food Pantry and Food for Kids.
We anticipate these numbers will increase significantly this year, but it is too soon to tell how the SNAP cuts will really affect Second Harvest and the agencies we serve. We are bracing for an increase in the need for food assistance and we must be prepared to meet it.
We will need to rely on our local community even more to fill the gap in our food supply to meet these increased demands for food assistance. We urge everyone to get involved to donate food, money and time to assure that everyone who needs food has access.
Rhonda Chafin is executive director of the
Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee, which is a member of the
Feeding America Food Bank Network.