The White House announced today that the President’s new budget calls for roughly $2.9 trillion in cuts to essential anti-poverty and nutrition programs over the next 10 years that will directly affect the ability of millions of struggling families, low-income workers, children, elderly and disabled Americans to meet their basic needs of affordable health care, accessible education and basic access to nutritious food.  
 
The Washington Post estimates that cuts in programs like Medicaid and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) would directly affect up to one fifth of all Americans. Funding for SNAP, which helps 44 million Americans get the nutritious food they need to live, work and thrive would be cut by more than $193 billion over 10 years, over a 25% reduction.  It might be easy for members of Congress or those of us glancing at the evening news to see these big numbers represented in pie charts that promise a balanced budget, and fail to see the 44 million Americans -- our neighbors, friends, co-workers and relatives – whose safety net will be severely compromised or eliminated. In fact, the vast majority of SNAP recipients are children, seniors and working families who simply don’t make enough to meet their basic needs.  The budget doesn’t stop there, but calls for cuts for college tuition, Medicaid, rental assistance, job training, and income assistance to poor seniors and people with disabilities.
 
The facade that President Trump and his administration are advocates for working class and vulnerable Americans has been completely shattered by this proposal.  The false narrative that these essential programs create “dependency” is not only inaccurate, but its damaging to the millions of folks struggling to make ends meet. 
 
After 42 years of working with community-based organizations across the country and answering countless Hotline calls from families in immediate need of food, we at WhyHunger know that these cuts will have real, lasting effects on some of the most vulnerable and hardworking Americans for this generation and the next.
 
If this budget were designed to help anyone except the 1%, it would be filled with programs to support living wage jobs, affordable education and healthcare, universal free school meals, and incentives to build local food and farm economies. It would roll back tax breaks and other incentives that lead to greater consolidation of wealth in the food system and a disregard for the stewardship of the natural resources necessary to nourish us all and cool the planet. It would invest in opportunities for all Americans to live healthy, productive and dignified lives and help rebuild communities most affected by hunger and poverty.  
 
We must stand together to demand that our representatives in Congress reject this proposed budget that hurts our most vulnerable communities and further divides our nation. And we must come together to develop and implement a shared road map for a future that protects children and seniors; ensures the dignity and health of workers; and invests directly in communities’ renewal the country over. 
 
We call on you to join WhyHunger in speaking out! Contact your Member of Congress, write a letter to your editor, share your thoughts on social media and talk with your friends and family about the type of budget, and type of world, you want to see.

This post was updated 5.25

By WhyHunger Executive Director Bill Ayres

3-7 farm bill

Having worked to end hunger and poverty for the last 40 years, I know that the passage of a new farm bill is a time of great change -- sometimes for the better; usually, in the recent era, for the worse. In talking to colleagues across the anti-hunger and food justice communities in the weeks since the passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014, responses ranged from "a solid outcome" to disappointment to outrage. There was a common agreement that a farm bill was absolutely needed and could not continue to be delayed another year. But in terms of what the final bill delivered? The results were mixed.

In November, cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) totaled some $5 billion, or as much as all the emergency feeding programs in America provide in a year. Food pantries and soup kitchens soon felt the pressure to feed many more people and had to cut back on the amount of food they were able to provide -- at precisely the time when families were receiving less benefits. Now this farm bill cuts an additional $8.6 billion over 10 years to about 850,000 families -- mostly in the cold Northeast and mid-Atlantic. The average family will see cuts of about $90 a month. The emergency food providers are being squeezed even more at a time when Congress is making additional cuts and telling people that the charities can make up the difference. The food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries are saying, "Enough!" They are stretched beyond the beyond.

So, how can anyone say this is "a solid outcome?" Well, the House of Representatives supported a proposal that would have cut $40 billion and removed 3.8 million people from SNAP. The Senate proposed to cut $4 billion, so this bill was a compromise -- but tell that to the 850,000 families who just lost $90 a month from their income.

While Congress also eliminated billions in farm subsidies to large commodity crop farmers (corn, wheat, cotton, rice and soybeans), they replaced it with billions more in crop insurance. One hand gives and the other hand takes -- and the super large farms and insurance companies receive most of the money. Both subsidies and crop insurance are ways of tinkering with a system that has been failing small and midsize farmers since commonsense protections like the strategic grain reserve were dismantled in the mid-90s. The grain reserve program used to provide some financial security to farmers and prevent overproduction in the basic commodity crops; however, given that House Speaker John Boehner called a similar market protection for dairy farmers "Soviet style," this kind of true reform that could help rebuild local farms and economies is a long way off -- but that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it.

In the midst of this disappointing bill there were small pockets of hope:

  • The bill raises funds for food banks to purchase food by $50 million -- though this does not offset the increased demand on food banks due to SNAP cuts.
  • Support for the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program, which funds innovative, community-based local food projects around the country, has been increased by $4 million.
  • The bill retains some important language to protect livestock and poultry farmers and to implement Country of Origin Labeling for meat, despite strong lobbying in opposition by big meat and poultry processors.
  • The bill supports nutritious food in schools through funding for healthier school food and the innovative Food Corps program, which supports school gardening.
  • Additionally, in the absence of a farm bill over the last year, many other small, but important programs that support farmers' markets, beginning farmers, conservation and other issues have not been funded at all. The new bill will allow this critical work to once again receive funding
There is much more in this $1 trillion bill. While it was not the disaster it could have been, it is a disappointing bill for most food justice and anti-hunger advocates and small farmers. Though their activism succeeded in preventing the worst, it certainly did not succeed in promoting the best. After 40 years doing this work -- and eight farm bills -- I keep hoping that the next farm bill will build a healthier and more just food system for all. If we start now, with anti-hunger advocates, small farmers, conservationists and everyone else at the table, surely we can make more positive changes in 2019.

This article was originally published at Huffington Post Food for Thought.

After two years and two failed attempts, Congress is on the verge of passing a new (food and) farm bill. The farm bill ultimately is a food bill, and must be concerned with truly supporting those who produce our food, those who eat it, and the land it’s produced on. While the final compromise is not quite as bad as it could’ve been, it will instead be devastating to hundreds of thousands of America’s neediest families and much better for corporations than for independent farmers, the environment or public health.

The cuts to SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) in the bill amount to $8.6 billion over 10 years, primarily by making a change in the so-called “heat and eat” provision (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP), which allows families to qualify for additional SNAP dollars if they receive a state subsidy for home heating. The proposed cuts will slash benefits by an average of $90 a month for 850,000 households, with much greater effects in colder northern states. 300,000 of the affected families are in New York State alone, where cuts will be in excess of $200 per month. The cuts will also disproportionately affect the elderly, many of whom are on fixed incomes.

These cuts come on the heels of a dramatic $5 billion cut to the program that began last November. The 2009 Recovery Act (better known as the stimulus bill) provided a temporary boost to SNAP benefits to help families in need through the recession. Although the boost was supposed to last through September 2014, budgetary changes instead meant that it expired in November 2013. As a result, every SNAP participant in the country had their benefits reduced; for a family of four, the cut was $36 per month.

Coming out of the recession and into the “jobless recovery,” emergency food providers—the vast network of food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens that has become a last-ditch safety net since the Reagan Administration decimated the governmental safety net in the 1980s—were already beyond capacity. The emergency food system provides people in need with $5 billion of food annually—the same amount of funding that was cut from SNAP in November. Since then, emergency food providers have, in effect, been asked to cover a governmental gap that equals their entire annual spending. November’s cuts were already larger than the system could absorb; Farm Bill cuts of an additional $8.6 billion even further erode the governmental social safety net at the time when the emergency food system is stretched beyond what it can bear. As a society, we need to reinvest in protection of the most vulnerable Americans; the private nonprofit and religious sectors cannot—and should not—pick up the slack.

For small farmers, the farm bill isn’t much better. It will eliminate the much-vilified direct subsidy payments in favor of a complicated system of crop insurance, which also includes a sizable administrative fee to the insurance companies for merely providing the service. A long-overdue cap on other subsidy payments was not included, nor was a provision that was passed twice by the Senate that would have modestly reduced insurance subsidies to millionaires. Additionally, supports for dairy farmers have been eliminated altogether; the bill’s language around alternatives is opaque, but we do know that independent dairy farmers have been in crisis for a decade due to unfair pricing structures, and the tone of this bill seems unlikely to offer them any relief. Overall, we’ve learned from our farming allies that supports like subsidies and crop insurance are merely tinkering around the edges of a profoundly broken agricultural policy that privileges big farming operations and allows small and midsize farmers to barely scrape by. The supports are all that allow many farmers to survive, but swapping out one year’s subsidy for another year’s crop insurance is not true reform.

Amidst the bad news, there are some positives in the bill—mostly at the level of a few million dollars, rather than the big items weighing in in the billions, but improvements nonetheless. There is increased funding and flexibility for beginning and minority farmers, and several excellent provisions supporting local and regional food systems. There is a small increase in aid to emergency food providers—though not nearly enough to make up for SNAP cuts. Proposals by meat and poultry processors to eliminate market and contract protections for livestock and poultry farmers and Country of Origin Labeling were rejected. Additionally, the passage of a new farm bill will allow many small and important programs to be funded again after a year where funding was interrupted by not having a farm bill in effect at all.

The farm bill began its life as a grand bargain between rural and urban legislators, pairing the traditionally rural issue of farming and the traditionally urban issue of hunger in order to build broad support for legislation affecting both farmers and eaters. Today’s farm bill instead seems to be a grand bargain between politicians and corporations—agribusiness and insurance companies will make out like bandits, at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans, our environment, rural communities and public health. We at WhyHunger commit to begin working now on taking steps to shape the next farm bill to better reflect those priorities, and call on our partners, allies and friends across multiple sectors and movements—food justice, antihunger, environmental justice and economic justice—to build a stalwart coalition of farmers and eaters working together.

With contributions from Christine Binder, Jess Powers and Alison Cohen.

Since the federal government shut down yesterday, the National Hunger Hotline has already begun to receive calls from people impacted, including a furloughed federal worker from Florida who lives paycheck to paycheck and now needs help feeding his family; a Tennessee woman who had trouble finding out how to apply for food stamps because the federal SNAP Information Number is no longer functional; and a Kansas grandmother who was interested in receiving monthly food boxes through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which is not currently being funded.

Despite the shutdown, WhyHunger’s National Hunger Hotline, 1-866-3-HUNGRY and 1-877-8-HAMBRE, remains open to answer calls from hungry people and families all over the country. Though the Hotline is normally funded in part by the USDA, we remain steadfast in our commitment by connecting people to nutritious, affordable food.

How does the shutdown affect hungry Americans?

Some federal nutrition programs remain relatively intact, for the time being.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) will continue operations and eligible households will still receive monthly benefits for October. WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and Child Nutrition Programs, such as School Lunch, School Breakfast, and Child and Adult Care Feeding will continue operations into October.

Commodity Assistance Programs are also no longer receiving funding, however. These include:

  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides low-income seniors, mothers and children with a monthly food box;
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides commodity foods to food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens;
  • WIC and Senior Farmers’ Markets Nutrition Programs (FMNP and SFMNP), which distribute vouchers that can be used for fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers’ markets; and
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), which provides commodity foods to low-income households living on Indian reservations and Native American families residing in designated areas near reservations. Many Native Americans participate in the FDPIR as an alternative to SNAP, usually because they do not have easy access to food stores.
Other programs affected by the shutdown include TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) and LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program). Without these additional benefits, low-income families will find it even more difficult to put food on the table.

How will emergency food providers be affected by the shutdown?

Many food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens are already strapped. Rates of food insecurity have not dropped since the beginning of the recession in 2008 and millions of Americans continue to struggle with unemployment. Emergency food providers do their best to assist hungry families and individuals, but they also rely on government support. Cuts to TEFAP could reduce the amount of food that emergency food providers have to distribute by 17%. According to Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force in Milwaukee, every two weeks her group will lose an estimated 216,508 pounds of commodity foods.

The bottom line, however, is that a charitable response cannot replace a robust government anti-hunger safety net. The USDA provides $114 billion of food per year through its nutrition programs, whereas emergency food providers provide people in need with about $5 billion of food.

Edited to add: For a detailed account of the impact of the shutdown on food assistance programs, see Agricultural Law.

What can I do to help?

  • Support WhyHunger to help keep the National Hunger Hotline running – even when the government isn’t.
  • Spread the word that the National Hunger Hotline is still open and working to connect hungry people to resources. Click here to download posters and other outreach materials.
  • Support your local food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens.
  • Most importantly, contact your legislators to tell them that the impact this government shutdown is having on hungry Americans is unacceptable. Tell them to get back to work and pass a Farm Bill that strengthens the anti-hunger safety net. You can learn more and take action at //hungercliff.org.

A couple of underreported stories, plus a couple of our partners being recognized by national press...

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently changed how it calculates hunger statistics, which effectively made it look as if worldwide hunger has decreased dramatically. An important new report, "Framing Hunger," seven hunger-related organizations and seventeen U.S. and Canadian development scholars and advocates challenge FAO's accounting and break down why it all matters. Our friend Anna Lappé interviewed her mother, Frances Moore Lappé, one of the report's co-authors, for Who's Hungry Now? The Answers Might Surprise You... on the Huffington Post.

Quartz is one of the few media outlets reporting on a new USDA/University of Maryland study on the dire honeybee die-offs:  Scientists discover what’s killing the bees and it’s worse than you thought.

And in news about inspiring solutions, we're thrilled that NPR has recently reported on the great work of our partners at Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, in Tucson Food Bank Helps the Needy Grow Their Own Food, and Food for Maine's Future in Farm Free Or Die! Maine Towns Rebel Against Food Rules.

What are you reading about food politics this week?

As you may have heard, the Food and Farm Bill is on the move again, as Congress attempts to pass the legislation before the one-year extension of the bill expires on September 30. The latest maneuvers are almost unprecedented in the history of the Food and Farm Bill as we know it: the House of Representatives has passed a new version of the bill without the entire nutrition title, which includes all of the funding for SNAP (formerly food stamps). Nutrition assistance programs have historically been a part of the Food and Farm Bill as a way to tie the interests of rural farmers with the interests of the urban poor, creating a diverse coalition of rural and urban legislators to work together on the bill.

Separating nutrition programs from the rest of the bill leaves them dangerously in limbo, at risk of being further subject to changes in the political winds. Additionally, the House-passed bill makes significant changes to the commodity subsidy program. Currently, the program is revisited and modified every four to six years with the reauthorization of the whole Food and Farm Bill; the changes in this version would make 2013 version of the subsidies into permanent law, so that the broken system of commodity supports would never have to be revisited--while critical programs for conservation, rural development, renewable energy, community food security and others would be at risk of being eliminated in every new bill.

Along with almost 270 other organizations from across the country, WhyHunger has signed onto a statement calling on Congress to pass a full and fair Food and Farm Bill without delay. The statement says, in part:

A full and fair Farm Bill must include farm, food and nutrition, conservation and rural economic development programs and commodity and crop insurance reforms. It must also provide renewed and enhanced funding for the now stranded but critical subset of programs that assist the most chronically under-served segments of agriculture and our rural and urban communities. The House and Senate should immediately appoint conferees to work in an open and urgent fashion toward adopting a final full and fair Farm Bill this summer.

Take action!

The more voices, the better! Sign your organization on to the statement: click here. We're aiming for 500 organizations to sign on!

Tell your Members of Congress you want a full and fair Farm Bill now! Send the statement to your Senators and Representatives by email, fax, or by tweeting to them. You can reach your elected officials through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or online at house.gov and senate.gov.

Join the Twitterstorm at #fairfarmbill and #farmbill calling for a full and fair farm bill to pass without delay.

What we're reading to make sense of it all:

Hunger Games, USA, Paul Krugman, New York Times, July 15, 2013

Farm Bill's Roots in Old Laws Should Be Sustained, Jerry Hagstrom, National Journal, July 21, 2013

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition's policy blog

And for a look at the dire need for a different sort of Food and Farm Bill altogether in response to our rapidly changing climate, check out Our Coming Food Crisis by Gary Paul Nabhan in the New York Times, July 21, 2013.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted down the Food and Farm Bill, leaving SNAP (formerly food stamps) intact, for now--and leaving the next steps for agriculture policy unclear. The bill's failure in the House was due to an unlikely coalition of Democrats who voted against draconian cuts and restrictions to SNAP, and Republicans who didn't think the cuts went far enough.

Here's some of what we've been reading to make sense of the politics of the bill, the fallout from its failure, and what's next.

Farm Bill Fail, a Huffington Post video interview on the how and why behind the vote with guests including Lorette Piccano, Executive Director of Rural Coalition.

How the Farm Bill Failed, David Rogers, Politico

Silver Lining for Reform in Farm Bill Failure: Analysis from the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

Welfare for the Wealthy: In a piece written before the bill's failure, Mark Bittman breaks down some of what was wrong with it.

Statement from FRAC, our partner and an anti-hunger leader, on the failure of the bill.

What's next? Not another temporary extension, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

We'll keep you posted!

The Food and Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that shapes just about everything about how we eat, from farm to plate. It includes funding for SNAP (formerly food stamps), support for farmers, provisions for conservation and much more. Usually, the bill is rewritten every five years, but Washington hasn't done anything in the usual way lately. A new Food and Farm Bill was expected to be passed in 2012, but instead Congress passed a one-year extension to the 2008 bill--an extension which cut many programs supporting local and regional food systems. After many months of uncertainty about when movement might start on a new five-year bill, we have an answer: Now!

The House and Senate Agriculture Committees released their versions of the bill late last week and are scheduled to debate them and add amendments on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. It is likely that there will be a full hearing on the floor of the House and/or Senate next week.

Both bills propose cutting billions of dollars from SNAP (formerly food stamps), and in each, some critical programs to support small-scale, beginning and minority farmers, farmers transitioning to organic, and others have been cut.

What can you do? This week, the Agriculture Committees need to hear from you! On Tuesday, call Senators; on Wednesday, call Representatives! (You can reach any of them through the Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121.)

When you call, ask to speak to the staffer who works on agriculture issues. Ask them to oppose any cuts to the SNAP program, and to support amendments in support of conservation, beginning farmers, and local and regional food systems. (For more specifics and a script, click here.)

Finally: This is the future of our food that Congress is talking about. Don't let them do it in secret--we have to let them know we're paying attention. You can watch the hearings starting Tuesday at 10am EDT here. Follow the proceedings and join the conversation on Twitter, #fairfarmbill and #farmbill. You can also tweet at Senate and House Ag Committee members. Make your voice heard!

We’re participating this week in the Farm Labor Reality Tour, which is in Kendall, Wisconsin, today, working on a dairy farm. The tour is headed up by Bob St. Peter, Maine vegetable farmer and a board member Food for Maine’s Future (a 2012 www. winner). Food for Maine’s Future focuses in part on issues of local control over the local food system – true community-based food sovereignty.

Since March, 2011, ten Maine towns have taken action to define and protect small-scale farming, cottage food businesses, and traditional community social events by passing Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinances, as a way to codify local control into town policy. The passage of what are, in effect, food sovereignty ordinances in Maine has sparked a national movement of localized actions in states around the country to reclaim control of decision-making over local food systems. The movement is raising important questions about who gets to decide how food is produced and how that food is exchanged among consenting individuals.

We’re pleased to publish an essay by Bob St. Peter, written for our Food Security Learning Center, about the importance of the Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinances, exploring the impact of the growing movement to adopt food sovereignty ordinances in Maine and looking at what’s next.

* * * * *

The Right to Eat Local: Assessing the Relevance and Impact of the Local Food & Community Self-Governance Ordinance

On November 9, 2011, Dan Brown of Blue Hill was served a summons by the State of Maine for selling milk and other food prepared in his farmhouse kitchen and sold through his farmstand and local farmers’ markets. A little over a week later, on November 18, nearly 200 people gathered on the steps of the Blue Hill town hall to call on the State of Maine to drop the lawsuit and respect the authority of Blue Hill's LFCSGO. Under the banner “We Are All Farmer Brown,” the rally brought together farmers, farmworkers, farm patrons, political activists, medical marijuana caregivers and patients, militia members, socialists, anarchists, Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, and “rednecks for the wilderness.” Following the formal rally, a parade of speakers ascended the town hall steps, took the mic, and explained why suing a farmer for selling food to his neighbors was unacceptable. Speakers framed the issue in a variety of contexts: preservation of local culture and traditional foodways; influence of agribusiness corporations over state and federal food policy; rural economic development; personal rights and liberty; hypocrisy and overreach of government officials and agencies.

For a couple hours that day in Blue Hill, the divisiveness that plagues U.S. political discourse was set aside in favor of a unifying message: We, the People, have the right and responsibility to choose from whom and in what manner we get our food. That message could not be misconstrued by anyone in attendance as being any form of justification for the environmental, social, and economic harm that predominates the U.S. food system. Rather, it was an affirmation of community-based food systems, of neighbors feeding neighbors using time-tested husbandry and production methods.

Read the entire article www..

WhyHunger is proud to congratulate our partners in winning USDA's first-ever Farm to School Grant Awards! Part of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, the award champions and supports organizations working to support farmers and families by getting local fresh produce directly to kids in schools.

Among these exemplary groups are:

Click here for a full list (PDF) of all the winners, including descriptions of their grant projects. For more on farm to school efforts, check out WhyHunger's Food Security Learning Center topic on Farm to Cafeteria.

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