Every year, the Food and Research Action Center (FRAC) partners with Feeding America to hold an Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. In 2017, this conference received record attendance with over 1,300 attendees that showed up concerned about our nation’s direction on issues around poverty, employment, and hunger. Leaders from all over the country, urban and rural, gather together to discuss innovative strategies, successes and concerns about the future.
Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America, spoke early in the conference about working collaboratively and united with our partners as we work to address the issues of hunger in United States.
For the past two years, Mountaineer Food Bank and Facing Hunger Foodbank in Huntington, WV have partnered to visit our state’s representatives in our nation’s capital. This year, we kicked off our visits with Senator Joe Manchin’s office. We met with Senator Manchin, Sarah Venuto the Senior Policy Adviser and Elliott Howard, Legislative Correspondent. Our discussion centered around our success with the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the upcoming discussions around the FY18 Farm Bill. West Virginia was approved to have a CSFP, or “senior box” program in late 2016, which will be implemented starting in May 2017. Seniors that are 60 or older and income eligible can receive a box of food monthly through the program. West Virginia was awarded 5,000 caseloads for pilot counties of Hampshire, Gilmer, Cabell, Kanawha, Lincoln, Wayne, Harrison and Raleigh. If the program proves successful, the WV Department of Agriculture can apply for more in 2018.
Our next stop was Congressman Alex Mooney’s office (District 2). We met with John Caddock, Legislative Aide to the Congressman. This was our first meeting with John, so we talked about the food bank’s work in West Virginia. We discussed the Farm Bill, which greatly impacts the amount of USDA commodities through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) states receive. TEFAP is a commodity program that purchases and distributes food to low income Americans. West Virginia receives between 5-6 million pounds of commodities annually at a cost of $1.9 million in federal funds. TEFAP foods provide approximately 17-20% of the food distributed by Feeding America food banks.
Next, we visited Congressman Evan Jenkins (District 3). We met with Geoffrey Hempelmann, Legislative Assistant to discuss successes and concerns. The Farm Bill has many components, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a key piece. SNAP is the bedrock of the nation’s anti-hunger system, serving more than 42 million Americans. SNAP works by issuing low-income Americans Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards with money that can only be used to purchase food. SNAP is critical to hunger relief in West Virginia. SNAP has been controversial as a safety net program, however, 64% of SNAP recipients are either children, the elderly or disabled. Almost 2/3 of the rest either work fulltime, are caretakers or others or are participating in a training program. There has been conversations of block granting some of these programs, which allows the state to assume full control of the funds. Advocates of block granting promote local control of the funds and the usage. Opponents warn of the potential of misusage of funds. The reality is that without SNAP, people will go hungry in West Virginia.
Congressman Jenkins surprised us and joined our meeting to discuss appropriations and inquired about ways that food banks could be helped. We further discussed the political climate in West Virginia and how important Farm Bill funds and these programs are to hard working West Virginians that are struggling.
Our final visit of the day was to Senator Shelley Moore Capito’s office. We were able to meet with Travis Cone, Legislative Assistant to the Senator. We were able to continue our discussions around the Farm Bill and the impact it will have on West Virginia. Food waste will be a big part of the next Farm Bill, as between 25-40% of America’s food is wasted. Food banks often partner with retailers and processors to capture surplus food that would otherwise be destroyed.
We encourage you to learn more about the Farm Bill and other anti-hunger initiatives by visiting www.frac.org or www.feedingamerica.org.
Please visit our website www.mountaineerfoodbank.org to learn about our work in West Virginia and how to donate time, food or funds. Every $1 donated helps us provide up to 8 meals in West Virginia, and every meal counts.