Tackling the deficit and weathering the storm

Tamara Sandberg
non-student with the
Kentucky Association of Food Banks

Deficit reduction is an important U.S. national priority, vital to our long-term economic opportunity and security. But just because it’s important doesn’t mean that it can be undertaken without regard to our national values.

Unfortunately, the House Agricultural Committee left values on the sideline this week when it moved forward with a shocking proposal to cut food assistance for our nation’s hungry by over $33 billion. That it was done in the name of deficit reduction does not excuse the fact that cuts to anti-hunger programs at a time when need has never been greater are both reckless and short-sighted.

Taking care of our neighbors is an American value. Every day the members of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks see this partnership reflected in the generous support of our volunteers and donors, and we are grateful that this value is reflected in Washington through important anti-hunger programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps.

Some like to point to the great work that local food pantries are doing to suggest that hunger is better solved by charity at the community level. Speaking from the frontlines, please hear us when we say that charity cannot do it alone. In fact, estimates suggest that charity provides only about 6 percent of all the food assistance in the United States. Hunger is a national problem and it needs a national solution that starts with a strong federal commitment to programs like SNAP.

Kentucky’s food banks are struggling to meet the tremendous increase in need for food assistance resulting from the Great Recession. We saw demand for emergency food assistance increase an astounding 84 percent from 2006 to 2010. We are already struggling to keep up with this increased demand because of declining federal support for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides a bulk of the food distributed by our members. If SNAP were cut, there is no way we would be able to make up the difference. Food banks need more supply, not more demand.

Protecting the poor is not a partisan issue, and balancing the budget does not have to be either. Our nation has a long, bipartisan commitment to low-income safety net programs like SNAP in past deficit reduction agreements. The three major deficit-reduction packages of the last two decades – the 1990, 1993, and 1997 packages – all adhered to this principle, as did the recent bipartisan Bowles-Simpson Commission.

The American people deserve a thoughtful dialog about real solutions, not political showmanship. Congress should put the nation’s interests first and meet in the middle to craft policies that spur economic recovery, ensure broad and sustainable opportunity, and protect families when opportunity remains out of reach, including making sure that SNAP and food pantries are here to put food on the table until struggling Americans are back on their feet.