by Lindsay Smith
Washington Regional Food Funders
Just over a week ago, about a thousand advocates came together for the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. The conference brought together experts, committed professionals, volunteers, and those affected by food insecurity to learn about programs and policies that support good nutrition, prevent hunger, and reduce poverty.
Some of the personal stories shared were heartbreaking. How is it that in 2015 a low-income single mother from Massachusetts completes multiple job training programs, can’t find work, decides to return to school to improve her chances, but nonetheless loses her welfare benefits? She’s one of far too many in our country making hard choices between food, rent, and utilities.
Many agree that the public assistance available isn’t sufficient to meet the needs of those who need it. It’s well-known that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps) recipients often exhaust their benefits before the end of the month, severely constraining their options for healthy eating and putting their health at risk.
The conference ended in a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. Many attendees spent the day asking their legislators to protect SNAP from further cuts. They also asked them to pass the Childhood Nutrition Reauthorization Act without weakening the gains made in the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act to improve school meals championed by First Lady Michelle Obama.
These are not just programs that support the basic health and nutrition of millions of Americans, they are also the building blocks for other programs making stronger connections between our region’s farms and consumers through programs like farm-to-school, farmers market incentives which reduce the cost of fruits and vegetables for low-income people, and more.
We would do well to strengthen federal funding for programs like SNAP, school meals, and WIC. Instead advocates have a lot of work ahead to ensure that no further cuts are made. SNAP has already seen two recent declines in federal funding in 2013 and 2014. One result is that in 2016, nearly one million unemployed adults without children will lose their SNAP benefits, even if they are looking for work. Despite this, the House Agriculture Committee plans a thorough review of the program which several conference speakers noted could result in additional cuts without sustained advocacy.
A November 2013 op-ed from Patty Stonesifer and Alex Ashbrook on the 2013 reduction in SNAP funding underscored the impact of this in Greater Washington. They spoke of the strain this would put on vulnerable community members and emergency food service providers. In the District, the 2013 cuts amounted to $15 million. Compare this to Martha’s Table’s food budget of $1 million a year. For me, it was a powerful statement on why philanthropy must care both about funding basic social services while also funding advocacy and policy change: philanthropic dollars can’t replace continued reductions in federal assistance.
In a follow-up post next week, I’ll share key questions for philanthropy and potential responses.
Lindsay Smith coordinates the work of Washington Regional Food Funders (WRFF), a working group of WRAG. Federal policies and funding for nutrition and agriculture are on her mind following WRFF’s fall convening on Funding Greater Washington’s Food System.
WRAG members interested in how food and nutrition-related programs may be impacted in the FY2016 budget should attend WRAG’s upcoming budget briefing on April 1.