U.S. cannot afford to cut food aid

Published 10:35 pm Thursday, April 19, 2012

By Joanne Batson
Guest columnist

Deficit reduction is an important 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 of Representatives 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.


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Taking care of our neighbors is an American value, and feeding our neighbors is a shared responsibility. Every day, The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia sees 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 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, 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 is one that needs a national solution, and that starts with a strong federal commitment to programs like SNAP.

The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia is struggling to meet the tremendous increase in need from the recession. We can barely keep up as it is because of declining federal support for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides nutritious commodities for distribution through local charities. There is no way that we would be able to make up the difference if SNAP were cut. Food banks like ours 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 protecting 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 dialogue 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.


Joanne Batson is the chief executive officer of the Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia. Call her at 627-6599 or visit the Foodbank’s website at www.foodbankonline.org.