A popular meme these days is “budget cutting.” In Washington, D.C. it seem like they talk about nothing else. I have prepared many budgets over the past 10 years, and had to make some very hard choices, including for the past few years here at the Foodbank. As the steward of millions in donations the Vermont Foodbank has an obligation to know where every dollar goes, and to ensure that it contributes to the mission of seeing that no one in Vermont goes hungry. That is why when budgeting for the Foodbank we are always focused on the achieving the mission, the long-term financial health of the organization and effectively executing our programs. But the current budget cutting meme doesn’t seem to leave much room thoughtful reflection.
As I write this, budget cutting proposals in congress focus on 12% of the federal budget for all the cuts, and includes large reductions that will directly affect Vermont’s hungry. There are proposed reductions in SNAP benefits (called 3 Squares Vermont here and formerly food stamps) that will drive more people to food shelves and meal sites as their benefits run out sooner in the month. Community Service Block Grants are proposed to be cut in half. These federal grants support Vermont’s 5 community action agencies, 4 of which operate one or more food shelves in Vermont, including the states largest. The cuts could cause our community action agencies to scale back or even close the food shelf operations because they are largely funded with the flexible block grant funding. We are also facing a loss of USDA food and funds to food banks. Loss of all this support will leave a big whole in our communities. How big?
The charitable emergency food network that we run together cannot make up for the loss of strong federal safety net programs. The 3SquaresVT program distributed almost $11 million in benefits in December, 2010. Annualized, that’s more than $130 million last year. Over 90% of those benefits are spent locally within 30 days. Any reduction in that $130 million a year in federal food assistance transfers the burden to the charitable food system. In contrast, the Vermont Foodbank distributed more than $12 million dollars’ worth of food during all of 2010. Try as we might, we can’t possibly fill that gap.
And speaking of gaps, a recent study released by Feeding America, a national organization of over 200 food banks, looked at the “meal gap” in every county in the United States. It measures how many meals it will take so that everyone reports having enough food to eat for the whole family. According to the study, in Vermont over 82,000 of our neighbors are missing 13,745,000 meals per year. We would need to provide $41,440,980,00 worth of food to fill that gap. That would mean more than tripling our food distribution.
This country’s future economic prosperity depends on our people. People who are worried about how they will feed their families tomorrow cannot focus on being good employees, serving their country, being active in their communities or starting a business. A country looking to a strong future cannot afford to let its people go hungry and fall into despair and poverty.
That’s why I am asking for you to join with me and let our elected representatives, state and national leaders know that hunger is unacceptable in our communities, our state and our country.