Joined by local advocates to end hunger and food insecurity, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf in Burlington that a provision incentivizing donations of surplus food to local food pantries was recently signed into law, helping efforts to cut back on food waste and supporting communities help those in need across the country.
During this congress, Leahy successfully led a bipartisan effort to expand and make permanent tax deductions for businesses and farms for donated food to community food shelves this year. As much as 40 percent of food that is produced, grown and transported in the United States will never be used because some businesses find it too costly to donate. This amounts to an estimated 70 billion pounds of wasted food each year.
Leahy said: “The burden of hunger threatens the livelihood and wellbeing of communities across Vermont. Hunger leads to malnourishment, obesity, diabetes and academic and social difficulty among children, and we all know a hungry child cannot learn. Vermont is a leader in the fight against hunger, and I was proud support this common sense provision to cut down on food waste and redirect resources to those in need.”
The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf serves over 12,000 Vermonters each year, and continues to see an increase in visitors seeking food assistance. Rob Meehan, Executive Director of the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf said, “Many of the people we serve face difficult choices including skipping meals so their children will have enough to eat, choosing between food and medicine, food and housing, food and healthcare simply because they do not have enough money. We need more help from our federal government to feed vulnerable Vermonters and this is a valuable step in that direction.”
The provision, the House companion of Leahy’s Senate legislation the Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive Extension Act, was included within a broader tax extension package passed in the year-end spending bill. This provision builds on a proven tax incentive to encourage businesses and farms to donate surplus food to their local food banks. It also permanently extends the same tax incentives to donate food, now available to corporations, to small businesses, farmers, ranchers and restaurant owners – many of whom have large amounts of fresh food to donate.
According to the Vermont Foodbank, 153,000 Vermonters rely on meals provided through food shelters, meal sites, senior centers and after-school programs each year. Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles said, “Many of our neighbors are working hard and still can’t make ends meet. Federal assistance is the first line of defense against hunger, but it has been decreasing in the past several years. We appreciate Senator Leahy getting a win for hunger relief this year, and we’ll work hard to leverage that win for hungry Vermonters and continue to push for more federal, state and private support to end hunger.”
Community members were also in attendance to lend support for this enhanced opportunity for public-private partnership. Former Co-Chair of the Chittenden County Hunger Council and City Market Director of Community Engagement Allison Weinhagen said, “Vermont’s food co-ops, farms and food retailers all value the partnership with our local food banks and pantries. This extension further supports the impactful work that is being done throughout the state. The statistics on food insecure families in our community have not significantly decreased over the past several years and leadership like Senator Leahy’s at the federal level is an important step in making a positive difference in the lives of our neighbors.”
As the most senior member and former chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Leahy has helped to lead the fight in Congress against hunger and is a longtime supporter of federal nutrition programs. This year he successfully advocated for an increase in federal funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program which provides states with commodity food products to fill food shelves. Earlier this year, he also introduced the Farm to School Act of 2015 to bolster nutrition education in schools, while increasing economic benefits for our local farmers.
Also in attendance were Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz, Hunger Free Vermont, the Vermont Farm Bureau and members of the Chittenden County Hunger Council.