Commodity distributors ask for minor changes; McGovern seeks hunger hearing
March 22, 2017
A series of advocates for commodity distribution programs asked the House Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee on Tuesday to make minor changes to their programs in the next farm bill, but Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., used the hearing to express his dissatisfaction with reports that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, plans to make changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program involving people categorized as able-bodied, childless adults.
Carrie Calvert, director of tax and commodity policy for Feeding America, a network of almost 200 food banks, said The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), whose funding has been reduced after a spike during the Great Recession, needs additional funding "in a more stable manner in the next farm bill" because the economic recovery has been uneven.
Frank Kubik, who directs the Commodity Supplemental Food Program at Focus: HOPE, a Detroit group, asked for continued support for CSFP because it helps the elderly get a nutritionally balanced monthly food package. CSFP is in 48 states, the District of Columbia and two Indian Tribal Organizations (Red Lake, Minn., and Oglala Sioux, S.D.), and each month serves 697,865 participants, Kubik noted.
Jerry Tonubbee, director of the Food Distribution Program for the Choctaw Nation in Durant, Okla., said that the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) "is intended to be a supplemental program, but for far too many of our tribal members, it is their primary source of food. When compared to other federal feeding programs, FDPIR is a healthier choice for our people. Food supplies our citizens receive monthly adhere to strict nutritional guidelines. The food has low sodium and low fat content, and little to no sugar. Things like cakes, pies and sodas are not available through FDPIR. Our participants receive healthy ingredients each month like fresh fruit and vegetables, milk, beans, lean meats and other items that can be prepared into full, nutritional meals."
But Tonubbee said a USDA rule barring the tribe from using FDPIR to serve residents of any "urban place," which USDA defines as any city or town with a population over 10,000, means the tribe has to apply for a waiver to serve people in larger communities.
"We see this as an unnecessary burden that delays service to some of our neediest citizens," Tonubbee said. He also asked for a provision to allow the program to carry over a certain percentage of its FDPIR amount so that service can be "continuous and consistent."
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Tonubbee also said his group would like to use TEFAP, but that under current rules the tribe could not administer the program.
"Under current rules, the Choctaw Nation would have to apply to the state of Oklahoma in order to become an eligible recipient agency," he said. "This would subordinate the Choctaw Nation to the state, which would create an unacceptable, impractical and complicated relationship. The Choctaw Nation has continually demonstrated our programmatic capacity and our commitment to a tribe-federal partnership through our administration of FDPIR. We ask this subcommittee to consider amending and expanding TEFAP to allow for tribal administration, on par with states."
McGovern, in his opening statement, praised the work of food banks but said he is disturbed by media reports that Conaway intends to use the white paper developed from last year's nutrition hearings to make changes to the programs, and that the changes will particularly affect people 18 to 49 who do not have children.
"While it's convenient to demonize this group of vulnerable adults, the truth of the matter is, we don't have a clear picture of the ABAWD (able-bodied adults without dependents) population. We know it's a diverse group. We know many have limited educational experiences, and some have mental health issues, difficult histories of substance abuse, or are ex-offenders with nowhere else to turn. I've come to learn that up to 60,000 are veterans," McGovern said.
"I think members of this committee could benefit from a hearing on this vulnerable population. Maybe before we start kicking people who fall into this ABAWD category off of Medicaid and out of the SNAP program, we should have a hearing to explore this vulnerable population and work to understand their struggles, as opposed to belittling them," he added.
"Kicking vulnerable people off of food assistance does nothing to help them find work. It just makes them hungry. It's mean-spirited, and it's a rotten thing to do," McGovern said.
"We need to maintain the structure of SNAP, increase SNAP benefits, and boost our anti-hunger safety net to reach those who are still facing incredible hardship. And we need to commit to and fund programs that provide an economic ladder to those struggling in poverty," he concluded.
"As the Agriculture Committee begins its work on the next farm bill, we will continue to identify ways to work alongside state and local organizations to help provide safe and nutritious food for those who need it most," Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson, R-Pa., nutrition subcommittee chairman, said.