Udall, Heinrich Call For Emergency Help To Support Food Banks
WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich called on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to make emergency purchases for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to ensure food banks in New Mexico and across the country are able to help families in need. TEFAP buys food and makes it available to agencies, such as New Mexico's Human Services Department, which work with the state's major food banks to distribute to food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. In a letter, Udall, Heinrich and a bipartisan group of 20 other senators urged Vilsack to use existing USDA funds to make bonus purchases of food commodities on behalf of TEFAP in order to make up for its limited food purchases this fiscal year.
"The need for emergency food assistance has outpaced supply at a time of continued elevated unemployment and underemployment, increased food and fuel costs, and reduced funding for TEFAP storage and distribution, increasing the challenges facing food banks. Thirty-seven million people- one in eight Americans- are now receiving emergency food assistance each year through the nation's food banks," the Senators wrote. "With the millions of families across the country continuing to struggle to make ends meet in the wake of the recession, TEFAP commodities are critical to emergency food providers like food banks."
"Child hunger is a serious problem facing New Mexico. With the highest rate of child food insecurity in the nation, I'm committed to supporting local food programs that provide healthy meals for children and families in need," Udall said. "In order to do that, we must ensure our food banks and other programs have the resources to help families through hard times. I look forward to Secretary Vilsack's reply to our request, and I look forward to working with him for New Mexico families."
"Too many children in our state go to bed hungry. We must ensure New Mexico food banks have the necessary resources to effectively provide and distribute healthy meals to children and families in need," Heinrich said. "I am hopeful Secretary Vilsack will heed our call for these emergency purchases to help New Mexico families struggling in difficult times."
According to Feeding America, almost one in three New Mexico children does not have consistent access to food. The Food Depot in Northern New Mexico reported a 30 percent increase in demand for food assistance since the economic downturn. While our economy continues to recover, too many food banks face the prospect of empty or seriously depleted food stocks without additional food supplies.
A copy of the letter is available below:
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
U.S. Department of Agriculture
140 Independence Avenue, SW
Dear Mr. Secretary:
Thank you for your continued commitment in the fight against hunger. We know this is an issue USDA cares deeply about, as was demonstrated last August by the $170 million purchase of meat and poultry products designated for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the recent launch of the U.S. Food Waste Challenge. Food banks across the country are depending on USDA to continue this commitment. We write this letter to strongly urge you to once again use your administrative authorities to distribute existing funding and to do as much as USDA is able to meet demands for TEFAP commodities at food banks. Specifically, we encourage you to make additional bonus purchases in FY 2013 that are designated for TEFAP.
Unfortunately, the need for emergency food assistance has outpaced supply at a time of continued elevated unemployment and underemployment, increased food and fuel costs, and reduced funding for TEFAP storage and distribution, increasing the challenges facing food banks. Thirty-seven million people- one in eight Americans- are now receiving emergency food assistance each year through the nation's food banks In FY 2012, USDA announced $304 million in bonus commodity purchases that were distributed through TEFAP to hungry Americans. Unless additional purchases are made in FY 2013, the purchase amount is expected to only reach $133 million. Food banks are struggling to meet high demand, sometimes unable to fill order requests from local agencies. Such significant shortfalls could be significantly ameliorated by USDA making additional TEFAP commodity purchases and maximizing market surplus opportunities. With the millions of families across the country continuing to struggle to make ends meet in the wake of the recession, TEFAP commodities are critical to emergency food providers like food banks. Our nation's food banks are finding it increasingly difficult to meet the unprecedented need they are experiencing in their communities. According to Feeding America, TEFAP commodities comprise, on average, about 20 percent of the food moving through their network of more than 200 nationwide food banks and 61,000 local partners. Without additional TEFAP commodities, food banks will be hard-pressed to continue providing current levels of food assistance to those in need.
We appreciate your attention to this request and look forward to hearing from you regarding this issue.