NOVEMBER 8TH, 2007 | Harkin for Senate
By BILL BOLLING
Late last month, the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved a 2007 farm bill that could significantly impact food stamps and other food assistance programs for low-income families and individuals.
The Senate committee’s version of the bill was passed by a strong majority and would provide more than $4.3 billion over five years in new funding for federal nutrition programs, including $84 million for hunger relief efforts in Georgia.
This bill represents a major step forward in bringing hope to the more than 1 million Georgians and 35 million Americans living on the brink of hunger. On behalf of all those served by the Atlanta Community Food Bank and seven other Georgia food banks, I extend our deepest thanks to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), ranking member of the committee, for his tireless leadership in getting the bill through the committee.
But there is still much work to be done. The focus of the farm bill will now shift to the full Senate, where the legislation could be considered as early as this week. People often overlook the reality that the farm bill is also a food bill, and it affects much more than agricultural policy. Programs like the food stamp program and USDA commodity donation programs for food banks are reauthorized and funded through this critical legislation. Provisions in the bill would improve benefits and expand access to the food stamp program. Providing food stamps to more low-income people is one of the best ways to help Americans attain self-sufficiency. It also helps contribute to a strong local economy. Every dollar spent on food stamp purchases yields $1.84 in return. That translates to more than $150 million to be spent in Georgia.
The bill comes at a time when food banks nationwide are experiencing a dramatic decline in food aid. Last year, the value of USDA food donated for emergency distribution in Georgia was $4.2 million less than three years ago. That has put a tremendous strain on local food pantries and feeding programs.
While inventories are dwindling, there are still millions of Americans in need of food assistance. Ironically, the majority of those who request emergency food are people who have jobs and are working hard every day. We are living in an age of rapidly rising food prices, soaring energy costs and food stamp benefits that have been stuck at the same level for 30 years. These added pressures have placed a nutritious diet far out of reach for so many families already pressed to make ends meet.
In July, the House passed its version of the farm bill — The Farm, Nutrition and Bioenergy Act — also allotting $4.3 billion for nutrition programs. The proposed spending may sound like a considerable sum, but it pales in comparison to the Harvard School of Public Health’s estimate that hunger costs the American economy $90 billion annually in preventable health care costs, lost educational achievement and lower worker productivity.
Chambliss has long been an advocate for hungry Americans and this time is no different. He and the committee chairman, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), have demonstrated bipartisan leadership at its best. He has taken the time to tour the country listening to people’s stories and eagerly looking for ways for the government to ensure that no one in this land of agricultural richness is forced to go to bed hungry.
I urge Sen. Chambliss and Congress to continue moving on a path toward speedy passage of a farm bill that is good for farmers and good for millions of hungry Americans. It’s time to bring hope to hungry people in Georgia and across the nation and move us one step closer to a hunger-free America.