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In The Bank

Posted on Thursday, July 7th, 2011

By Matteo Ramos-Mucci , Communications Intern

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Today, our country’s fiscal security is of paramount concern, regardless of political affiliation. But as policymakers work to find a popular solution, essential public service programs are receiving heavy fire.

Earlier this year, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) proposed a budget that would cut funding for the Food for Peace program, leaving approximately 1.1million recipients hungry, and would eliminate funding for Michelle Obama‘s “Health Food Initiatives.” Though the Ryan bill has not yet been approved, several damaging bills have already been passed. Cuts, approved May 31st, by the House Appropriations Committee would force the WIC to turn away 200,000 to 350,000 low-income women and young children nationally. For the last 15 years this entitlement-based program allowed any eligible family with young children to receive support. Under the Ryan plan, they would face long waiting lines due to shortages in food supplies. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts annually serves 91,000 people, a 22% increase since 2006, including 32,000 children. The top findings from Hunger in America 2010 revealed that 63% of client households with children ages 0 to 3 participate in the WIC program. These families are the most vulnerable to food insecurity. They are the ones who will be devastated by the proposed cuts.

On June 16th, the House approved the FY12 Agriculture Appropriations bill, which drastically cuts SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), forcing hundreds of thousands of Western Mass. residents to seek support from Food Bank member agencies like local meal sites and pantries. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a major provider of food for The Food Bank and hundreds of others around the country, is also facing cuts.

Additionally, this reduction of SNAP benefits would actually hurt the local economy. For every $5 of food-stamp spending, there is $9.20 of total economic activity, as grocers and farmers pay their employees and suppliers, who in turn pay their bills. Under the Ryan plan, the Western Mass. economy would lose around $2 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

Rep. Ryan’s budget proposal includes cutting trillions of dollars from Medicare and Medicaid, fundamentally restructuring entitlement programs that millions of Americans rely on. The elderly and children, the most vulnerable to these cuts, are also the most at risk to suffer from food-insecurity. The US Department of Agriculture states that 1 of 6 Americans is food insecure and Feeding America alerts that there is a 46% increase in people seeking emergency food assistance. More than one third of the households served by agencies of the Food Bank of Western Mass., contain one or more employed adult. Hard working families cannot always put food on the table despite their efforts. By stripping healthcare benefit programs many will now be forced to choose between paying healthcare bills and buying groceries.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has long warned of an incoming food crisis that would only add to the problems low-income families are facing in America and in the world. French President Sarkozy has publically warned that food prices are becoming increasingly volatile. According to the US News & World Report the average American spends 10% of his/her annual income on food, but for those who have a below average yearly earning the percentage spent on food is higher. This means that any increase in food prices is a proportionately larger percent of their total income.

By cutting public services for political gain, policymakers are causing low-income families to become food-insecure, and are poised to further damage our already vulnerable economy. At the same time the economy is failing to jumpstart, food prices are increasing, and world leaders and researchers are warning that a global food crisis is imminent. The most vulnerable portions of our population must be protected from going hungry as they try to raise their standard of living. If the cuts on our public service programs are enacted, our food-insecure neighbors will have no choice but to seek charitable food assistance, and the support of The Food Bank of Western Mass. and our member agencies will be more crucial than ever before.

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