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Food banks urge passage of farm bill; critical shortage of food as clients increase

The Nation's Food Bank Network reported the results of a new survey that found 100 percent of food bank respondents have seen an increase in the number of clients served within the past year. The increase is estimated at 15 percent to 20 percent.

Of those surveyed, 84 percent indicated they are currently unable to adequately meet the increased demand without having to reduce the amount of food they distribute or people they serve.

Testifying at a special hearing of Congress' Joint Economic Committee, America's Second Harvest pointed to the alarming survey results as the organization urged passage of the farm bill. The farm bill includes a strong nutrition title, including $250 million with the amount indexed for inflation for the Emergency Food Assistance Program and an increase in benefits levels and eligibility for the food stamp program.

While Congress struggles to complete work on the farm bill, hungry Americans need relief now. America's Second Harvest also requested an immediate $100 million in emergency funding to address the increased need for emergency food brought on by the demands of a falling economy and rapid increases in food prices.

"The America's Second Harvest Network and food service organizations nationwide have been absolutely overwhelmed by demand," said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of America's Second Harvest. "Supply is not keeping up with demand and we must do something quickly to meet the needs of the more than 35 million struggling Americans trying to make ends meet and feed themselves and their families."

Conducted April 28-29, 2008, the survey asked the 49 food banks in the states and districts of committee members to report on the impact of rising food prices on their operations. One food bank reports, "Short term, we are limiting the amount of food we can provide agencies. Agencies are limiting the amount of food they provide families." This operation is not alone. Of those who stated they cannot meet demand, 39 percent have already, or are considering, reducing the amount of food offered at their food bank. Even more food banks — 46 percent — have reduced, or are considering reducing the variety of foods offered to agencies. One food bank reported, "People seeking assistance need to go to more than one agency."

All of the participating food banks said their agencies are seeing families and faces they haven't seen before — working people who never thought they would have trouble making ends meet. One food banker in Minneola, N.Y., noted, "The middle class is accessing food from our agencies." Another relayed the story of a professional consultant that asked about emergency food assistance, "because her clients had not paid her yet and she was concerned that she may possibly be in need."

America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest charitable domestic hunger-relief organization, and its network of 205 food banks coast-to-coast are confronting three major challenges: (1) substantially reduced donations of federally purchased commodities; (2) a rise in the number of people seeking emergency food because of the declining economy, and (3) more recently, rapidly rising food prices that seriously undermine the ability to serve the increasing numbers of hungry people seeking help.

"Any one of these challenges would be hard to deal with alone, but they have compounded and we have a significant crisis on our hands," said Escarra. "The need is unprecedented. Former donors are now showing up as clients. Some food banks have resorted to reducing the amount of food offered. Others are closing doors early when they run out of food."

"The time to act is now. Congress and the president must move quickly to complete their work on the farm bill so that we can enact long-term reforms in Federal Nutrition Programs and put in place protections against an unsure economy so that we do not find ourselves in the same place in years to come."

America's Second Harvest is the largest charitable domestic hunger-relief organization in the United States. Through its network of more than 200 member food banks, America's Second Harvest annually provides assistance to more than 25 million people in need, including more than 9 million children and nearly 3 million seniors in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Each year, America's Second Harvest secures and distributes more than 2 billion pounds of donated food and grocery products to support feeding programs at approximately 50,000 local charitable agencies, including food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, after-school programs, and Kids Cafes.

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