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A Thanksgiving Federal Food Policy Update
Amidst the party-planning hustle and the turkey-shopping bustle, millions of Americans are struggling to feed their families. Thanksgiving is a natural time to take stock of the things in life you are grateful for, like your family, your health, and the food on your table. It is a natural time to have conversations about where this food comes from, about the systems that allowed you to purchase these foods and about the network of people, animals, businesses, and environmental ecosystems that made your meal possible. But what about the people that this system is failing to serve? People who lost their jobs and are struggling to pay for healthcare, housing, and nutritious healthy food; the nearly 9 million senior citizens that are at risk of hunger; and the nearly 16 million children? On November 1, nearly $5 billion in cuts took effect to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), affecting 47.7 million Americans. A family of four is expected to lose $36 a month, from an average budget of only $668. Additional cuts to SNAP are expected from an updated version of the Farm Bill, whose passing is more than a year overdue. The major point of contention between the Senate and House’s debate of the Farm Bill, is how much to cut SNAP; the Senate proposing nearly $4 billion in cuts, while the house poses nearly $40 billion. Either amount of cuts would have a huge impact on the health and nutrition of our nation’s low-income and no-income populations, particularly children and senior citizens. For instance, 19% of recipients of the Meals on Wheels Program, an at home food distribution service for senior citizens, are also recipients of SNAP. Unfortunately, as cuts to SNAP take effect and a stronger reliance is placed on programs like Meals on Wheels, these programs themselves are facing cuts and funding challenges. Meals on Wheels is expected to deliver only 214 million meals in 2014, compared to 228 million in 2011, despite increasing demand and need.
As an individual there are things you can do to get involved this Thanksgiving. Consider volunteering or donating food or funds to a local food bank or pantry. Also, consider getting involved by writing your congress representatives and letting them know what you think about the food assistance benefits and the Farm Bill. Ohio has two representatives on the Farm Bill conference committee: Senator Sherrod Brown and House Representative Marcia Fudge. You can also take some time to be thankful for the bountiful local food system in Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, and Northeast Ohio. Skip the grocery store and support your local farmers and producers, or simply take some time to orient yourself to federal and local food policy issues. Thanksgiving is a great time to begin the conversation about food and food policy, and an even better time to get involved.