By Tamara Sandberg
According to a new report released by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, 82 percent of cities surveyed reported increases in demand for emergency food assistance. This report quantifies the challenges the members of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks see every day as families in our state continue to struggle to put food on the table in the face of high unemployment and poverty rates.
City officials cited the combination of increasing demand and decreasing resources as the biggest challenge they will face in addressing hunger in the coming year.
Food banks in Kentucky understand this struggle all too well. Our members are serving 620,100 clients a year, an increase of 84 percent from 2006. Because of volatile food prices, we have also seen a 40-50 percent decline in USDA commodities delivered to food banks in 2012. At the same time, charities across the country are seeing declines in charitable giving.
Unemployment led the list of causes of hunger cited by cities in the new report, and food banks have seen first-hand the impact the nation’s struggling economy has had on our neighbors. With high and prolonged unemployment and many more families scraping by on one salary, or reduced hours and wages, many families in our communities are still hurting.
That is why we are deeply concerned about proposals in Washington to cut hunger-relief resources as part of deficit reduction. Congress has proposed cutting billions of dollars from SNAP (formerly food stamps), which would cause millions of people to see their food assistance either cut or lost entirely. Congress has also proposed capping the tax deduction that individuals can take for donating to charities, which would make it harder for food banks to raise food and funds.
There is no way food banks could fill the gap if anti-hunger programs like SNAP were cut, and our ability to serve the needy in our community would be greatly diminished without federal policies like the charitable giving tax deduction. State and local budgets have already been cut and charities remain stretched to meet demand in communities around the country.
During this time of limited resources, we must remember that fighting hunger is a public-private partnership. As Congress makes decisions about deficit reduction, it is essential that they adhere to their historical, bipartisan commitment to protect programs that serve vulnerable families.
Tamara Sandberg is executive director of the Kentucky Association of Food Banks. The association is made up of seven Feeding America food banks serving all 120 counties of Kentucky.