Casey Vows to Fight Changes in Food Assistance Programs
CHESTER >> A plea from legislators to save food assistance programs in Pennsylvania came to Chester Monday morning at the Fare & Square grocery store with the arrival of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
In opposition to H.R. 5003, the Improving Child Nutrition and Education Act of 2016, Casey and supporters in the Senate said the House bill that grants funding for hungry kids was anything but an improvement.
“We have to make sure the programs that are designed to help those families to get from point A to point B, to get through a recession or to even get through a tough economy, that those programs are there for them,” Casey said.
Programs like Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) screen eligible programs, schools, families and individuals for income below a certain limit. Those who are eligible may qualify for federal funds for food, nutrition education or health referrals.
The fear, Casey said, was that the bill introduced by Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education, would raise the eligibility for federal programs and prohibit individuals from qualifying for federal assistance.
“We’ve got a lot of people in Washington right now, many of them in the House of Representatives and a few of them in the United States Senate, (who) want to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assist Program, or they want to send it back to the states in block grant, that’s a bad idea,” Casey said.
Under the block grant, a state would opt to receive a set amount of funding, rather than federal funding for school lunch and breakfast programs.
“We’re always worried that the funding is going to be cut and we know the need isn’t going down,” said Laura Wall, the executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.
In an open letter to U.S. Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-5 of Bellefonte, and Lou Barletta, R-11 of Hazleton, organizations throughout Pennsylvania expressed discontent with the reauthorization bill, which was continued after it reached the end of its five-year lifespan in 2015. Written in the letter, the opponents to the bill contended that 246 eligible schools of the 795 schools in the state that participate would no longer be eligible.
“Twenty-percent of Pennsylvania children live in a house short of food … (and) half of all the infants in the United States benefit from the WIC program,” Casey said.
The bill includes modest improvements, including a two-cent increase in school breakfast reimbursement rates, but those in opposition express that it comes at too great a cost. In the last reauthorization in 2010, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) did not receive additional funds or an extra snack to the dismay of the National Association for Family Child Care, which penned an open letter after the 2016 reauthorization did not include those provisions.
“Any time there’s a threat to SNAP or WIC or any of those programs that help families become stable and helps them put food on the table is a huge concern,” Wall said.
The setting at Fare & Square in Chester has often been used as the podium for issues regarding food and food insecurity. Once known as a “food desert,” the city of Chester has highly touted the non-profit grocery for hiring Chester residents, its accessibility to the community it serves and offering affordable produce with fresh alternatives.
“We think this model can go throughout the country, a non-profit with affordable pricing,” said Fare & Square Vice President of Operations Mike Basher.
Similar non-profit grocers have popped up in Waco, Texas, Boston, Mass., and in cities in North Dakota, South Dakota, California and others.
“The folks who shop here, the folks who are served by this store, are part of the family of Pennsylvania,” Casey said.