State Budget Shortfall Means Food Banks Take on Greater Responsibility in Providing Food Aid to 1.5 Million Pennsylvanians Living in Poverty

The State Food Purchase Program doesn’t get proposed $1 million increase in time of greatest need

PHILADELPHIA –June 1, 2009 – In the face of a deepening recession and an upsurge of roughly 30 to 50 percent in the demand for food aid across Pennsylvania, the state budget, passed in the Senate earlier this month, excludes Gov. Ed Rendell’s proposed $1 million increase to the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP), which would leave the federal government and food banks to pick up the slack.

While a coalition of Pennsylvania food banks including Philabundance, the Delaware Valley’s largest hunger relief organization, had sought a $6 million increase to the SFPP, the $1 million proposed by Gov. Rendell reflected the concerns of hunger relief advocates who have seen need escalate as much as 50 percent in some parts of the state. Despite the efforts of the hunger coalition and concerns raised by the Hunger Caucus in Harrisburg, a bipartisan group chaired by Senator Mike Brubaker, R-36, a budget passed the Republican-controlled Senate along a 30-20 party-line vote that left out $1.7 billion of Gov. Rendell’s $29 billion budget proposal – leaving the SFPP funding at $18 million, the same as it has been since 2007.

The State Food Purchase Program provides cash grants to counties for the purchase of food for low income individuals. It is intended to supplement the efforts of food pantries, soup kitchens, food banks, feeding programs, shelters for the homeless and similar organizations to reduce hunger. Philabundance does not receive funds from the SFPP, but many of its agencies do rely on the SFPP funds.

“The responsibility of providing food for people in Pennsylvania is falling more on the federal government and charitable organizations like Philabundance,” says Bill Clark, Philabundance’s president and executive director. “Without the additional funding of the SFPP, Philabundance will struggle to pick up the slack from the agencies that are getting fewer funds from the SFPP cuts.”

With much needed resources like the State Food Purchase Program remaining stagnant, and an unprecedented escalation in demand, Philabundance has responded by creating the Emergency Relief Initiative (ERI) to widen the safety net to provide more food to more people when they need it. ERI is made up of new and expanded programs that will help more people by providing 1.5 million additional meals between now and the end of the year.

Philabundance, which receives less than 1% of its funding from government sources, has expanded its services through ERI to give people more support to help them get through these turbulent times. Ironically, as need has increased and Philabundance and other food banks rise to meet this challenge, the Senate’s failure to increase the SFPP budget adds additional stress to the challenges already faced.

“Unemployment continues to rise, the cost of food is up 20 percent and the increase in need at food banks like Philabundance has swollen more than a third in the past year. This is not a time for inaction from my colleagues in the Senate,” says state Senator Larry Farnese, D-1, who voted against the Senate’s excessive budget cuts. “Food security is not a partisan issue. We have an obligation to our constituents, and not increasing funding to the food banks at this time would be flat-out irresponsible.”

Senator Farnese hopes to work with Senator Brubaker and members of the Republican leadership to give organizations like Philabundance the support they need to help Pennsylvanians through this hunger state of emergency. Since 2004-05 the demand increase at most food banks is at more than 30 percent (31 percent in the Delaware Valley). The total PA Food Stamps has increased 22 percent, and the cost of food is projected to increase to 20 percent by the end of this year, with many of the SFPP staples increasing by 40 percent or more.

The value of the food Philabundance distributed in 2008 in the Delaware Valley is almost the same as the entire budget for the SFPP. Last year, Philabundance distributed 17 million pounds of food at $1.02 per pound. The current SFPP budget translates to a weekly allocation of 23 cents for 1.5 million Pennsylvanians living in poverty. It would take $100 million to provide 20 percent of the impoverished with 20 percent of their food. Currently, the cost met by the Commonwealth is 0.7 percent.

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