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Nutrition Programs for Children and Seniors Threatened

The House of Representatives will debate and vote this week on H.R. 2112 – Agriculture Appropriations for 2012. Some provisions would reduce access to food for members of our communities who are living in poverty – particularly children and the elderly. It is critical to the health and development of our children that these negative provisions in H.R. 2112 are amended prior to a vote. 

If the current provisions are accepted, hundreds of thousands of people would lose access to food assistance through WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children), TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program for the elderly. 

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children

Provisions in H.R. 2112 would fund the WIC program at nearly $1 billion below the $6.83 billion needed to meet the anticipated demand in 2012. Given an estimated 5% increase in the price of food in 2012, this means that approximately 350,000 women and children would be denied access to the program.

The WIC program was established in the 1970s when nutrition deficiencies were identified among children living in poverty. Today, approximately 25% of the children in the United States are living in “food-insecure” households, meaning that they do not have sufficient food throughout the month.  In most cases, these households lack nutritious foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits, and rely heavily on processed foods high in salt and preservatives, and on starches.  Many of the least well-nourished children in the United States are overweight or obese. 

WIC provides nutrition education and better access to healthcare and nutritious foods to pregnant women and their children to help ensure that they will grow and develop physically, emotionally and intellectually. This is necessary to ensure a well-functioning society in the future.  However, H.R. 2112 eliminates nutrition, considering it to be wasteful administration.  The WIC Farmers’ Market program encourages women to purchase fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables by reimbursing farmers’ markets for WIC purchases. This is a help to farmers as well as to families.  However, this program would be cut by 25% if the appropriations bill passes without amendment.

The Commodity Supplemental Food Program

CSFP provides food boxes to supplement the nutrition of seniors at least 60 years of age whose incomes are at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines. It is also available to pregnant women and those with children under the age of one whose incomes are very low. The exact level is determined by states, but averages 185 percent of the poverty threshold. The funding for 2011 provided $176.8 million, but this would be cut to $138.5 million. 

The numbers of seniors are rising, as is the percentage of seniors who have very low incomes. This critical program helps our seniors remain active, alert and healthy for as long as possible. Young single mothers are often the recipients of this assistance, which they need to raise healthy children who develop well. If this cut becomes a reality, many thousands of our neighbors would be eliminated from the program.

It is critical that H.R. 2112 be amended before it comes to a vote in the House. If it is not improved in the House, we need to make sure that the Senate develops a more supportive bill and that such a bill finally becomes law. 

The Emergency Food Assistance Program

TEFAP was established in 1981 to distribute surplus commodities to households most in need of assistance. In 1988, the Hunger Prevention Act required that the USDA purchase commodities for eligible households and local emergency programs that provide meals and distribute food. States receive the commodities and are responsible for the distribution of food.  As food banks are receiving smaller donations of cash and manufacturers and supplies are contributing less to them, TEFAP increases in importance. The current House appropriation bill would cap investment at $51 million below the 2011 spending level.