Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: Lawmakers must move forward on farm bill

by Caitlin Cook

Food banks are facing a food crisis. A majority of the more than 200 food banks in the Feeding America network serving every county in the country, which Mountaineer Food Bank is part of, report steady or increased demand for food since June 2021.

This food crisis looms at the confluence of decreasing donations and continued rising food prices that strain the Feeding America network’s ability to serve families across the U.S. The stark reality is Mountaineer Food Bank may not have the resources to serve all of the people in the 48 West Virginia counties who seek our help.

There’s no time to waste: Across the country, the number of people facing food insecurity is growing. In 2022, more than 44 million people, including 13 million children, in the U.S. lived in food-insecure households — an increase of nearly 31% and 44% respectively from the previous year.

Congress’ consideration of the farm bill represents a significant opportunity to substantively help food banks nationwide. The farm bill is our country’s most meaningful food and agriculture bill and is reauthorized by Congress every five years. The farm bill impacts nearly every federal nutrition program that helps ease the strain and stress of hunger in communities across the country. This includes The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) — which, through the help of food banks, ensures that food from U.S. farms and producers makes its way to the homes of families facing hunger — and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — which helps families afford groceries.

The farm bill impacts if and how millions of people in our country put food on the table. Feeding America data shows that 1 in 3 people facing hunger are unlikely to qualify for SNAP. Many of these working families turn to food banks to help fill the gap. Food banks need programs like TEFAP to help ensure these families can put healthy and nutritious food on the table. Among people who do receive SNAP benefits, two-thirds are children, seniors and people with disabilities. These federal nutrition programs, combined with other public and private partnerships in the community, like food banks, create a critical food support system for our neighbors facing hunger.

With Congress passing a temporary stop-gap funding bill, the time to consider other significant legislation like the farm bill, which expired in September, is now. If lawmakers do not consider the farm bill soon, many federal agriculture and nutrition programs are at risk of being underfunded. This would put additional strain on farmers, food banks like ours and our neighbors facing hunger.

Even more alarmingly, if decision-makers in Washington cannot agree on a long-term government funding solution, even more Americans will face uncertainty. Food banks will be the first, and potentially only, option for assistance for many of these people — further exacerbating the food crisis.

Sen. Capito, Sen. Manchin, Congresswoman Miller and Congressman Mooney must take urgent action to ensure that the government is funded and a bipartisan farm bill is considered — keeping federal nutrition programs strong during both deliberations. Our neighbors facing hunger, and food banks like Mountaineer Food Bank who proudly serve them, are counting on lawmakers to act.

Caitlin Cook serves as director of advocacy and public policy for Mountaineer Food Bank.