Earlier this week, Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry proved that it is possible for Republicans and Democrats to rise above partisan politics to protect our most vulnerable citizens -- children, elders and people with disabilities -- from hunger and the risk of it due to no fault of their own during these troubling times. Both senators voted against harmful amendments to the Farm Bill that would cut essential SNAP benefits, formerly called food stamps. Two of these amendments were defeated, but unfortunately, one passed which will have the effect of cutting SNAP benefits by as much as $70 a month for about 100,000 people across Massachusetts.
More than 40 million people nationally, and 800,000 in Massachusetts, rely on SNAP benefits to put food on their tables. Without a strong SNAP program, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and other food banks across the country simply would not have enough emergency food to make up for the gap created by deep SNAP budget cuts. Food banks were never designed to meet the persistent chronic need for emergency food we’re facing by so many people in our region and across the country.
More than 110,000 people in Western Massachusetts de pend on the food we get from federal and state emergency food as well as donated food from the food industry and local farmers. As it stands now, food provided to The Food Bank from the federal government is down 50 percent in our region compared to last year.
No one should go hungry in Massachusetts or America, yet far too many children go to school hungry, far too many elders are forced to choose between paying for prescription medicine or food, and increasing numbers of working families can’t afford basic household expenses like paying for heat and food in the same month.
It takes an entire community to assure that everyone has nutritious food regardless of their circumstances. Fortu nate ly, we have thousands of volunteers, and food and fund donors who make it possible for us to get more than 6 million meals a year into the hands of our neighbors in need through our region’s network of local pantries, meal sites, shelters and other partners. Nevertheless, we must protect smart government programs like SNAP and other nutrition and farm programs in the Farm Bill that have been proven effective at keeping hunger at bay and promoting food security for households and communities. Our senators showed us and others in Congress that preventing hunger takes political will.
The writer is the executive director, The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.