A lot of discussion around the state has focused on the gas tax. Roads in good condition are integral to our ability to get to work in a state that is heavily dependent on cars to get there. But how far would we get if our tanks were empty. Isn’t food and our ability to secure enough food to “tank up” even more important to a functioning working society. Surely no one would argue that kids growing up today need healthy food now to be at their best tomorrow.
So why is our investment in food shrinking not growing?
I am proud to be in a state that actually includes food support in the state budget. As Director of Advocacy for the Community FoodBank of New Jersey I have seen firsthand how the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP) funding of $6.8 million dollars has allowed us to strive to meet the growing needs of families struggling to put food on the table. But ask any of the feeding programs that support those struggling families and they will tell you that there are more people not less and not always enough food to meet the growing demand. A recent study found that 91% of feeding programs say they fed as many or more people than the previous year and at the same time 28% say they had to turn away clients. The number one reason cited was that they ran out of food.
While the economy’s recovery, slow at best, is one factor, the real reason behind this disturbing trend is a cut in government support for nutrition programs or “fuel for the body”. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the largest and most effective federal nutrition assistance program in the United States has been cut twice in recent years. Last year’s cut left New Jersey as only 1 of 3 states that could not mitigate the federal cuts with state funds leaving families affected only one place to go: their local food pantry. At the same time, year over year, five years to be exact, the funds in the SFPP program have remained at the same level. To echo my colleagues, flat funding is in reality less funding. As the prices of food have increased, the foods that can be purchased with the same dollars have decreased. Food purchased last year with SFPP funds amounted to half a million pounds less food purchased than five years ago, leaving the pantries and the people that they provide for running on empty.
In 2007 the State of New Jersey made a bold move and created the State Food Purchase Program to help provide healthy and nutritious food to feed people affected by hunger. To continue that effective and forwarding thinking investment now they should put the money where it should be and provide yearly increases to keep up a consistent level of support for the program.
By Diane Riley, Community FoodBank of New Jersey.