Letter to the Editor: Cuts to CSFP will hurt most vulnerable seniors

February 25, 2011

Hunger in Missouri is a reality for one in eight in our state. Thousands of Missourians will go to bed hungry tonight. We have the fifth-worst rate of childhood hunger in the nation and our state experienced the third-highest rate of increase in hunger since 1994.

That’s why it is so important that we get serious about solving the hunger challenges in our state.

Last weekend, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a spending bill that would cut about $60 billion over the next seven months as compared to current spending levels. Among the many cuts is a $20 million cut to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides low-income seniors with a box of nutritious food items each month.

Ozarks Food Harvest provides CSFP food boxes to 2,000 seniors every month, but more and more seniors continue to qualify for the program.

The proposed cut will not only prevent us from being able to add new participants in a time of rising need, the program will lose nearly 81,000 slots from current caseload nationwide. That means many of the seniors served by Ozarks Food Harvest could be kicked off of the program.

$20 million is a miniscule part of a $3.5 trillion federal budget, but the monthly food package that this funding supports makes a real difference in the lives of thousands of our most vulnerable seniors. What’s more, because the program provides a $50 monthly retail value to participants but only costs the government approximately $20, we know that the program not only is needed but is a highly efficient use of federal dollars.

$20 a month may not sound like much, but for low-income Missourians who are choosing between food and other basic needs, the CSFP box can make the difference in getting the nutrition they need. Many seniors are already choosing between food and other basic needs. According to a nationwide Feeding America hunger study Ozarks Food Harvest participated in, 30 percent of senior households indicated that they have had to choose between food and medical care and 35 percent had to choose between food and paying for utilities. Taking food away from elderly Americans is simply not the appropriate response to our budget woes.

The Senate is expected to introduce its FY2011 spending plan when Congress returns from recess next week. Senator Roy Blunt serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and has a say in whether CSFP is cut. Congress should pass a bill that addresses the budget deficit while protecting the programs that protect the most vulnerable among us.

Solving the hunger challenge in Missouri will require tough choices and a combination of public and private solutions. As the number of hungry Missourians continues to rise, now is not the time to take away an important source of basic nutrition. Senator Blunt is a long time supporter of Ozarks Food Harvest and our hunger relief efforts. We respectfully urge Senator Blunt to protect CSFP and other important safety-net programs from additional cuts.

—Bart Brown, president/CEO, Ozarks Food Harvest

# # #