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Last Monday, Washington anti-hunger advocates sat down with a key Obama administration official and informed him that children and families across our state continue to feel the impact of the recession.
In fact, the number of families who need to access Washington’s food stamp program, called Basic Food, increases each month. WithinReach, the statewide organization that refers families in need to vital services, reported to USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon that the state has cut more than 400 Community Service Office positions since 2008. As a result, applying for food assistance takes longer; phone lines to the Department of Social and Health Services are so clogged that many cannot even get through to the queues that put callers on hold for hours.
Concannon affirmed the role of Basic Food as the country’s number-one defense against hunger and applauded Washington state Basic Food administrators for adopting simplified rules that not only ease the workload, but get more benefits to more families. One notable result: Families can receive food assistance without being squeezed so hard that it’s difficult to recover financially.
Advocates meeting with Concannon were also thinking of the federal Farm Bill, which sets the rules for the distribution of food stamps and other anti-hunger resources across the country. The Children’s Alliance asked Concannon to work to keep the “heat and eat” provision in the 2012 Farm Bill. That provision increases utility allowances for households so they can afford electricity and running water.
President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal released on Monday, includes increased investments in our nation’s nutrition safety net, and also restores a benefit increase for Basic Food that came with the 2009 federal stimulus.
Another Farm Bill priority shared with the Under Secretary was the restoration of benefits to all legal immigrants.
Washington’s State Food Assistance (SFA) program fills the gap for legal immigrants who can’t get access to federal food stamps, but for the past two years, SFA has been on the chopping block in the Governor’s proposed budget. Last year, lawmakers slashed funds in half, with a federal injunction preventing the state from eliminating the program or cutting benefits.
The Children’s Alliance and a broad group of allies are fighting to retain SFA and help meet the nutrition needs of all Washingtonians.