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Advocates Say Nutrition Program Cuts Hurting Families

Jennifer Evans of Central Vermont Community Action Council at the organization's Barre food shelf. Open 3 days per week, it serves 100 people each day.

Political leaders and advocates for low-income Vermonters are warning that further cuts to food assistance will make an already difficult situation.

They say a number of factors have contributed to a rise in food insecurity among Vermonters;  including the economic downturn, budget cuts, sequestration and the end of a temporary boost to benefits for SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Gov. Peter Shumlin, Senator Patrick Leahy and others gathered Monday to underscore their point.

Leahy said cuts to the SNAP program are inevitable but he called the billions of dollars in cuts already approved by the U.S. House 'a joke.'

The cuts are included in a massive farm bill and they’re considered the biggest obstacle to its passage.

“There are some; not in the Senate – some in the House of Representatives - who want to cut virtually all of it out,” Leahy said. “I have said if you cut this out, the farm bill will not pass the United States Senate, nor should it. The people who are voting to cut it out are people who will never go hungry except by choice.  Unfortunately that’s not the case with millions of Americans who have no choice.”

The Senate nutrition program cuts are one-tenth the amount of the House cuts. Leahy said he opposes change changes to eligibility requirements that are also included in the House bill.

In Vermont the food assistance program is called called 3SquaresVT.  The program serves 100,000 people and officials say the November 1 cuts have already reduced benefits for Vermonters by $10 million. 

Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles says 40 percent of the food distributed to local food shelves comes from federal programs and donations can’t make up for the loss if there are deep cuts made in the farm bill nutrition program.

“These cuts in federal spending in the farm bill are critical to making sure that people have enough food.  The charitable system cannot make up the slacks,” said Sayles.

According to the federal government one in seven Americans benefits from food stamps. The cost of the program has grown dramatically since 2008 and is now an estimated $80 billion annually.

Leahy is also co-sponsoring a bill that will make permanent tax incentives offered to businesses and farms that donate surplus foods to food banks. Current tax incentives are set to end on December 31.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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