Americans are turning to food banks for help in the face of rising costs for food, fuel, childcare and housing, the chief executive of the Atlanta Community Food Bank told lawmakers Tuesday. “Our distribution volumes are on the rise again” and are now in line with the first months of the pandemic when hunger was on the rise, said Kyle Wade, chief executive.

Across the country, the operating costs of food banks are rising significantly, he said. About 55% of Feeding America’s 200 food banks say food donations are declining, while pandemic relief programs, including a river of government-funded food to distribute to the poor, are also being phased out.

“We can’t do our job alone,” Wade said at a House Agriculture Committee hearing on nutrition assistance programs other than SNAP. “We need help, and in particular, we need access to more of the high-quality food provided by the USDA through the programs allowed by the Farm Bill.”

Congress should increase the mandatory annual funding for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to $450 million and allocate $200 million a year for distribution costs. TEFAP, created in the early 1980s, is a USDA program that purchases nutritious foods and donates them to states for distribution through charities. In fiscal year 2020, TEFAP was allocated $322.3 million for so-called concessional goods and $79.6 million for administrative expenses. At its discretion, the USDA buys “bonus” items for donations; in 2018, those purchases totaled $308.9 million.

“We recommend $450 million in core funding nationwide,” Vaide said.

“We want to work with you on this,” said House Agriculture Chairman David Scott, who said he was worried about long lines at food banks. “We are determined to ensure that no one in our country goes hungry.”

Wade also called for easier participation of low-income older Americans in the Supplemental Food Program, which provides a box of food to approximately 780,000 people each month. Recipients must have an income at or below 130% of the federal poverty line, or $15,301 for a single person.

Senior Republican on the committee Glenn Thompson said tightening the fiscal belt was the right response to high inflation. “I hope there is a realistic discussion today about how to deal with these excessive costs and ensure access for those in need,” he said. “But more spending and more rights aren’t necessarily the answer.”

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern said he supports expanding USDA programs such as the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), which provides incentives for SNAP recipients to buy fruits and vegetables. Incentives were a better way to improve the diet than proposals to ban SNAP candy or soda purchases, he said.

To watch the video of the hearing, Click here.

The written statements of the witnesses are available here.

USDA Fact Sheet on TEFAP available here.

The Congressional Research Service report on TEFAP was available here.

USDA Newsletter on GusNIP available here.

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