|Posted on Friday, February 10, 2006 - 09:02 am: |
Yesterday I heard some discouraging, indeed, infuriating news regarding the President's Federal Fiscal Year 2007 Budget. The budget proposal zero-funds the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, USDA's monthly food box program which provides supplemental nutrition and nutrition education to about half a million low-income senior citizens, pregnant and post-partum women, and young children. Current national funding for the program is about $106 million. This is the program which I've helped administer in Louisiana for the past fourteen years. Before Katrina, we were serving about 86,000 clients each month, around 95% of them low-income senior citizens, many of them trying to live on their $500/month Social Security checks. The storms pretty much wiped us out; we didn't serve any clients for six weeks, and since then, we've been slowly building our numbers back up.
Louisiana has participated in this program since 1970, and for the past six years, our state has had the largest program in the nation. The President's budget proposal suggests that senior clients currently served transfer over to the Food Stamp Program. That sounds fine on the surface, since Food Stamps is a much bigger program than we are, but the reason that the majority of our clients don't bother with the F.S.P. is that they have to fill out a 35-page questionnaire in order to receive, on average, about $10 a month in benefits. . . and we all know how far $10 a month goes at the grocery store. In contrast, the foods which our clients receive from CSFP each month have a retail value of about $55 -- but USDA, buying the foods in bulk, only pays $15 for each food package.
Now, I've learned not to panic regarding stipulations in the President's annual budget proposal. Congress has the power of the purse, not the Executive Branch, and we've traditionally had much stronger support in Congress than we've had from nearly all presidential administrations. And this isn't the first time that a president's budget has zero-funded the CSFP; the last time this was done was back in 1983, and we've been serving food ever since. The actual decision regarding FFY 2007 appropriations won't be made until sometime late this fall.
However. . . coming on the heels of other recent policy decisions made by Our President regarding the Gulf Coast, this really burns my ass, and not merely because I'm employed by this program. The CSFP serves about a hundred thousand of the most nutritionally vulnerable people in Louisiana and Mississippi each month, the very people who were hit the hardest by Katrina and Rita. Whacking this program disproportionately whacks the Gulf Coast, given that we serve about a fifth of the nationwide caseload down here. Just a few days ago, our "recovery czar," Mr. Powell, wrote an editorial for the Washington Post which inaccurately defamed Rep. Richard Baker's bill to help Louisiana homeowners avoid foreclosure and to assist devastated neighborhoods to be rebuilt or put aside as protected flood plains. Rep. Baker's bill isn't perfect (he's a Republican legislator, by the way), but it is the best plan put forward so far to try to make sure New Orleans doesn't fall off the edge of a cliff. What alternative does Mr. Powell (and through him, Our President) suggest? He essentially says that the Community Block Grant dollars already allocated to Louisiana should take care of making the 20,000 homeowners whose homes were outside the designated flood plain, but which flooded anyway, whole again. He doesn't say a word about the other 160,000 homes destroyed by floods which were caused by improper design and construction of levees which were the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A massive FEDERAL engineering screw-up drowned New Orleans, and the federal government is trying to weasel out of making us even fractionally whole again.
So zero-funding the CSFP at this point comes under the category of the feds spitting on us after they've impaled us. Oh, and our friend Michael Brown is coming clean this morning in front of a Senate investigating panel. From what I've heard thus far, a whole lot of people much higher up in the Administration are going to have egg on their faces before he's done singing.
|Posted on Friday, February 10, 2006 - 12:08 pm: |
I strongly doubt that many of you Night Shade Books discussion board participants are regular readers of The National Review, but editor Deroy Murdock, a conservative Republican, wrote an editorial advocating the passage of Rep. Richard Baker's Louisiana housing recovery bill which I think makes one of the best cases available for the legislation. I especially like the article because it comes from a Republican viewpoint and quotes prominent Louisiana Republican leaders. If anyone is capable of shaming this administration into doing what's right by the Gulf Coast, it will likely be Republicans. Here's the link:
|Posted on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - 07:11 am: |
Here's a link to a well-written article which outlines the consequences of zero-funding the Commodity Supplemental Food Program:
I talked with the reporter for about 45 minutes on the phone, and she quotes me pretty extensively.
|Posted on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - 07:49 am: |
So what can we do to help the cause, in addition to writing our congresspeople?
|Posted on Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - 09:26 am: |
Jim, thanks for asking. New York has a pretty large CSFP, by the way, mainly in the NYC-Long Island region, so you and your elected representatives do have a dog in this fight. Listed below are some action steps recommended by the National Commodity Supplemental Food Program Association:
1. ACTION NEEDED with your SENATORS: Below you will find a letter titled "2006 CSFP Senate Dear Colleague Letter to USDA.doc". Senator Debbie Stabenow of MI has authored a letter to Secretary Johanns requesting USDA to restore FY06 caseload reductions. We are asking everyone to contact your senators requesting they sign-on. If your Senators or their staff have any questions for Senator Stabenow they should contact Oliver Kim @ 202.224.4822. The deadline for sign-on is March 3, 2006. If you have any questions, please contact Frank Kubik @313.494.4442 or <mailto:email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's the body of that letter:
The Honorable Mike Johanns
Secretary of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Secretary Johanns:
We are writing to express our concerns regarding the reductions of 48,000 cases from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), the vital nutrition program for low-income seniors, mothers, and children. As you know, CSFP is a complement—not a substitute for—the Food Stamp Program and WIC.
While Congress is debating the budget proposal, we urge you to adopt the congressional recommendations in the FY06 Agricultural Appropriations bill:
According to the USDA’s latest estimates, approximately $6,020,000 in commodity inventory is expected to be available to CSFP in fiscal year 2006, making the total available for the program approximately $114,305,000. The conferees strongly encourage USDA to make every effort to maintain the fiscal year 2005 caseload by making full use of CSFP inventory and carryover from preceding years, and to access all available resources from bonus commodity holdings and CCC stocks.
Such an action would at least reduce the severity of the announced 9.2% cut in participation. It is not clear from the “CSFP 2006 Tentative Caseload Assignments” memorandum whether USDA has made full use of all available resources. Additionally, we are concerned about the prospect of seniors not receiving needed CSFP food supplements in a year when USDA has forecast in excess of $34.6 million in carryover inventory at the end of the 2006 fiscal year. These inventories should be utilized to serve the full FY06 caseload.
At a time when some Americans must choose between food or their medicine, utilities, and other expenses, the federal government should not be reducing benefits for our most vulnerable citizens. The courtesy of a prompt reply is requested.
2. ACTION NEEDED with your CONGRESSMAN/WOMAN: Below you will find a letter titled "2007 CSFP House Dear Colleague Letter to AG-APPROS. Sub-committee.doc". Congressman Sanders (VT) and Congressman Beca (CA) have co-authored a letter to share their outrage at the President's recommendation to eliminate CSFP from the FY07 budget. The first letter will provide you with contact information should your Congressman/woman have any questions. No deadline was giving, but we are speculating the end of next week.
Here's the body of that letter:
STOP THE ELIMINATION OF THE
COMMODITY SUPPLEMENTAL FOOD PROGRAM!
President Bush has proposed to completely eliminate all funding for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), a vital nutrition program primarily for low-income seniors but also serving many mothers, infants and children across the country. I write to ask you to join me in sending the letter below to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, urging them to reject this proposed elimination and to adequately fund the CSFP in Fiscal Year 2007.
The CSFP will provide more than 6.4 million food packages for over 400,000 low-income seniors, mothers and children across the country in 2006. The typical package includes foods such as canned tuna fish, meat and poultry, peanut butter, formula, milk, juice, oats, rice, beans, cheese, cereal, and canned fruits and vegetables. To be eligible, seniors must have an income at or below 130% of the federal poverty line (currently about $12,400 a year for a single person and $16,700 for a couple). CSFP also provides food packages to low-income pregnant and post-partum women, infants, and children up to age six, generally up to 185% of the federal poverty line.
President Bush's proposal would cut off these nutritious commodities to low-income seniors (aged 60 and older), mothers and children in the 32 states, the District of Columbia and two Indian reservations where this program operates. While the President's proposal includes a transitional $20 food stamp benefit for seniors losing their CSFP food, it simply will not fill the nutrition gap that would be created by CSFP's elimination.
Please join me in urging the appropriators to preserve this vital program and ensure over 400,000 Americans receive the basic, nutritious foods they need to survive. For more information or to sign the attached letter, please have your staff contact Michael Behan in my office at 5-4115.
Bernard Sanders, Member of Congress
Joe Bacca, Member of Congress
February __, 2006
The Honorable Henry Bonilla
Subcommittee on Agriculture
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
2362 Rayburn H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Rosa DeLauro
Subcommittee on Agriculture
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives
1016 Longworth H.O.B.
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Bonilla and Ranking Member DeLauro:
We write to request that you preserve the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) in the Fiscal Year 2007 Agriculture Appropriations bill and provide funding at least equal to, and preferably more than, last year's level. As you know, President Bush has proposed in his 2007 Budget to completely eliminate all funding for this vital nutrition program. We strongly urge you to reject this proposed elimination and to adequately fund the CSFP so that seniors and children who rely on it as a fundamental source of healthy foods will get the nutrition they need.
The Commodity Supplemental Food Program will provide more than 6.4 million food packages for over 400,000 mothers, infants, children and, primarily, low-income seniors across the country in 2006. CSFP food packages do not provide a complete diet, but supplement needed sources of nutrients typically lacking in the diets of the recipients. The typical package includes items such as canned tuna fish, meat and poultry, peanut butter, formula, milk, juice, oats, rice, beans, cheese, cereal, and canned fruits and vegetables.
To be eligible, seniors must have income at or below 130% of the federal poverty line (currently about $12,400 a year for a single person and $16,700 for a couple). CSFP also provides food packages to low-income pregnant and post-partum women, infants, and children up to age six, generally up to 185% of the federal poverty line.
Cutting off these nutritious commodities would impact the health and well-being of more than 400,000 Americans in 32 states, the District of Columbia and on two Indian reservations. While the President's proposal includes a 6-month transitional food stamp benefit for seniors losing CSFP, the proposed $20 benefit will not come near to replacing the nutrition gap that would be widened by CSFP's elimination and would do nothing to address their needs after the 6-month period expires.
As you begin the appropriations process for Fiscal Year 2007, we wanted to remind you of the critical significance of this program and urge you to reject its proposed elimination.
We appreciate your consideration of this important request.
Jim, if you (or other interested parties) could send letters to your Senators and Representatives asking them to sign onto the letters copied above, that would be a big help. The continued funding of the CSFP is in the hands of Congress, not the Administration. Thanks again so much for asking how you might be helpful. Greatly appreciated!