Many families across the state do not have access to nutritious food in their community or if they do, they are unable to afford it. Without the means to purchase healthy foods, food bank recipients face tough choices about where to spend their money and what foods they eat.
The Atlanta Community Food Bank hosted a Lunch and Learn webinar event in honor of Hunger Action Month where attendees learned about the meaning of the Georgia Farm Bill Reauthorization, the importance of Farm Bill nutrition programs, and how to take action/advocate to improve policies for more food-secure communities.
What is the Farm Bill & its importance?
The Farm Bill is the major federal food and farm legislation that includes a wide range of agricultural and nutrition policies.
According to Kyle Waide, CEO, and president of the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), the Farm Bill is an important instrument for providing support to families who are facing food insecurity.
The bill was first created during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s to address the farm economy. Congress seeks to reauthorize the Farm Bill every five years and they began the process of committee hearings and listening sessions in 2022 for the 2023 Farm Bill.
According to the ACFB, in 2021, 33.8 million people in the United States suffer from food insecurity. Of that number, 9.2 million are children. In Georgia, for 2021, 1.1 million struggle with food insecurity, and of that number, 335,720 children are affected.
Waide said it’s an important time in the Atlanta community and communities across the country to discuss the Farm Bill and the impact it can have in supporting more families.
“In our food bank, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people who are seeking assistance from us over the last 18 months,” he said. “We’ve seen the population of people seeking help through our network grow by more than 40 percent, which is an astonishing increase and that’s entirely related to the economic challenges that are facing so many of our neighbors across the community like inflation.”
Farm Bill Policy Goals: SNAP, TEFAP, & CSFP
Out of the $428 billion funding for the Farm Bill, nutrition makes up $325.8 billion (78%) of the overall budget.
The Farm Bill impacts access to nutritious food for millions of American families struggling with hunger. Nutrition provisions include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
SNAP provides nine meals for every meal provided through food banks in Georgia. In June SNAP assisted over 693,000 Georgia families by providing over $256 million in food purchasing assistance. From October 2021 to November 2022, nearly 72% of SNAP participants were in families with children and nearly 32% were families with older adults or a family member with disabilities, according to Waide.
Additionally, all eight food banks serving Georgia receive food through TEFAP and it accounted for 8% of the Atlanta Community Food Bank’s distribution in 2023, down from 34% in 2021, according to ACFB.
Waide said these priorities are intended to protect and strengthen the federal nutrition programs by centering equity and the participant experience for neighbors. Their goal is to increase access, funding, and eligibility for nutrition programs to meet the nutritional needs of their neighbors and the communities they serve.
The ACFB three policy goals are:
1. Strengthen TEFAP Funding:
- $500 million for baseline TEFAP food purchases, adjusted for inflation by the Thrifty Food Plan; this would double the annual baseline funding from current levels
- Reauthorize and increase to $200 million discretionary funding for TEFAP Storage & Distribution grants
- Reauthorize $15 million in discretionary funding for TEFAP Infrastructure Grants
- Increase Funding and Streamline State Participation in the TEFAP Farm to Food Bank Program
- Increase partnerships with growers and producers
2. Strengthen and Protect SNAP:
- Strengthen SNAP benefits by protecting the TFP increase
- Simplify and streamline eligibility and enrollment processes
- Strengthen efforts to support work
- Ensure parity in food assistance for U.S. Territories and Sovereignty for Native communities
3. Reauthorize and Streamline Reporting for CSFP
2023 Farm Bill Timeline
According to Waide and Middleton, the House and Senate Agriculture committees began holding Farm Bill congressional hearings and field hearings in 2022 and early 2023 to hear from advocates on how to improve nutrition programs in the Farm Bill.
Several members of Congress have already introduced “marker” bills around policy priorities they want to address in the Farm Bill. A marker bill is a policy proposal that is introduced as individual legislation and can be used as a starting point to debate inclusion of it in bigger legislation like the farm bill.
So far, committees have begun drafting their versions of the Farm Bill, in which the House and Senate Agriculture Committees will each release their versions this fall. The current Farm Bill expires Sept. 30, and it’s expected Congress will pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to allow the programs to continue during this process. The last several farm bills have not been passed on time.
Additionally, Waide said there’s a lot of discussion going around regarding the approach of a potential government shutdown within the next few days, which could have an impact on the new farm bill getting authorized.
“We are expecting this farm bill process to take a while to reach its conclusion due to the talks of a potential government shutdown and until Congress resolves that debate, it’s hard for the bill to get completed until it’s resolved,” he said. “It’s possible that a new Farm Bill won’t get authorized as far away as December 2024, so this could be quite a marathon and we’re going to need everyone’s engagement to let Congress know how much demand and need is in our community right now and how important SNAP and all the other policies/programs are.”
A government shutdown would disrupt the U.S. economy and the lives of millions of Americans who work for the government or rely on federal services from the military personnel and air traffic controllers who would be asked to work without pay to some seven million people in the Women, Infants and Children program, including half the babies born in the U.S., who could lose access to nutritional benefits.
What can the community do?
The Atlanta Community Food Bank gave attendees tips on what they can do to help:
1. Contact your member of Congress and Senators Warnock and Ossoff
- Call their district or DC office and tell them you support our priorities.
- Follow on social media and post Farm Bill priorities
- Learn about your member of Congress, you may find a personal connection: you possibly attended the same high school or college/university; religious organization; other activity.
2. Encourage others to advocate for food secure communities.
- Family, friends, and co-workers
- Board members, business leaders, faith leaders, Local elected officials, healthcare providers, local businesses, local farmers
- Call/email them about the Farm Bill and our priorities
- Encourage them to contact their MOC/Senators about our Farm Bill priorities.
For more information, visit https://www.acfb.org.