In 2018 Food for People sent nearly 40 letters to our elected representatives in the State and Federal government. Why? Because we cannot fulfill our mission to eliminate hunger with food alone. One of our guiding principles states that we believe the root causes of food insecurity must be addressed to realize our long-term goal of eliminating hunger. Poverty and hunger are inextricably linked. Anything that can reduce or exacerbate poverty will have the same effect on food insecurity. Policies proposed in Washington D.C. and Sacramento can create or reduce the need for our services and directly impact the amount of service we can provide. Food for People engages in policy advocacy as a means to fulfill our mission, educate our community, and to empower our program participants.
The scope and scale of our advocacy efforts is varied. We send letters to support or oppose legislation that might affect the amount of food and funding charitable food organizations receive in State and Federal budgets or how the tax code is written to incentivize charitable giving. We are active in the Californians for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) coalition that strives to increase SSI grant amounts and is celebrating a major victory that will allow SSI recipients to access CalFresh. Nearly half of the households Food for People serve have at least one member who receives SSI. We monitor the reauthorization of the Farm Bill every five years with intense scrutiny, because the funding levels and regulations for programs like SNAP (CalFresh) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) are established in this process. Last year we joined tens of thousands of state and local organizations to oppose proposed cuts to SNAP. We were successful, and the Farm Bill did not include any cuts in SNAP funding. Farm Bill advocacy led to funding of the popular Market Match program that encourages using SNAP benefits at local farmers’ markets.
Food for People hosted free community film screenings of documentaries that focus on hunger. The screenings were followed by panel discussions to explore the ways we can work locally to reduce hunger and poverty. We have sent staff, volunteers, and program participants to Sacramento for Hunger Action Day to speak with our State legislators about the experience of facing hunger in Humboldt County. With the support of the California Association of Food Banks, we send staff to the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington D.C. to speak directly with our members of Congress about poverty and policy. These face-to-face interactions serve as an important reminder of the unique vulnerabilities rural communities can experience with policy changes, and make certain we are not forgotten behind the “Redwood Curtain.”
As I write this article, Food for People is closely monitoring the potential impacts of the government shutdown. Households that access our programs are often also accessing CalFresh, WIC, School Nutrition Programs, and Tribal Commodities. Most of these programs are funded through February; some through March. Should the shutdown continue into and past March, there is no certainty of their operations. Food banks like ours are bracing for the impact of a continued shutdown as we understand that people will need our services to fill the gap. The problem is, the gap is a chasm. For every bag of groceries provided through charity, these federal programs provide twenty (Bread for the World). On a normal day we advocate for these programs for the same reason; food banks are not equipped with the resources and funding to tackle the entirety of hunger in America. By the time this is printed, I hope we have moved past this current advocacy emergency and have returned to the path of advocating for the elimination of hunger and poverty.