Feeding America Urges Congress to Protect Safety Net Programs for Seniors

Mar 31, 2011, 18:04 ET from Feeding America

81,000 Seniors Targeted to Lose Essential Monthly Food Boxes

CHICAGO, March 31, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger relief organization, delivered a letter to the leaders of the Congress today, urging them to maintain current funding levels for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) in any final spending package for federal fiscal year 2011.

Thirteen additional organizations and institutions that serve older Americans and advocate for food assistance for low-income individuals also signed the letter, which was spearheaded by Feeding America.

H.R. 1, the long-term spending bill for FY2011 passed last month by the House of Representatives, calls for significant cuts to funding to the CSFP program. If these same cuts were to be included in the long-term spending bill currently being crafted by Congress, it could result in more than 81,000 low-income seniors immediately being dropped from this essential program.

"We must do everything possible to tell Congress, and all of our government leaders, that they cannot and must not attempt to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens," said Vicki Escarra. "CSFP funding must remain at its current level, or tens of thousands of our nation's seniors will go hungry."

The text of the letter follows:

March 29, 2011

The Honorable John Boehner

The Honorable Harry Reid

Speaker of the House

Senate Majority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20515

Washington, DC  20510

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

House Minority Leader

Senate Minority Leader

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Senate

Washington, DC 20515

Washington, DC  20510

Dear Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Reid, Minority Leader Pelosi, and Minority Leader McConnell:

In the coming days, as Congress works to negotiate a long-term FY 2011 Continuing Resolution, we urge you to protect the safety net programs that are vital to sustaining the welfare our nation's more than 13 million low-income seniors. Many of these seniors are representative of what the bipartisan Deficit Commission called "our nation's most truly disadvantaged," those for whom they made it a guiding principle to ensure a "robust, affordable, fair, and sustainable safety net." In keeping with that principle, while we recognize that Congress must make tough choices this year to address the budget deficit, we urge you not to balance the budget on the backs of our most vulnerable seniors by cutting the programs on which they rely.

One of the key safety net programs for low-income seniors that we are concerned with protecting is the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).  Administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, CSFP is a critical program that leverages government buying power to provide nutritionally balanced food packages to more than 600,000 low-income people each month. More than 96% of those benefiting from this program are seniors with incomes of less than 130% of the federal poverty line (approximately $14,000 for a senior living alone.) For many of these seniors, CSFP may be the only nutrition assistance program readily accessible to them.  

CSFP is an efficient and effective program. While the cost to USDA to provide this package of food is, on average, $20 per month, the average retail value of the foods in the package is $50. For the seniors participating in this program, CSFP provides more than just food and nourishment, it also helps to combat the poor health conditions often found in seniors who are experiencing food insecurity and at risk of hunger. According to analysis of data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, seniors over the age of 60 who are experiencing some form of food insecurity are significantly more likely to have lower intakes of major vitamins, significantly more likely to be in poor or fair health, and more likely to have limitations in activities of daily living. CSFP food packages, specifically designed to supplement needed sources of nutrients typically lacking in participants' diets like protein, iron, zinc, and vitamins B-6 and B-12, can play an important role in combating these ill effects of senior hunger.

Unfortunately, despite the clear benefits of CSFP to low-income seniors and the long waiting lists that many states have of seniors who need this program, H.R. 1 targeted CSFP for deep cuts. While this program will require a funding level of $171.4 million in FY2011 in order to sustain the current caseload, H.R. 1 proposed cutting funding for this program by $20 million. As a result, if a cut of this magnitude were to be enacted, more than 81,000 low-income seniors would immediately be dropped from this vital program. Although the $20 monthly CSFP food package may not seem like much, to a low-income senior, it can mean the difference between three square meals a day and not having enough to eat. Especially when you consider that the CSFP food package has a retail value 2 ½ times what it costs the government to provide, it is hard to believe that Congress would cut a program that is both desperately needed and a highly efficient use of federal dollars.

We therefore respectfully urge you to maintain full funding levels for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program in any long-term FY2011 Continuing Resolution. CSFP is both a highly efficient use of federal dollars and critically important to hundreds of thousands of low-income seniors. While we understand the challenges you face in crafting an FY2011 spending bill that addresses our growing federal deficit, our nation must protect critical safety net programs that serve our most vulnerable seniors.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.


American Dietetic Association
Feeding America
Food Research and Action Center
Lutheran Services in America
Meals on Wheels Association of America
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs
National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities
National Commodity Supplemental Food Program Association
National Council on Aging
National WIC Association
OWL – The Voice of Midlife and Older Women
Service Employees International Union

Ross Fraser

SOURCE Feeding America