With a government shutdown looming, farmers and food bank workers in Delaware are looking to national lawmakers to renew the nation’s farm bill before its Sept. 30 expiration date to stave off food shortages.
Every five years the nation's farm bill is renewed, providing hundreds of billions of dollars to the nation's agriculture sector and food assistance programs. The bill has been in place since 2018, and recent negotiations have put the changes over the past five years into perspective.
But as the deadline approaches, the state’s agricultural sector and the hundreds of thousands of citizens reliant on food assistance are in limbo.
Political split on food stamp restrictions
SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides food banks with roughly 20% of their supply nationwide, are reliant on the farm bill for their funding and on local food banks for their distribution.
These programs make up nearly 80% of the massive spending bill, which is projected to spend $1.5 trillion in its renewal according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The debate about SNAP funding is at the center of the partisan gridlock that is preventing the farm bill from renewing before Sept. 30.
2022 SNAP data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities showed that in Delaware
One in nine residents received SNAP benefits
More than 68% of SNAP recipients were families with children
Around 11% of Delaware households are considered food insecure
SNAP benefits lifted an average of 20,000 people above the poverty line every year from 2014 to 2018
This year has already seen major cuts to SNAP benefits, including new work restrictions that were put into place this month. Republicans and Democrats are at odds regarding placing further restrictions on the program.
Record high demands with fewer resources
When federal food assistance was rolled back earlier this year, the Delaware Food Bank saw a major spike in demand, with not enough resources to cover it.
The Delaware Food Bank saw major drops in food donations during the pandemic that have lingered to this day, mostly due to supply-chain issues and inflationary restrictions on donors. Last year, donations were down by more than 2.5 million pounds of food.
Between the start and end of the pandemic, the Food Bank's food purchases increased nearly ten-fold, spending $4.7 million by the end of 2022. The Food Bank is currently donating more food and supplies now than at the height of the pandemic, said Chad Robinson, Vice President of External Affairs for the Delaware Food Bank.
Between July 1, 2022 and June 30, the Delaware Food Bank reported more than 17.2 million pounds of food distributed, with an estimated 50,000 households having been served at just the on-site locations in Newark and Milford.
“We’re really looking at ensuring we don’t see cuts to these programs,” Robinson said. “Cuts to [The Emergency Food Assistance Program] and SNAP would mean the reduction of food that’s available to organizations like ours.”
Food assistance priorities
Feeding America, which represents local food banks across the country, has called for the farm bill to include
Double the annual mandatory funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, from $250 million to $500 million
Increasing SNAP benefits to coincide with increasing grocery prices
A more streamlined enrollment process for SNAP so more people can receive benefits
Every dollar donated to the Food Bank provides three meals to people in need. Volunteer and donation information is available on the Delaware Food Bank's website. Food donations can be dropped off at either the Newark or Milford facilities, located at 222 Lake Drive and 1040 Mattlind Way, respectively.
Delaware farmers seek relief
While a vast majority of the spending bill is focused on nutrition assistance, to states like Delaware with a robust agricultural sector, there's a need for risk insurance.
The USDA’s most recent Farm Sector Income Forecast forecasted that net farm income is expected to drop by $48 billion this year, with direct government payments expected to decrease another $3 billion. As storms become more frequent and inflation drives up the cost of supplies, farmers in the state have expressed the need for timely government intervention.
Last month, Sen. Tom Carper met with members of the Delaware Farm Bureau to discuss their priorities. According to Don Clifton, president of the Delaware Farm Bureau, while the current version of the farm bill will suffice in the short-term, it paints an inaccurate picture of today’s agricultural landscape.
“It doesn’t address new priorities that have emerged since the last bill was passed in 2018,” Clifton said. “There’s been sufficient time to get this done, it’s disappointing.”
Among the recent priorities for Delaware farmers is assistance with renewable energy, support for smaller farm operations, conservation programs, addressing increasing input costs and crop insurance.
“It seems like every week there’s somebody that gets flooded,” Clifton said. “We need to have that safety net in place that allows folks to recover.”
This article originally appeared on Delaware News Journal: Delaware food assistance could be at risk with farm bill inaction