April 1, 2017
By Joyce Rothermel
Since 1983, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has funded a program to assist families who lack the resources to obtain the food they need: the State Food Purchase Program (SFPP). SFPP, which provides essential funding to all 67 counties to support the purchase and distribution of nutritious food and to provide enhanced access to surplus federal food commodities. In most counties, grants are given to their regional food banks to buy food at wholesale or better prices and then make that food available to local pantries and soup kitchens serving those in need in their neighborhood communities.
This year the food banks in Pennsylvania, including the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, are seeking an appropriation of $21 million in the 2017-18 state budget. This is an increase from the current year’s funding level and more than Governor Wolf has recommended in the budget he sent to the Legislature.
Another program, begun and funded over the past year or two, is the PA Agricultural Surplus System. PASS helps charitable food providers secure a variety of surplus agricultural products produced in Pennsylvania, creating additional supply to feed those who are at risk of hunger, and providing an alternative market for many farmers in the commonwealth who currently have no outlet for safe, but lower-graded product.
The food banks are seeking to obtain an appropriation of $5 million for PASS in the 2017-18 state budget.
The food banks need our help. Now is the time to contact our State Representatives and Senators and let them know you support these two programs. You can send letters to your elected members at PA Senate and PA House, PA Capitol, Harrisburg, PA 17120. If you do not know your PA members,you can find them on this website; www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/ Once you have their contact information, you can put it in your phone contact information, and call them any time you want to give them your opinion or urge them to act on legislation.
Finally, the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP) tax credits provide a benefit to food banks in PA in accessing donations of grocery products and financial resources. They are threatened in this year’s budget process.
NAP is a program of the PA Department of Community and Economic Development. The tax credits provide a powerful incentive for farmers, food retailers and other Pennsylvania corporations to donate food and funds to charitable food assistance providers such as our food bank. Last fiscal year, the tax credits provided to the Food Bank through the NAP Charitable Food Program leveraged the donation of 1.8 million pounds of grocery products and over $477,000 in contributions. While these resources are greatly needed and much appreciated, the tax credits allocated to our food bank have diminished over the past several years, even as the demand for both our services and these credits has increased.
House Bill 64, introduced on February 28 by Representative Bernie O’Neill, increases the amount available for NAP tax credits from the current $18 million to $36 million.
The Food Bank’s staff reached out to members of the PA House of Representatives from southwestern Pennsylvania to encourage them to sign on as co-sponsors. The following members of the House did become co-sponsors: Rep. Dave Reed (Majority Leader), Rep. Donna Oberlander (Caucus Secretary), Rep. Mark Mustio, Rep. Dom Costa, Rep. Anthony DeLuca, Rep. Ed Gainey (Appropriations Committee), Rep. Bill Kortz, Rep. Jim Marshall, Rep. Rob Matzie, Rep. Adam Ravenstahl, Rep. Harry Readshaw, and Rep. Chris Sainato. If your PA Representative is not listed, please reach out to him or her to become a co-sponsor of this legislation.
Public policy is the path to justice in food security. Donating to a food drive helps a few people. Working to improve public policy in Pennsylvania, touches hundreds of thousands!
Joyce Rothermel is the retired CEO of Gr. Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.