Food shelves try to cope with federal cuts

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(Host) The Vermont Food Bank and local food shelves throughout the state are trying to cope with a significant reduction of commodity products from the federal government.

The federal cuts come at a time when demand for food assistance is increasing.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The cuts that have been made by the federal Department of Agriculture are being acutely felt by state and local food banks across the country because the U.S.D.A distributes high quality commodities, such as milk, cheese and canned goods.

The federal government increases purchases for the commodity program when farm prices are low and it cuts back when prices are higher. That’s the situation right now.

Vermont Food Bank director Deborah Flateman says the U.S.D.A. sharply reduced the amount of commodity food it sent to her group during 2006. It’s a situation that put additional pressure on the Vermont Food Bank to try to make up the difference:

(Flateman) “During fiscal year ’06 which ends for us on September 30th. The shrinkage that we experienced was about 500,000 pounds.”

(Kinzel) Flateman says local demand for food assistance is growing dramatically because many working families are now seeking help.

(Flateman) “We’ve got a lot of working folks out there who are going to food shelves which is a trend now that we’ve seen over the past 3 to 5 years, and it’s not stopping. More and more people and not earning enough money to adequately provide for their families.”

(Kinzel) Hal Cohen is the director of the Central Vermont Community Action Agency. CVCAC runs an emergency food operation in Barre.

(Cohen) “We’ve seen a constant increase of people who are accessing our food shelf and what we’re finding is that we’re essentially an emergency food shelf. We give folks about 3 days worth of food. But really what’s going on is people are going from food shelf to food shelf to soup kitchen.”

(Kinzel) Although Vermont’s unemployment rate is relatively low – it’s roughly 3.7% – Cohen says the rate doesn’t tell the whole story about economic conditions in Vermont.

(Cohen) “You know that since welfare reform there’s been a tremendous drop in the welfare load and it means more people are out there working. And that’s really a positive thing. But people are making less than livable wages and some folks are working 40 hours a week and are still under the federal poverty guidelines.”

(Kinzel) This year the Vermont Food Bank will distribute roughly 6 and a half million pounds of food to local operations throughout the state.

The goal of the Food Bank is reach 12 to 14 million pounds a year because that’s what officials believe it will take to meet the actual demand in the state.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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