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In the New Year, We Need Congress to Help Rural Families

For many families here in West Virginia, two years of uncertainty around jobs, day care, and protecting the health of loved ones have taken a toll. Now families face another unexpected challenge – rising costs that only exacerbate existing struggles. Havoc in the food supply chain, induced and worsened by the pandemic, is making everything from pork chops to peanut butter more expensive. At Mountaineer Food Bank, we see the consequences to the thousands of families we serve.

Having food should be the last thing on any kid’s mind, and parents should not have to worry so often about where their families will get their next meal. Yet, millions of families continue to suffer from hunger in the U.S., and the problem remains dire in many parts of rural America. Hunger is, in fact, worse in rural communities, which make up 63 percent of all U.S. counties but 87 percent of counties with the highest rates of food insecurity.

That is why it is critical for our lawmakers to invest in The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which supports Mountaineer Food Bank and other food banks across the country.

USDA data show that 1 in 3 people who live in households at risk of hunger earn too much money to qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other federal nutrition programs. Many of these families turn to food banks, including Mountaineer Food Bank and other emergency food assistance programs, which depend on programs like TEFAP.

TEFAP is an innovative program that brings food from U.S. farms and producers to food banks and families facing hunger. The program offers more than 120 nutritious foods, including fruits and vegetables, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, nuts, milk, cheese, and whole grains. It is the cornerstone of food supply for Feeding America’s network of more than 200 food banks, 21 statewide food bank associations, and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs. In 2020, the Feeding America network, which Mountaineer Food Bank is part of, distributed 1.2 billion pounds of food to rural America, including 465 million pounds of food provided by federal programs like TEFAP.

Even with the vital support TEFAP has offered throughout the pandemic, Mountaineer Food Bank sees first-hand at our doors the reality that many families have not turned the corner. The amount of food distributed by the Feeding America network of food banks – which serves every county in this country – remains more than 40 percent above pre-pandemic levels. Amid a slow pace of recovery, these numbers aren’t decreasing fast enough. In fact, the decline has leveled off

for many food banks in the Feeding America network. Food insecurity remains a serious and persistent problem. And that means we have our work cut out for us.

Mountaineer Food Bank is proud of our work to bring healthy food from TEFAP to families in need every day, but we can’t do it alone. We need leaders in Congress and the White House to protect funding for this program that produces dual benefits for U.S. farmers and producers and families facing hunger. We urge members of the community here in rural West Virginia to contact Senator Manchin, Senator Capito, and Congressman McKinley to remind them of how TEFAP makes a difference for children and families during tough times.

Our community is a family that must unite now to take care of our neighbors facing hunger heading into the new year and beyond.

Caitlin Cook serves as Director of Advocacy and Public Policy at Mountaineer Food Bank

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