As many as 70 homebound, low-income seniors who currently receive boxes of food each month from the Missoula Food Bank through the federally funded Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) could be cut from the list if Congress proceeds with its funding plan for the program.
Aaron Brock, outreach coordinator for the Missoula Food Bank, says 390 local residents are currently enrolled in the program, and 360 of those are homebound seniors.
Leona Martens, who works for the Weld Food Bank in Greeley, Colo., and sits on the board of directors for the CSFP Association, says that at least 45,000 seniors and as many as 120,000 could be cut nationwide. Congress, set to reconvene Sept. 6, is currently considering funding for fiscal year 2006 and a Senate committee has suggested funding CSFP at its 2005 level of $108 million, which the House of Representatives already approved.
Martens says that because of rising food and fuel costs and fluctuations in commodity reserves the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) donates to the program, people currently served would have to be cut unless more money is made available. Though CSFP helps both seniors and women with young children, seniors are first in line to be cut.
The food boxes contain a variety of nutritional foods, and in the past many of the more expensive items like dried milk and cheese have come from excess USDA stocks. But this year many of those goods will have to be purchased, since the USDA doesn’t have a surplus, Martens says, which adds to rising costs.
The exact increase required to maintain the program at current levels is impossible to predict due to the changing cost of food, Martens adds, but she’s hoping additional money from Congress in combination with increased availability of USDA surplus goods will make up the difference.
Brock says he’s hopeful Congress may reconsider so local seniors don’t lose out. “These aren’t people who are [in the program] because they think it’s a neat culinary experience,” he says.