A deadline is looming for Congress to pass a new farm bill and Colorado food pantries that depend on programs authorized through the massive bill are watching developments in the nation’s capital very closely.
“Everyone is seeing the need increase,” said Allison Taggart, the program director at Integrated Family Community Services in Englewood.
When Taggart started her job in 2018, about 800 families visited its food pantry every month.
“We’re now seeing 1,500 families a month coming in,” said Taggart.
It’s a sign of the desperation many Coloradans feel.
“People are sharing with us that they can't make their dollar stretch,” said Taggart. “They're paying the car bill. They're paying their rent. They're trying to pay for all those other things that are needed in life. And food is just one of those things they can't seem to purchase.”
That’s why Taggart is keeping a close eye on the farm bill, which authorizes food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
TEFAP helps food pantries across the country fill their shelves.
The farm bill is reauthorized every five years through the passage of a new farm bill.
The current farm, which former President Trump signed into law in 2018, bill is set to expire on September 30.
“We are struggling to purchase food right now to close the gap to meet the need. And we're depending on the farm bill,” said Erin Pulling, the CEO of the Food Bank of the Rockies.
Pulling said it’s crucial Congress pass a new farm bill and increase funding for programs like TEFAP.
“Of the food that we receive through TEFAP, that is enough food for nearly 20 million meals over the course of a year. This is an essential component of our work, and it needs to be funded more strongly than it ever has before for us to meet this need,” said Pulling. “This is an essential component of our work, and it needs to be funded more strongly than it ever has before for us to meet this need.”
Pulling said TEFAP has historically provided about 30% of its total food supply.
“It's now down to 13% of our total food supply,” said Pulling. “And we are struggling to close that gap with purchased food. We need increases in the TEFAP program that is funded through the farm bill to serve our neighbors in need.”
Some lawmakers admit Congress will likely miss the September 30 deadline, as they did five years ago after debates broke out over different programs within the farm bill.
If Congress misses the deadline, programs like SNAP and TEFAP will continue to operate, provided lawmakers fund them through other bills, according to the Congressional Research Service.
But all the uncertainty is not welcome news for Colorado food pantries and the people they serve.
“We definitely need to reauthorize it now. Folks are in need in the community now more than ever,” said Taggart.