Minnesota food shelves ask for help in upcoming federal farm bill

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(ABC 6 News) – Lawmakers are now discussing a bill that only comes around every 5 years. The federal farm bill is voted on every five years, and will be on the docket in 2023.

Even though it is called the farm bill, historically, most of the money from the bill has gone to food assistance programs like food shelves and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Food shelf representatives from around Minnesota’s first congressional district discussed priorities for the bill Wednesday in Albert Lea.

As food shelves around the United States are struggling to stock food, these advocates say changing policy is important.

“It is a good way for us to try to ensure we don’t get into this same position in the future,” said Rachel Sosnowchik, a public affairs specialist with Second Harvest Heartland.

Channel One Food Bank in Rochester has seen 50 percent fewer supplies from the government in the last year. They have also seen a 45 percent increase in need.

“Food is on the chopping block,” said Channel One Executive Director Virginia Merritt.

Advocates brought up a wide range of priorities Wednesday, to be passed off to Minnesota’s senators and representatives. The earliest that Congress can pass a new farm bill is September, 2023.

Advocates want more donations, or commodities, from the federal government — citing an unprecedented increase in need.

“We are seeing demand for food assistance that really rivals what we saw in the early days of the pandemic,” Sosnowchik explained.

They also want better food assistance programs for immigrants.

“Our food system is really broken right now, and the people that are really struggling are the low income and the working families, many of whom are producing the food and are working in the grocery stores,” said Merritt.

And — they want to raise the income cap to qualify for SNAP benefits. Many at the roundtable Wednesday said they see more working parents coming in to shelves struggling to feed their kids.

“SNAP is kind of, I think, the closest thing to a silver bullet we have,” Sosnowchik said.

SNAP income limits will go up in October to accommodate for inflation. For example, of family of four can make $5,000 more, and still qualify for SNAP. Food assistance advocates still say that increase is not enough.

Find more about qualifying for SNAP benefits at the Minnesota Department of Human Services website.