Local leaders travel to D.C. to advocate for food assistance in Farm Bill

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(ABC 6 News) – Debt ceiling negotiations have dominated the attention of lawmakers, and as a result, some pending legislation is taking a back seat, including the 2023 Farm Bill.

The massive piece of legislation covers everything from trade to risk management. And of the hundreds of billions of dollars allocated in the bill, the biggest part of it is not farming.

Around 80 percent of the money from the farm bill historically goes towards food assistance programs.

Some leaders of or that recently traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for that food assistance.

As Congress crafts the 2023 Farm Bill, local organizations helping homeless or low-income people in southeast Minnesota say they need to have a seat at the table.

Channel One Food Bank in Rochester has seen about a 40 percent increase in need. The Rochester Salvation Army says their requests for food have gone up 144 percent in the past two years.

Dan Fifield with the Landing MN Day Center says his organization saw 325 people come in for help in April – and that number keeps climbing.

“Our numbers have doubled since the first of the year,” Fifield said.

Fifield traveled to Washington D.C. with Steven Eng, the advocacy director for the National Association of Evangelicals.

“There are people with real needs who need to be heard. Need to be supported. We need people in our community to love them and care for them,” Eng said.

There the pair spoke with Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Brad Finstad – advocating for robust food assistance in the upcoming farm bill.

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve on the Ag committee and bring a real farmers voice to Congress,” said Finstad in a previous interview about the Farm Bill.

Eng and Fifield say rolling back SNAP benefits, which used to be called food stamps, or cutting funding to healthy food programs like WIC, will only make it harder for people to escape poverty.

“If they can get assistance with food, then it’s just going to give them more cash that they can put towards purchasing a home, and making sure they have an automobile that works,” said Fifield.

Proposals to add work requirements for SNAP may be unnecessary, according to Eng. 93 percent of those receiving snap are disabled or are already working. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found last year work requirements in SNAP have reduced benefits, more than they have increased peoples’ earnings.

“We think that there are smarter solutions that would not balance the budget on the backs of those who are least able to fend for themselves,” Eng added.

Another key issue at play – food assistance in the Farm Bill could be on the chopping block in debt ceiling negotiations. So Eng says that even though they have to have a Farm Bill drafted by late summer, lawmakers may not be able to allocate money until the debt ceiling is taken care of.