WASHINGTON — Food banks in the United States would not be able to compensate for deep cuts to the federal food stamp program, and more people would go hungry, the head of Oklahoma's largest food bank told U.S. House members on Tuesday.
“We're at a point right now where we can't afford to cut benefits” to food stamp recipients, Rodney Bivens, founder and executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, said at a Capitol Hill hearing.
“We are absolutely stretched to our limits already trying to keep up with current demand,” Bivens told the House Agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture.
The Oklahoma Regional Food Bank operates in 53 of the state's 77 counties and distributed more than 46 million pounds of food last year.
Despite Oklahoma's relatively low unemployment rate, demand for emergency food assistance has increased 30 to 50 percent in some areas, Bivens said.
In the past year, donated food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has declined by 51 percent because high commodity prices have decreased government purchases, he said.
The House is expected to take up legislation this week that includes $33 billion in spending cuts over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is commonly referred to as the food stamp program.
The House Agriculture Committee, led by Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, approved those cuts last month and is now working to incorporate them into a long-term farm bill.
Multiyear farm bills include nutrition programs because they are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Stacy Dean, with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told the subcommittee on Tuesday that the House cuts would knock 2 million people off the food stamp rolls and reduce the benefits for 44 million others. About 23 million children are among the recipients, she said.
Bivens said, “The Regional Food Bank provides enough food each week to feed 90,000 people and nearly half of them are children. Children do not ask to be hungry or live in poverty. It is due to circumstances beyond their control.”
Lucas defended the reductions last month, saying they could be made by tightening rules that have allowed states to boost benefits for recipients and broaden eligibility beyond Congress' intent. And he said his committees' recommendations would not prevent families that qualify for assistance from receiving benefits.
The House cuts, engineered by the Republican majority, are not likely to be considered by the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats.
Tuesday, Lucas asked Bivens about donations from the food industry. Bivens said the industry had become more efficient to save money and did not have the surpluses to donate as before.
Lucas also asked about fraud in the program. Two experts — Dean and Ron Haskins, with the Brookings Institution — said the fraud rate in the program is at an all-time low.