We should use surplus to feed hungry people

Indiana only spent $291,000 last your for food banks; it is time for that to change.
Posted on Feb. 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Ohio budgeted $12.5 million last year for the state’s food banks.

Indiana, by contrast, spent $291,000 — and that was after declining to authorize distribution of the $600,000 it budgeted in 2010-11.

The Indiana General Assembly, in the aftermath of a brutal recession, built a $2 billion state budget surplus. It’s time to spend more of it on the state’s hungry.

And there are too many of them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that in 2011, 13 percent of Indiana households qualified as food insecure. That number reflected a three-year average.

Here’s what it really reflected: 1 million Hoosiers, or 16 percent of the state’s population. But that same year, the state Office of Management and Budget declined to approve distribution of the miniscule $300,000 that the Legislature budgeted for Feeding Indiana’s Hungry.

Then, in the next budget, lawmakers cut funding for the food bank network by $9,000.

Feeding Indiana’s Hungry reports that nearly 118,000 Hoosiers obtain food every week from a pantry, a soup kitchen or an organization served by the network’s 11 food banks. One of them is the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, based in South Bend, which serves Elkhart and five other counties. Last year the Food Bank of Northern Indiana distributed nearly 6 million pounds of food to 185 member agencies.

Feeding America, a national food bank network, looked at the people served by the Food Bank of Northern Indiana in 2010 and found that 92 percent of those seeking emergency food programs were U.S. citizens, 73 percent of pantry clients were female, 41 percent of client households had children younger than 18, 28 percent came from households with at least one working adult, and only 4 percent were on welfare.

These are the working poor. And the Indiana Legislature decided that statewide the food banks that keep them alive could get by on $291,000 over that last three years.

With that $291,000, Feeding Indiana’s Hungry bought around 500,000 pounds of food. The Indiana General Assembly can only dream about that kind of efficiency.

But even so, that 500,000 pounds of food amounted to less than 1 percent of the total distributed by the state’s food bank network.

Indiana unemployment remains higher than the national average. Hunger isn’t going away any time soon. Not in Indiana.

The General Assembly acts our behalf. It is time to start using our $2 billion surplus to feed the hungry.

Substantially increase spending on the state’s food bank network. Because anything less is immoral.

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