Groups pushed back against food-stamp cuts in Farm Bill

Groups that work to feed the underprivileged had been trying to mobilize the public to turn lawmakers against the Farm Bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week and the Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

WASHINGTON: Groups that work to feed the underprivileged had been trying to mobilize the public to turn lawmakers against the Farm Bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives last week and the Senate on Tuesday afternoon.

The organizations had emphasized that an $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – known better as SNAP – would further hamper the initiative if the Farm Bill is made law.

The White House has said President Barack Obama will sign the bill.

Soup kitchens and food pantries were already suffering, even before an initial round of food-stamp cuts went into effect on November 1, said Josh Cramer-Montes, senior director of marketing and communications for the Food Bank for New York City. He added that the Farm Bill's passage would be “really scary” for agencies that rely on federal support.

Food Bank NYC has taken to social media and garnered support from lawmakers who are against the Farm Bill. Cramer-Montes explained that despite the group's contacts on Capitol Hill, sometimes it does not have any more than a day's notice that legislation will be voted on.

“We definitely have had to change the message each time,” he said. “We have to be really nimble in terms of how we go out with the message and with what platform.”

Food Bank NYC uses Twitter and Facebook, and it has seen its following grow through both outlets, as well as Thunderclap, a tool that sends out a message en masse. Thunderclap has been used by the likes of Beyoncé to promote World Humanitarian Day in years past.

Cramer-Montes said Food Bank NYC's three main messages are “donate, advocate, and volunteer,” and moving forward it is taking a constant-contact approach that does not take up much time from supporters. For instance, by providing a name and an email address, advocates can sign a letter that will go to the representative of their choice.

The group also gained support from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who met with various hunger-relief organizations in New York City and later said she would vote against the Farm Bill. On Tuesday afternoon, she tweeted that she did not support the bill.

Feeding America has been working to educate the public about what purpose food stamps serve and what the “face of hunger” looks like, said Ross Fraser, director of media relations.

The organization was neutral toward the Farm Bill, but Fraser said it regularly talks about the importance of the SNAP program and how dire the situation is for families in need of food stamps.

“Most food-stamp families use them up by the end of the third week of any month. That's when we see the spike of people coming to us,” said Fraser. Of households receiving SNAP benefits, 75% include a child, a senior citizen, or a disabled individual. Food stamps are also estimated to cover about $1.50 per person, per meal.

Additionally, 20% of food-stamp recipients have no other income, said Fraser.

“You can't eat well on food stamps,” he said. “It's lots of pasta, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs. People can't afford proteins and fresh vegetables and produce.”

Similar to Food Bank NYC, Feeding America encourages advocates to write letters and make phone calls to congressmen in an effort to make a difference. It is also tweeting and posting messages to Facebook and with 200 food banks across the country under the Feeding America umbrella to promote its work through local channels.

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