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Missoula Food Bank sees little benefit from Trump bailout for farmers

A billion-dollar effort to bail out farmers by purchasing food for nutrition assistance programs hasn’t trickled down to the Missoula Food Bank, which closed its Thanksgiving holiday with record need.

While many food banks around the country weren’t ready to handle the large increase in food under the Trump administration’s $1.2 billion program, the local food bank hasn’t seen any changes, despite Washington’s expanded efforts.

“Our food bank is well positioned, and maybe it doesn’t have the same sentiments as some of the other institutions,” said Jessica Allred, the food bank’s director of development and advocacy. “But we have lots to say about the Farm Bill.”

In late September, the Trump administration launched a $1.2 billion program to bail out farmers hurt by the president’s trade war. That included sending commodities to the nation’s pantries through programs like the Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP.

While the Agriculture Department was expected to double it’s 700 million pound food distribution, Allred said the Missoula Food Bank hasn’t seen an increase in commodities.

But it has seen an increase in need.

“It was unfortunately another record-setting year,” she said. “It’s discouraging as we see our neighbors needing something so basic as food. We have been 50 percent more busy on a monthly basis.”

The Missoula Food Bank provided food to more than 7,000 people this Thanksgiving, or 1,000 more than last year. That increase in need, coupled with the fate of TEFAP funding in Washington, has local advocacy groups to keep a close watch on next year’s version of the Farm Bill.

While two different versions of the bill are in the works, anti-hunger organizations support just one. That would be the Senate version of the bill, Allred said.

“The Senate has a bill that has bipartisan support, and it’s a bill the anti-hunger organizations support,” Allred said. “The House has a bill that’s not supported by the anti-hunger community. It imposes some pretty strict work requirements in addition to what already exist for some SNAP recipients.”

Allred said the House version also reduces funding for TEFAP, which comprises nearly 15 percent of the food distributed by the Montana Food Bank Network, and nearly half the food on the shelves of its local partners.

“All of our advocacy groups are supporting the Senate draft of the Farm Bill and trying to keep the spirit of that bill as (Congress) moves forward and tries to reconcile the two drafts in committee,” Allred said.

Both Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines support the Senate’s version of the bill.

“It works for Montana because it protects crop insurance, strengthens the safety net, encourages conservation, and meets the needs of family farmers and ranchers,” Tester recently stated.