Governing in times of economic recession is unquestionably difficult. Elected officials and policy makers must balance the competing demands of increasing need for services and growing caseloads with decreased revenue coming in and an uncertain future. Advocating in these tough economic times is equally difficult but never more important. Anti-hunger advocates must speak out to protect the programs that help us feed the hungry and fight hunger.
Given these difficult times, we as advocates need to not only work harder than we have in the past, but we must also be smarter about our work. All programs in every department are at risk of cuts or elimination in the upcoming legislative session, including our Food Assistance Programs (EFAP, TEFAP, CSFP). At issue for the Food Assistance Programs are the depth of the cuts and the long term funding of the programs. The federal TEFAP program is already facing significant reductions of up to 50% in regards to handling/distribution funds in the next two years, making the state EFAP contract dollars even more valuable to preserve.
The recent transition of the Food Assistance Programs into the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), offers two options for the future funding of the programs in the WSDA 2011-2013 biennium budget and beyond. Each option carries its own risks and benefits. Importantly, which option is pursued can be influenced through the advocacy of Washington Food Coalition members.
One option is for budget writers to include WSDA’s Food Assistance Programs in the base budget for the department in order to establish a level of maintenance funding that will carry forward in future biennium budgets. The risk to this option is that, for example, if WSDA faces severe cuts of 10% or deeper across their base budget spending, they can choose to take a deeper cut out of the Food Assistance Programs in order to protect another program in their base budget. The major benefit to this option is that the programs are automatically included in WSDAs budget from the start of each budget cycle.
The other option available is for budget writers to include the food programs in the 2011-2013 budget as an on-going proviso. A proviso is any budget item or policy change that is written into the budget by lawmakers outside of a department’s base budget. The risk to this option is that we as advocates need to lobby for the inclusion of a proviso in each budget cycle in order to ensure the funding exists. The benefit to this option is that proviso money, while still susceptible to across the board cuts, cannot take a bigger hit than the cuts being called for and cannot be eliminated entirely mid-budget cycle (i.e., in a supplemental budget).
The Washington Food Coalition Advocacy Committee is currently exploring the best way to protect the critical funding that WSDA Food Assistance Programs provide. We will take what learn to the Board of Directors for approval on a plan for our advocacy efforts. Stay tuned to this space and the Washington Food Coalition blog for more information, or contact Josh Fogt at Northwest Harvest to learn how you can get involved in this important advocacy work (firstname.lastname@example.org).