The Surplus Agricultural Products Grant is a program Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole describes as a “win-win-win.” It’s been around for 20 years and Cole says it helps food banks across Texas like those within the network she leads. She says providing food keeps people healthy, which reduces other costs for the state and, she says, it helps specialty crop farmers by paying them for donated produce.
So Cole says when she got a call a few weeks ago that the grant program was being reduced because of state-mandated budget cuts she “was shocked.”
Cole says the $2 million proposed reduction in the grant translates to more than 15 million pounds less in produce for food banks. This comes at a time when Cole says food banks are serving twice as many people as before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We distributed about the same amount of food in August as we did in July, in May,” Cole said. “So we’ve not yet seen a significant drop off [in need], although we’re hoping to see a decrease as the unemployment numbers obviously go down.”
Meanwhile, farmers whose supply chains have been disrupted by the pandemic are also hurting.
“And we’ve had many of them reach out to us already, even before we let them know about this potential cut to let us know they’re struggling and they’re not even sure if they’re going to be able to come back after the pandemic,” Cole said.
Feeding Texas sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking that the reduction to the grant program be reconsidered. The group is also working with other state partners. Cole says she believes the directive to state agencies to reduce budgets should have affected the administrative side, not grant programs.
“With everything, all the other struggles that low-income Texans are going to be facing to get back on their feet after this terrible pandemic, making sure that they can afford food allows them to do all of those other things — it allows them to look for work, it allows them to care for their children, it allows them to stay healthy. You take that away and you lose so much more,” Cole said.
Cole said she believes food banks will continue to see a much higher level of need for at least a year as the pandemic continues and economic recovery begins.