Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., speaks Monday at Central Vermont Community Action Council in Barre where he announced a bill that would benefit food banks.
BARRE — Sen. Patrick Leahy and Gov. Peter Shumlin are hoping efforts in Congress will stay any additional cuts to federal funding that many Vermonters rely on for food assistance.
The two Democratic officials appeared at the Central Vermont Community Action Council on Monday afternoon to highlight how cuts proposed to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food stamps program, will hurt the state.
CVCAC Executive Director Hal Cohen said a combination of cuts Congress has already approved is hurting low-income Vermonters.
“For the community action agencies, we’re really living in uncertain times when it comes to our budget. Sequestration has had an incredible impact on the low-income families that we’re serving,” he said.
Cohen said his organization has seen almost a doubling in the number of families being served by the local food shelf in the last year.
Leahy, who is a member of the conference committee looking to bridge the gap between House and Senate versions of the farm bill, which includes the food aid funding, lashed out at those in Congress who are looking to further cut funding for the SNAP program, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT.
“The people who want to cut it out are people who will never go hungry except by choice. Except by choice. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for millions of Americans who have no choice in the matter,” he said.
Leahy also questioned the priorities of members of Congress who are looking to cut programs that assist the poor.
“These same people who will spend an unlimited amount of money for a useless, needless war in Iraq and continue to spend billions of dollars in Afghanistan say we cannot feed Americans? That goes beyond politics. That becomes a moral issue, and it’s shame on those who say that,” Leahy said.
He rejected the calls by some Republicans to change eligibility rules or requirements for those receiving benefits.
“Is it possible that somewhere somebody might cheat? I suppose,” he said. “Is it possible — there are speed limits on the interstate — that somebody drives over the speed limit?”
Leahy joined a bipartisan group of senators Monday in introducing the Good Samaritan Hunger Relief Tax Incentive Act. The legislation would continue a program that provides tax incentives to corporations that donate food to food banks. The bill would extend the same tax breaks to small businesses, farmers, ranchers and restaurants.
Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles said the tax incentives offered by the federal government are “essential to food banks.”
“This really makes a big difference, this tax deduction,” Sayles said.
Shumlin said Vermont and other states cannot cover additional costs if Congress further cuts SNAP funding.
“There’s no way that I as governor or any of the governors can replace the federal draconian cuts that are going to help feed hungry Americans and hungry Vermonters that are being contemplated by the House bill,” he said.
Shumlin said more than 100,000 Vermonters rely on the federal subsidy for food every day “to put food on the table for themselves, and most importantly, their children.” About one-third of the beneficiaries in Vermont are children, he said, and another one-third are disabled.
“I don’t care what political party you are from, I can’t believe there are very many Vermonters who think that that’s smart public policy, that that’s fair or that’s reasonable,” he said.
Leahy said he planned to travel back to Washington this week to continue negotiations on the farm bill.
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