State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Anti-hunger groups say food pantries need a boost

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 26, 2012 8:40 PM

For food assistance groups, it’s not the whole of the annual budgeting process that’s a headache – it’s the final, frenzied hours before a spending package is passed.

“I don’t know if you want to say blindsided, but we have been kind of blindsided with those cuts where we thought everything was going OK,” said Sheila Christopher, a spokeswoman with Hunger Free Pennsylvania.

The group is a coalition of hundreds of food banks, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and other charities that rely on a state funding to carry out their mission: feeding the poor.

The State Food Purchase Program doles out grants to these groups so that they may buy and distribute food. Over the last six years, Hunger Free PA says the program has lost 7.5 percent of its state funding – a $1.45 million haircut.

But the anti-hunger network is asking for more than just a reprieve from the cuts they’ve experienced. They want an additional $6.7 million over the program’s current funding level.

Christopher said more than state funding cuts, the down economy is squeezing the grant program.

“Not only have we had a tremendous increase in demand over the last five or six years, but we’ve also been experiencing food cost increases,” said Christopher.

For the past few years, Christopher added, Hunger Free PA has written to the governor’s office to plead for additional funding. This year’s letter is another attempt to make it just a little bit harder to pinch a program no one wants to see pinched – and take the extra step of insisting more funding is necessary.

The governor’s budget office is cautioning agencies not to ask for more funding in their budget proposals, but Christopher said her organization has already turned to non-governmental sources for funding and aid: private businesses and individuals, non-profit foundations, volunteers.

“We’ve pretty much exhausted those resources,” she said.

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