Friday, August 29, 2008

Community food program faces funding hiatus

The complexity of the Farm Bill comes to the fore again in Barbara Vauthier's report this week for Foodlinks America (available also by free email subscription):

A glitch in the legislative language of the 2008 Farm Bill may prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from distributing nearly $5 million in grants to low-income communities to build and improve food systems under the Community Food Projects (CFP) program. USDA officials have notified fiscal year 2008 applicants for CFP funds that the Department does not currently have the authority to make awards.

The CFP is authorized by the food stamp section of the Farm Bill and a food stamp provision of the bill, unrelated to the CFP, was worded in a way that prevents disbursement of fiscal year 2008 CFP funds. More than a hundred applications for $4.6 million in CFP funds are pending until the issue is resolved. The money would support community food, planning, and training and technical assistance projects this year.

“Through our advocacy on the Farm Bill, we are certain that it was the intent of Congress to ensure that there was not an interruption in funding for Community Food Projects,” Andy Fisher, executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition (CSFC) in Portland, OR told Foodlinks America. “Unfortunately the legislative language was not clear in this regard,” he added.

Fisher noted that a technical amendments bill is being prepared in Congress to correct this and other Farm Bill problems. It is not unusual for clean-up legislation to follow the passage of a measure as massive as the Farm Bill, which ran more than 670 pages. An error of even greater magnitude – the inadvertent deletion of a section on international trade – caused the final Farm Bill to be passed by Congress, vetoed by the President, and that veto overridden twice. A corrections bill must pass before the end of September in order for USDA to get its CFP grants out.

Since 1996, the CFP has pumped more than $40 million into low-income communities through 276 grants to non-profit groups in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and one territory. Activists hope to prevent a break in the funding. “CFSC and its partners have been working hard with the House and Senate Agriculture Committees and USDA to ensure that a technical fix passes, to allow that the full $5 million is allocated to deserving community groups this fiscal year,” concluded Fisher.

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