January 16, 1998 in City

Food Banks Seek Help To Meet Higher Demand Food Bank Directors Tell Lawmakers That Welfare Reform Partly To Blame For More Requests For Food

Hunter T. George Associated Press
 

Saying the new welfare law is at least partially to blame, leaders of Washington food banks on Thursday asked lawmakers for help with the increased demand for emergency assistance.

Food bank directors from Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Leavenworth, Walla Walla, Yakima and Port Orchard delivered to legislators paper plates that said, “No more empty plates!” to draw attention to the growing need.

They’re asking the Legislature for a $1.6 million boost for state programs that provide food and money to food banks.

Rebecca Brislain of the Washington Food Coalition, a coalition of food banks, said most food banks have reported increased demand in 1997, including a 10 percent to 30 percent increase in the last few months, just after Washington’s sweeping new welfare law took effect. The coalition is still compiling specific numbers.

The welfare law imposed strict work requirements on recipients and a fiveyear time limit on public assistance. It also added new restrictions on food stamps.

But the welfare law is not the only problem, the food bank leaders said. High housing costs in the Puget Sound area and low-wage jobs elsewhere are sapping family budgets and sending working parents.

Some food bank directors fear they can’t stay open unless they get help from the state.

They’re backing a request by Gov. Gary Locke for a $968,000 boost in funding for in the state’s Emergency Food Assistance Program, administered by the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. The program provides money for food banks to use in buying food or paying rent, utilities and other bills.

They also support the governor’s request for $25,000 for the Summer Food Service Program, which the superintendent of public instruction administers in summertime to children who qualify for subsidized meals at school.

They also are proposing $656,000 in additional funding for the state surplus commodities program administered by the Department of General Administration. That program buys food, including meat, rice and canned items, and gives it to food banks.

The governor didn’t propose any increase in funding for the commodities program.

Rep. Suzette Cooke, a Kent Republican and coauthor of the welfare law, said she’s not surprised to hear that food banks are coping with increased demand.

She described the chance that food banks will get $1.6 million as “slim to none” since the governor didn’t ask for that much. But she said some funding boosts are possible if food banks present evidence of their need.

“If that data is there to show the demand, it fits the criteria established by our budget writers … in dealing with emergencies,” Cooke said. “I can’t think of anything more qualifying as an emergency as people not having food.”

The food banks’ request for funding is included in a $130 million budget request by the Children’s Budget Coalition.


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