Charities testify on benefits of public-private partnerships to feed the hungry

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, April 15, 2015-Charity and nonprofit organizations dedicated to feeding the hungry testified Wednesday on how public-private partnerships can help their efforts during a House Agriculture Committee hearing.

Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said understanding how these organizations work with the government and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help in Congress' effort to better target federal funding and reform SNAP. However, some Democrats on the committee insisted SNAP works the way it is, and anything that cuts the program further would hurt the nonprofits' efforts.

Lets Talk Food

Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said SNAP is a necessary supplement to the work of charitable organizations because “they do not have the funding, capacity or flexibility to fully replace SNAP, as some suggest.”

However, Conaway emphasized that “no one is talking about getting rid of SNAP.”

Conaway said he's leading the committee on a two-year review of the food stamp program. “We want it to be better, and work for the taxpayer,” he said, noting that “SNAP benefits are designed to be supplemental, leaving households responsible for the remaining needs.”

SNAP, the largest part of the farm bill, cost about $74 billion in 2014 and served more than 46 million people each month. Before Congress passed the 2014 farm bill, the House attempted to separate SNAP from the rest of the bill's titles, but the effort failed. Traditionally, the farm bill is structured with SNAP in order to gain support for all farm and food programs from both urban and rural representatives.

Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., commented on the possibility that this tactic may be tried again. “We cannot and will not separate the food stamp program from the farm bill. The food program is essential to the farm bill,” he said.

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Jonathan Webb, director of foundations and community outreach with Feed the Children, which receives 99 percent of its funding from private resources, outlined some recommendations that would help private organizations invest in more efficient systems with the help of “upfront capital” from the federal government.

“Nonprofits working on hunger issues often view themselves as competitors rather than partners in the fight against child hunger,” Webb said. “The federal government has the unique ability to serve as the organizing infrastructure to incentivize a transformative, collective approach to end hunger.”

He said Congress could use existing resources to formalize its work with the nonprofit community to establish a Food Security and Nutrition Social Innovation Fund, will would award grants that require organizations to apply and work together.

This “innovation funding” could help successful organizations share their best practices with other non-profits trying to get off the ground, he said. 

Dustin Kunz, salesforce administrator and research project manager at the Texas Hunger Initiative, said his program is “creating a model for public-private partnerships that is incredibly effective.”

The Texas Hunger Initiative has more than 1,100 organizations who partner with the state to deliver food and resources to the hungry.

“Expanding public-private partnerships reduces the burden on government and increases efficiency of the [nonprofit] program,” Kunz said.

He noted that without SNAP and other federal programs, “the private sector would have hopes and good intentions, but no way to realize them.”

But, “the government can never know me and my needs the way a community based organization in my city can,” he added.

Conaway echoed the panelists' sentiments when he said “paperwork is outdated” and if there is an opportunity to electronically file for assistance, more people will receive the help they need.

Peterson noted that improving partnerships between food banks and farmers could significantly increase charitable organizations' supplies. “Farmers often have a disincentive to donate due to high packaging and transportation costs…It seems to be an obvious role for farmers to help stock food bank shelves by donating their surplus.”

Other panelists at the hearing included: Lynda Taylor Ender, with the Senior Source in Dallas; Kate Maehr, CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository; and Keleigh Green-Patton, who benefited from programs at the Greater Chicago Food Depository and is now district manager with Chartwells, a healthy eating program for students.

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