kim-cherries.jpg As CFAC’s Food Access Program Manager I’ve had the privilege of attending the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference for the past three years. The conference always manages to inspire new ways of deepening our connection with low-income Missoulians, expand my knowledge about SNAP and other federal food assistance programs, and provide a wealth of national research on the impacts of these programs. Plus, it’s fun to meet new people and connect with fellow Montanans on the other side of the country.

Perhaps the pinnacle of these annual trips is the chance to visit the D.C. offices of Montana’s Congressional Delegation on Capitol Hill (coined ‘Hill visits”). In the past I’ve joined the Montana Food Bank Network on Hill visits to reinforce their message about the importance of SNAP for Montana based on the health and economic impacts we see from Double SNAP Dollars. This year was no different in that respect – except that this year is a Farm Bill year, which means negotiations on what will and will not be funded in the 2018 Farm Bill, and to what extent, are underway.

Not only is SNAP facing devastating threats according to the President’s proposed budget, but much of CFAC’s work is funded through the Farm Bill – $1.3 million since 2014, to be exact. And many other nonprofits around the state have also received Farm Bill funding to do local food system development work.  This means our regional food system in Montana also has a lot riding on this Farm Bill.

During my Hill Visit this year, I was able to share feedback not just about SNAP, but also about the many Farm Bill programs that have contributed to the economic development of small farms in our state and how SNAP plays a crucial role in our local food economy.

I think we brought a powerful message to D.C. and I hope Representative Gianforte, Senator Daines, and Senator Tester heard it loud and clear.

Montana Food Bank Network delivered over 1,000 postcards directly to our Senators. The postcards told personal stories about why SNAP is important to these Montana residents. Elisha, former CFAC employee, Double SNAP customer, and SNAP advocate, courageously and eloquently shared her story of how she came to rely on SNAP benefits and what difference it has made in her life and the life of her two boys.

I followed with feedback from Double SNAP customers:

SNAP is a life-saver, but it’s not enough to afford to eat well.

In fact, new research drives this point home. The maximum SNAP benefit per meal per person is $1.86. Yet the average cost of a low-cost meal in Missoula County is $2.3225% more than the max SNAP benefit.

You can check out the latest research and compare the average cost of a low-cost meal in your county at the Urban Institute’s web page, Does SNAP Cover the Cost of a Meal in Your County.

Actually, this information isn’t new. Low-income community members in Missoula have been telling us that they can’t afford to eat as healthy as they want for a while – which is what spurred the start of the Double SNAP Dollars program.

Now the Double SNAP program, and many similar programs across the country,  are demonstrating that if people can afford to buy more fruits and vegetables, they do.

Cuts to SNAP, especially the drastic ones proposed in the President’s budget, would further exacerbate health disparities in our state.

Public health isn’t the only thing that stands to lose to cuts in the Farm Bill. Local producers also rely on programs like SNAP for an extra bit of sales and to be able to feed more of their community while remaining financially sustainable. These same producers currently have access to a variety of resources within the Farm Bill that promote local food and specialty crop production. CFAC’s menu of programs demonstrates the breadth of resources made possible due to the Farm Bill. Check them out below:

The Farm Bill in Montana

Making our voice heard is not just limited to a single set of Hill Visits once a year. Let us know your Farm Bill stories so we can share them with our local and DC offices. And we encourage you to share those stories with Representative Gianforte, Senator Daines, and Senator Tester yourself!