TERRE HAUTE —
A group of 11 statewide food banks are urging the public to ask lawmakers to increase funding for the hungry in the state’s proposed biennial budget.
The food banks compose FIsH — Feeding Indiana’s Hungry — which served nearly 700,000 Hoosiers in 2010. There are more than 1 million Hoosiers at risk of hunger. Indiana has about 1.9 million citizens who fall into a category of 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
Emily Bryant, executive director of FIsH, said the group of food banks first sought state support in 2009. The Indiana General Assembly budgeted $300,000 each year in 2010 and 2011; however, the state Office of Management and Budget, which includes the State Budget Agency, did not approve distribution of the funds.
Last year, FIsH was approved for and obtained $291,000, and is expected to receive that amount this year, Bryant said. That funding allowed FIsH to purchase just over a half a million pounds of food, which accounted for less than 1 percent of the total amount of food distributed from the food banks, Bryant said.
FIsH is now working to obtain $3 million to $5 million in state funding.
“We are working very hard to make a case that we are good stewards of the funding,” Bryant said. “Our food banks have more than half a million square feet of warehouse space and a fleet of more than 80 vehicles that [would let us] purchase more product and move more product.
“We know there are a number of people who we are not meeting and the need has not decreased. The $3 million to $5 million that we are asking for is in line with what other state associations have received from their legislatures and governors,” Bryant said.
The Ohio Association of Foodbanks received $12.5 million from that state last year, Bryant said. That money helps support the Ohio Food Program and Agricultural Clearance Program.
This year also marks the first concerted effort by FIsH for a budget increase.
Catholic Charities of Terre Haute, a member of FIsH, send out an email Monday asking people to contact three Wabash Valley members of the budget-writing Indiana House Ways and Means Committee. They are Rep. Clyde Kersey, D-Terre Haute, Rep. Jim Baird, R-Greencastle, and Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield.
Telephone messages were left for Kersey and Baird, who could not be reached by 5 p.m. Tuesday, as the Ways and Means Committee continued to meet.
A food drive is underway in the Statehouse this entire month. A public service announcement was created and posted on the Internet by four leaders of the General Assembly — House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne; House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City; and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson.
The PSA asks for public donations to food banks; however, it does not directly address state funding.
A second reading of the budget in the House is scheduled for Thursday, with the House expected to pass its budget version on Monday. The budget then goes to the Senate, which also adopts a budget. Unresolved differences go to the House/Senate Conference Committee to reconcile differences.
John Etling, executive director of Catholic Charities and treasurer of FIsH, said increased state funding would allow FIsH members to increase the purchase of food grown or manufactured in Indiana. FIsH could purchase an additional 20 million pounds of food.
“It could be melons from farms in Vincennes, or dairy farms statewide that produce milk. There are a lot of pork and cattle producers in Indiana, poultry producers, there are turkey farmers and even sweet corn,” Etling said.
“We are asking the state to be a bigger partner in reducing hunger amongst the population, particularly the poor,” Etling said. “One in six Hoosiers and one in four children are food insecure,” Etling said.
“Food insecurity is the ability to access nutritional requirements on a daily basis in a socially acceptable manner. Dumpster diving and shoplifting are not socially acceptable,” Etling said.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger@