Montana Food Bank Network tells Tester funding critical to hunger fight


by Keila Szpaller

Keep food and nutrition programs funded at the federal level so Montana children, families and seniors don’t go hungry.

That was the Montana Food Bank Network’s message Monday to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester as the federal government comes up against “sequestration,” or budget cuts that will take effect March 1 without congressional action.

Food Bank Network staff also took the Montana Democrat on a tour of their warehouse, which serves food pantries in the entire state, and stressed that continued funding – that keeps pace with inflation – is critical as the economy struggles to recover.

“When there’s not enough money to pay the bills, food is the last thing people spend their money on,” said Minkie Medora, a member of the network’s board.

At the meeting, Medora and a couple of staff members shared the successes of several public nutrition programs in Montana, and urged the senator and farmer to preserve funding for them – and to fight attempts to use them in federal budget negotiations.

Tester, in turn, said he would take their message back to Washington, D.C.

“I would just say there are a couple proposals that are out there to fend off sequestration from happening. You’ll hear more about them next week,” Tester said.

Among them is a $108 billion deficit reduction package, Tester said. He believes it will garner enough votes, but he said, “You never know with Congress these days.”


In the last fiscal year, the Montana Food Bank Network served 140,000 different people and counted 1 million visits at 200 partner agencies in the state. In its meeting with Tester, the network made the case for the following programs:

• Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is the largest nutrition program in Montana, and it lifted an estimated 7,200 households out of poverty in one year, according to the Food Bank Network. An estimated 124,000 people participate, or 12.5 percent of the Montana population. One in four people who qualify don’t participate. Most households include children, seniors or disabled people, and the program generates $9 in economic activity for every $5 in benefits.

A woman in Helena lives on $830 a month of Social Security and disability benefits. She used to be married and was a successful human resources professional, but she got divorced and has been unable to work because of a progressive autoimmune condition.

“If it wasn’t for SNAP and the food pantry, she would not have a way to eat,” said the network’s Lorianne Burhop.

• Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP: Last year, the program served 96,000 food packages to 118 communities in Montana. Eligible populations are at least 60 years old and earn an income at or below 130 percent of poverty.

“We have to consider in Montana our aging population is growing rapidly,” Medora said.

• Women, Infants and Children, or WIC: In Montana, the program provides 20,500 women, babies and children with nutritional support and education, and health care screenings and referrals, among other services. “Montana has among the lowest levels of WIC participation in the nation, estimated at just 34 percent,” according to the network.

• The Emergency Food Assistance Program, TEFAP: More than 2.2 million meals were served in the last fiscal year, and the program accounts for roughly 20 percent of the food distributed through the Montana Food Bank Network. The network’s distribution budget was cut from $74,000 to $26,000 this year, and the money goes toward transporting food, or getting it to pantries. “What can we do with the food if we can’t store and distribute it?” asked a network representative.

Medora thanked Tester for his visit to the Food Bank Network, and she warned the severity of the recession means recovery will take a long time: “Until people have jobs that (earn) a living wage, there’s going to be hunger.”