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Oklahomans prioritize food nutrition programs for the 2023 Farm Bill

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Xcaret Nuñez
/
OPMX
Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas took questions alongside a panel of directors of different food bank agencies at the Townhall on Hunger in Oklahoma City.

Earlier this week a handful of Oklahomans expressed the importance of maintaining food assistance programs in the 2023 Farm Bill to Oklahoma Congressman (OK-03) Frank Lucas during a town hall meeting at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

Most of those who attended the event work with food bank agencies and discussed the need for legislators to maintain nutritional programs that help low-income individuals in the farm bill, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Despite the name of the giant package of legislation, nearly 80% of the farm bill’s budget goes towards food nutrition programs. Congress considers a new farm bill every five years.

“The lion's share of the farm bill, which we traditionally think of as what raises the food and fiber, actually makes sure that people have enough to eat,” said Lucas, who represents 32 counties across the northern and western Oklahoma region.

Ginger Tucker, director of the Temple Area Food Pantry, explained to Lucas how federal programs similar to TEFAP help feed nearly 400 families in her small southern Oklahoma town.

“Our community Temple is in a food desert,” Tucker said. “Our county is 642 square miles, and we have one grocery store. When we gave away fresh milk recently, I had a little mama thank me over and over.”

More than 500,000 people in Oklahoma are food insecure, according to Feeding America.

SNAP beneficiaries often stop receiving assistance to purchase food once they’ve received a pay raise at work, said Jim Struby, chief impact officer for the Regional Food Bank. To counter that sudden loss, Struby encouraged Lucas to make a change to the program by giving families a 90-day period to transition from using SNAP benefits.

Meanwhile, Jena Good, Vice President of Retail Operations for Walters and Shelton’s Hometown Grocery stores, asked Lucas to look into funding independent grocers to keep up with changes in technology. She said it cost about $32,000 for both grocery stores to update their card readers this summer to maintain PCI compliance — a set of security standards that keeps customers' card data safe.

“The mobile payment pilot program is something that should remain permanent within the farm bill to give people with SNAP more offerings, Good said.” “But there needs to be more offerings for independents to be able to take advantage of that technology.”

Other questions Lucas received from the audience consisted of how the new farm bill would protect farmers and ranchers from the damaging effects of droughts — similar to the ones experienced this past summer.

“We can't make it rain, but in the farm bill, we have drought insurance to address the failure of your wheat crop or your corn crop,” Lucas said. “That crop insurance in a drought situation will help you get the next crop in the ground.”

Drought conditions across Oklahoma are the worst the state has seen since the summers of 2011 and 2012, and the hot weather has especially hit farmers and ranchers hard by drying up pastures and killing crops.

Congressman Lucas ended the town hall by looking ahead at the work that’s left to get the 2023 Farm Bill in order.

“Whether it's my nervousness about conservation, or [Congress’] nervousness about meeting the nutritional needs of America, we have to work together,” Lucas said.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

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