As we all look forward to spending the Thanksgiving Holiday weekend with our friends and families, many of us think about those who have not fared as well as we have. Americans want to give back to their communities, and we are especially mindful of the need during this time of year. During the holidays, charitable giving increases and shelters and soup kitchens often have more volunteers than they can use on Thanksgiving Day. Yet, when you talk to the staff and volunteers who help provide basic needs, they will tell you that the need is year round. Moreover, many will say that more families need help than they’ve ever seen. Many food pantries have bare shelves. Churches haven’t even been able to meet the demand for Thanksgiving meals this year.
In addition to making donations or volunteering, today you can be an advocate for people who need help by supporting the Emergency Food and Shelter Program. And your advocacy now will help people year round.
The Emergency Food and Shelter Program began in 1983. The program was created by Congress in response to the economic recession at the time to help meet the needs of hungry and homeless people throughout the United States and its territories by allocating federal funds for the provision of food and shelter. EFSP is designed to supplement private donations to basic-needs charities. As EFSP has demonstrated success, Congress has increased funding during the last several decades to $200 million in Fiscal Years 2009 and 2010.
During its 28 years of operation, the program disbursed over $3.7 billion to over 14,000 local service organizations in more than 2,500 counties and cities. Each community, represented by local charities, determines how EFSP funds are allocated to families and individuals for:
- Food, in the form of served meals or groceries.
- Lodging in a mass shelter or hotel.
- One month's rent or mortgage payment.
- One month's utility bill.
Unfortunately, the combination of private donations and EFSP funding has not been sufficient to meet the needs during this extended economic crisis. Additionally, in 2011, Congress reduced funding for the program from $200 million to $120 million. And the gridlock in Congress earlier this year meant that the funds were not distributed to local communities for months later than normal.
Your U.S. Senators and Member of Congress need to hear from you that EFSP funding is critical for supporting needs in your community. Ask your federal representatives to restore EFSP funding to $200 million for 2012. In addition, Congress must pass a funding bill for 2012 by December 16. If it is a temporary funding bill, then Congress must direct the Department of Homeland Security to release the full EFSP funding immediately. People who need food and shelter cannot wait for politics.