Sen. Corker talks with Irene Holliman during the food pantry event at Dogwood Terrace Apartments on Wednesday. David Grace photo.
KINGSPORT — Sen. Bob Corker got up close and personal Wednesday with mobile food distribution organized by the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Tennessee.
In the midday heat, the Chattanooga Republican handed out loaves of bread, yogurt cases and other food items to a long line of public housing residents at Dogwood Terrace.
Corker’s daughter, Emily, works in a hunger awareness organization and encouraged him to get on the front lines of local food distribution.
“I just wanted to see firsthand the work of Second Harvest and how food banks help people locally, especially toward the end of the month when money is getting tight,” Corker explained.
Those long lines at food distribution locations, said Second Harvest Executive Director Rhonda Chafin, might grow even longer if Congress passes a farm bill cutting funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps.
“The one concern we have with the farm bill are cuts in SNAP,” Chafin said. “If there are cuts, we know as the regional food bank for the area of 200 pantries and soup kitchens that our job is going to become larger.”
A House Agriculture Committee mark-up of the $500 billion legislative measure cut more than $20 billion out of SNAP over a 10-year period.
Corker said the U.S. Senate will begin considering its version of the farm bill next week.
“There’s no question the SNAP program will continue to be in place, but at what level I don’t know yet,” Corker said.
The Senate version of the bill calls for a number of reforms, including stopping lottery winners from continuing to receive food stamp assistance and eliminating direct payments to farmers. It also cuts more than $20 billion from all farm bill programs.
Current farm bill-related programs expire Sept. 30 at the end of the federal budget year.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said during a stop in Kingsport that it’s important to cut spending in the next farm bill.
“We’re reducing spending in some important ways, and I think agriculture is a big part of our economic steam in Tennessee, and we need some stability by having in place whatever role the government is going to have,” Alexander said of the farm bill. “So I want to work through the amendments and see what the final product is. ... I think we have to reduce spending in a time when the government is borrowing 25 percent of every dollar that’s spent. The SNAP payments are generous, and with the SNAP payments we have to reduce the rate of growth of that spending. We can’t spend money we don’t have.”
The Senate farm bill is S. 954 and is available at www.thomas.gov.
The House farm bill is H.R. 1947 and is available at www.thomas.gov.
For more about Second Harvest go to www.netfoodbank.org.