Omnibus approps bill creates Rep. Wolf’s commission on hunger | TSLN.com

Omnibus approps bill creates Rep. Wolf’s commission on hunger

The fiscal year 2014 omnibus appropriations bill creates a $1 million national commission on domestic hunger by including an amendment that Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., successfully offered when the House Appropriations Committee brought up the Agriculture appropriations bill in 2013.

The omnibus bill, which includes a section for the Agriculture Department and related agencies, was approved today in the House by a vote of 359 to 67. The Senate is expected to approve it by Friday.

"There is hereby appropriated $1 million to conduct an assessment of the existing (as of the date of the enactment of this act) and prospective scope of domestic hunger and food insecurity," Section 743 of the Agriculture section of the omnibus says.

The creation of the commission invites comparison with President Richard Nixon's 1969 White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, and Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., has been calling for another White House conference.

But while the 1969 conference led to the expansion of some anti-hunger programs and the creation of others, the Wolf commission is focused on public-private partnerships, although not with an eye toward reducing federal assistance.

The purpose the Wolf commission, the bill says, is to provide policy recommendations to Congress and the Agriculture secretary on how to more effectively use existing Agriculture Department programs and funds to combat domestic hunger and food insecurity and to develop "innovative recommendations to encourage public-private partnerships, faith-based sector engagement, and community initiatives to reduce the need for government nutrition assistance programs, while protecting the safety net for the most vulnerable members of society."

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The bill says the Agriculture secretary is to invite bids and then select an organization to conduct the assessment and make public recommendations to the commission within 180 days of the omnibus bill becoming law.

The 10-member commission is to be made up of three members appointed by the House Speaker, two members appointed by the House minority leader, three members appointed by the Senate majority leader and two members appointed by the Senate minority leader.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

Wolf, who has announced he will retire at the end of this term, told The Hagstrom Report today he is "pleased" that the leadership included the commission in the omnibus. The commission, he said, "could lead to the solution of the hunger problem" because it will take hunger "out of the political realm."

He emphasized that he does not want to cut current nutrition programs and noted that he was one of the few Republicans who voted against the House bill to cut $39 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years. He said he hopes the commission can figure out ways to supplement federal anti-hunger efforts.

Wolf said he has written each state governor, including Terry McAuliffe, the new Democratic governor of Virginia, to ask for their help.

One of his ideas is that every governor should have an aide devoted to nothing but hunger and should establish a website so that hungry people would know where they could go for help.

Wolf said during the committee debate that farmers could be encouraged to set aside land for gleaning by allowing them to claim it as a charitable gift. He also said local companies, service organizations, PTAs, law firms and schools could hold food drives twice a year to restock and replenish food pantry shelves, and that farmers could set aside an acre of their land for local Scout groups to cultivate and then donate to an area food bank.

He also said today that freezer trucks could go to restaurants each night to pick up unused food.

If every school and corporation were to hold food drives throughout the year and not just at Christmas time, he said, "you could solve the problem of hunger in the country."

While he voted against the food stamp cut, Wolf said the likelihood that Congress will cut back on food stamps through the farm bill shows that the United States has probably "maxed out" on federal funding to fight hunger.

"There are just so many creative ideas we could do in addition," he said. "That is what this will look at."

Wolf said he does not believe he should be on the commission, but suggested that the members should include Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., and former Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, who was also U.S. ambassador to the U.N. food agencies in Rome.

Southerland is known for a food stamp work requirement amendment that Democrats have said would encourage states to push people off the program because the states could keep part of the money that would have gone those removed from the program.

But Wolf said he believes Southerland is "very sincere and very committed" to helping with the problems of the poor and hungry. He also noted that Hall is one of his best friends.

"I am a conservative Republican, but I also care about the poor and hungry," Wolf said. "If I were running for governor, I would run my campaign on the issue, 'At the end of my term, no one would go to bed hungry.'"

–The Hagstrom Report