Hunger Solutions leader worries about federal funds
ST. PAUL -- Turkey talk turned thoughtful Monday, Nov. 21, as a hunger fighter said she worries about feeding Minnesotans. Colleen Moriarty of Hunger Solutions Minnesota said the number of people in the state using food shelves has reached an all...
ST. PAUL -- Turkey talk turned thoughtful Monday, Nov. 21, as a hunger fighter said she worries about feeding Minnesotans.
Colleen Moriarty of Hunger Solutions Minnesota said the number of people in the state using food shelves has reached an all-time high, and now she is concerned about discussion in Washington to remove funding from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
"I am very worried," she said during the governor's office annual ceremony denoting Thanksgiving week and honoring the state's 450 turkey farmers.
The federal government is the largest funding source for programs that reduce hunger, she said. "Without those resources, the backbone of the emergency food system ... would be gone."
While many Republicans have been critical of the $70 billion food stamp program, president-elect Donald Trump has not specifically said what he would do with it.
Moriarty said the expectation was that once the recession ended years ago that visits to food shelves that provide food for the poor would fall. "We have not seen food shelf use decline like we thought that it would."
Gov. Mark Dayton said that while he is aware of talk of cutting federal hunger aid, "it is too early to make firm predictions about what, if anything, is going on in Washington."
He said he will deliver his budget proposal in January based on a Dec. 2 state budget report and make adjustments as needed if Congress and Trump make changes that affect Minnesota.
The federal government sent Minnesota nearly $48.5 million for food stamps in September alone.
The Minnesota Turkey Growers Association donated $9,000 to Hunger Solutions on Monday, as Dayton hosted tribute to the state's turkey industry. The 46 million birds produced in the state make it No. 1 in the country.
The money will be used to buy turkey products for needy Minnesota families' Thanksgiving meals, said President Robert Orsten of Willmar, president of the Minnesota Turkey Research and Promotion Council.
Hunger Solutions says many food shelves with the biggest jumps in usage are scattered around greater Minnesota.
The poultry industry could help some Minnesotans afford to buy food. Steve Olson, who represents Minnesota poultry producers, said the state's turkey industry has openings around greater Minnesota for a variety of skill levels.
Besides the 450 turkey farmers, the state has three turkey processing facilities that are short of workers, Olson said.
One of the state's 46 million turkeys took center stage Monday, as Dayton and his guests stood beside it and some products process in the turkey facilities.
Dayton dubbed the tom turkey "Stop the Badgers," his wish as the University of Minnesota visits the University of Wisconsin on Saturday.
Just as Dayton calmed the turkey from its earlier agitated state, the turkey industry is calmer than last year.
In the late winter and early spring of 2015, the first of more than 9 million turkeys and chickens died of bird flu. Just one American bird, a duck in Alaska, has died of the flu this year.
Olson and Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said Minnesota poultry farmers are ready if the flu returns.
With state and federal government help, the commissioner said, poultry producers learned how to increase biosecurity on their farms to prevent the flu virus and other diseases from infecting their flocks. For instance, Frederickson said, people now wash themselves off when going in and when leaving poultry facilities.
"We are ready for it if it comes," Frederickson said. "That is really all we can do."
Olson said a virus similar to the one that got into Minnesota poultry flocks is expected to remain around for several more years. European poultry are being infected with a flu virus, Olson said, but it is a different strain.