Friday, January 15, 2016

Overlooked Provision in Omnibus Spending Bill Throws Lifeline to Struggling Food Banks

by Nomad

If austerity-minded organizations, like the Heritage Foundation, or the Tea Party might have been roaring in anger about the omnibus spending package, some people thought certain provisions in the deal provided a much-needed ray of hope.

Republican members of Congress didn't really look forward to their constituents dwelling too much on the $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law by President Barack Obama right before Christmas.

Better to think of happier things, seasonal joys and the promise of the new year. It's no wonder too. Far-Right Activists could understandably claim that once again they have been hoodwinked by politicians who promised a lot of things they had no intention of delivering upon.

The worst offender, according to their point of view, was Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. He was supposed to replace the cowardly crybaby John Boehner.  Fox News regaled Ryan back then. All of the cliches were present and accounted for: "a new day" and "turning a page."  
That was only in October. By Christmas, the honeymoon was definitely over. The annulment has already begun. It's really not his fault, though, that American government doesn't actually function the way some people think it does. 

The junior U.S. Senator for Kentucky and Republican presidential contender, Rand Paul fired off his own anguished cry on the pages of TIME.
Following an all-too-familiar script–despite Republicans holding the majority in both houses of Congress–GOP leadership betrayed our principles through this terrible bill, acquiescing to the Obama administration’s determination to swell to our $18 trillion dollar debt.
One writer at the conservative Daily Signal said that the spending package showed "Washington at its worst." Meaning legislators somehow worked out a bi-partisan agreement and refused to use the extortionary tactic of shutting down the government to get their demands. 

In an op-ed pieceRomina Boccia, an economic expert at the conservative research think tank, The Heritage Foundation,   also made a list of everything to hate, such as the continuation of Planned Parenthood funding, no protections of religious liberties, and not a word about abolishing sanctuary cities.
And the papa-daddy of all of the conservative bugaboos, the subject that has launched many a Tea Party career: increased government spending. 
Overall, FY2016 base discretionary spending in the omnibus is $50 billion higher than the original Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA) levels.
The horror and the shame of it.

Boccia claims that the draft law was "full of provisions that were negotiated behind closed doors." As soon as the details were revealed, it was clear exactly why the Republican-controlled Congress preferred to keep those doors shut. 

Suddenly forgotten were all of the things that the GOP has consistently talked about for the last year or more. All of the issues and principles that stir the emotions in the hearts of the Far Right. Gone.
When the time came to do something, the RW voters claim, Congress buckled and actually.. well, actually, they just did what they were paid to do. 

One can, in some ways, sympathize with the angry Tea Party voter. They have been played once again, not by the president, but by the very people they elected as their representatives. (It's not as though these angry people will actually learn anything, of course.) In fact, 95 members split with House GOP leadership and  voted against the spending bill. On the other hand, another 150 Republicans supported it.

On the other side of the political spectrum, it was another story. Only 18 Democrats opposed  the bill and they too will need to explain to their supporters their reasons. 

A spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Jim Conwell, gave the specifics to the Tribune, In the fiscal year that ended June 30, Conwell points out, 30.7 million pounds of food were donated to the depository. That's 3 million pounds less than four years ago.

Yet, the number of the needy has not decreased. In October, Adeshina Emmanuel a reporter for The Chicago Reporter wrote that around 10 percent of the city’s population live in deep poverty, meaning their income of some 274,000 people is less than half of the federal poverty line.
That's the truth of the new normal when it comes to helping the needy. This spending package throws out a lifeline for food banks.

One largely overlooked provision in the bill will encourage farmers to donate fresh produce, a key factor in better health.
Since 2006, enhanced tax deductions for donating food were only temporarily offered to entities other than large corporations. A series of lapses and renewals caused uncertainty among small donors and stunted donations to food banks, said Carrie Calvert, director of tax and commodity policy for Feeding America, a national network of food banks and pantries.
Taxpayers including farmers other small business owners are now eligible to claim enhanced deductions for donations. Under the past policy, it was cheaper to allow fruit and vegetables to rot in the field.
Farmers who wish to do the right thing now have more than just a moral imperative, but also a financial incentive.
After lobbying for such measures for more than a decade, Calvert acknowledged that the bill's swift bipartisan passage through Congress felt a bit anticlimactic, calling it a "minor Christmas miracle."
According to the Tribune article, this translates into an estimated increase of some 100 million donated meals. Ms. Calvert believes this will have a "tremendously strong impact" for people who rely on food pantries for sustenance.

On of those who is impressed is Viraj Puri, CEO of Gotham Greens. His company, which opened in 2009, runs rooftop greenhouses in Chicago and New York City. 
Puri anticipates the amount of donated food to more than double because of the added tax deductions that will help cover the cost of production. 

The "miracle" is that the provision is not based on raising taxes but by allowing a tax deduction. 
Technically, it should be a win for both parties.

All this good news probably won't impressed Rand Paul too much. In the same TIME magazine article in which he castigated the spending bill, he told reporters:
Speaker Ryan’s spending bill will only increase the misery of ordinary Americans struggling to provide for their families. The size of government is inversely proportional to individual liberty.
Liberty is diminished, Paul believes, whenever government grows and that all power comes at the expense of personal liberty. 

Rand Paul  might be curious to know what a hungry Chicago child thinks of this parsimonious form of liberty.