Many people don’t realize what a huge role the federal government plays in hunger relief in the United States. While the days of government cheese are (mostly) over, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) alone provides about a quarter of all food distributed by food banks nationwide. So we’re monitoring the budget debate closely on a daily basis.

Wednesday brought grim news. A House committee proposed to cut TEFAP by 20 percent. As Feeding America noted in a statement yesterday, such a cut would be disastrous for food banks, pantries and the people we serve. For the Food Depository, it would mean emptier shelves and fewer foodstuffs just as we face a record need in Cook County.

The Food Depository is reaching out to Cook County’s Congressional delegation and Sen. Durbin and Sen. Kirk. You can help too–visit our Advocacy Center and in a few clicks send an email stating that programs like TEFAP must remain full funded in the federal budget.

The budget debate is just the start of what promises to be a vigorous conversation in Washington during the next two years. The Farm Bill, which authorizes most nutrition programs, is up for renewal in 2012. But we must begin to spread the word about the importance of federal nutrition programs now. The well-being of thousands of people in Cook County is at stake.