Food Distribution Program Funding Safe For Now

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Food Distribution Program

U.S. Department of Agriculture to cut funding to one of the state's major food assistance programs is on hold for now.

That's good news for seven American Indian reservations in Montana that rely on the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), said Jim Nolan of DPHHS. Nolan supervises the federally funded program at the state level as a USDA grantee.

Under the USDA plan, the tribes might have lost as much as $446,000 in funding to help underwrite the program's cost. "That move would extremely hinder the program's effectiveness to serve the 3,050 households using the service today in Montana," Nolan said.

The program provides food to low-income American Indians and has an annual budget of $2 million. The funds are distributed to 10 Indian reservations in Montana, Wyoming and Utah. "This is an important program," said Governor Brian Schweitzer. "I will be watching the developments regarding this funding closely."

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When DPHHS officials learned about the proposal, they enlisted the help of the Montana congressional delegation to work with the USDA on this issue. "We sent out all the information and they immediately went to work on it," DPHHS administrator Hank Hudson said. "Without their active involvement, this move on the USDA's part would have been on a fast track."

Since last year, the USDA has been studying the best avenue to balance the FDPIR funding among tribes throughout the nation, but has decided to continue working with all involved parties before making a final decision. The state has asked to be part of a working group formed to examine the new funding plan, Hudson said.

Hudson points out that Montana's situation is different from other states because we have a 40,000-square-foot warehouse that temporarily stores food for the American Indian program. It also is used for state food programs that serve other populations. According to Hudson, very few states have such a facility.

"If we lose funding for this program, we may have to close the warehouse, and that in turn would severely compromise the state's ability to deliver commodity foods to reservations," he added. "Since other programs such as the Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Feeding Program and the Nutrition Services Incentive Program basically 'piggyback' on our FDPIR funding, they would be in jeopardy, too. They cannot stand alone."

Those programs provide food to the elderly, food banks, homeless shelters, charitable institutions and faith based congregate meals for the needy. The state warehouse also houses and processes orders for the public school feeding programs.

Hudson explained that his truck drivers are able to make deliveries to other programs along the way at various locations throughout Montana while en route to drop off food at reservations. The state is able to do more with less because it doesn't have to make a separate trip for each program.

The USDA proposal called for hiring a national contractor which Nolan says is not cost-effective, and he doesn't want the current system to be disrupted. "The ability to store food in bulk at the warehouse has allowed us to keep our costs low," Nolan said. "We also have an established cooperation with the tribes to ensure that the food is delivered in a very timely fashion."

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