Late federal funds hurt Westmoreland food bank effort, officials say
The Westmoreland County Food Bank is owed more than $100,000 in federal funding, which officials say is forcing them to cut the amount of food given to the county's hungry.
The Delmont-based food bank never received its 2012 reimbursement for distributing federally obtained produce through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
Two weeks ago, the food bank received about $12,250 for October distributions — October 2011 that is.
“We have to make the food we can afford to purchase last longer,” said food bank CEO Marlene Kozak.
The TEFAP program is managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which buys surplus food from farmers to give to food banks. Typically, the Westmoreland County Food Bank is paid 12 cents per pound to distribute the food.
The money is funneled through the state Department of Agriculture to the county, which then disburses the money to the food bank.
Joe Quattrocchi, director of the state Bureau of Food Distribution, said the funding delay is the result of invoices that needed to be corrected.
The invoices, which county officials said are prepared by the food bank, failed to reconcile the pounds of food distributed with the data provided by commercial food distributors, Quattrocchi said.
The invoices were corrected and payment through TEFAP was approved on Oct. 16. It usually takes about four weeks after approval for the recipient to get the funds, Quattrocchi said.
But Kozak said the agriculture department's explanation is ridiculous.
“These are things that were turned in a year-and-a-half ago,” she said. “We want the money desperately. Believe me, if it were that easy, we would have done it right away.
“Most of the food banks across the state aren't getting their money, or it's not coming in. It isn't just us.”
The Westmoreland food bank has cut the amount of food it gives people by about 10 percent this fall.
It serves about 7,200 households each month.
That's about 1,000 more than when the funding cuts began.
The cut, officials say, was a result of the TEFAP funding delay and state funding reductions.
Over the past three years, the food bank's share funding from the State Food Purchase Program dropped by about $142,000, Kozak said.
“It's really frustrating,” she said. “We just have to continue to make up the difference through fundraising.”
Terry Trinclisti, a coordinator of the St. James Conference, St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry in Apollo, which is served by the Westmoreland County Food Bank, said the funding issues have trickled down to them.
“I can say that the pounds of food that we receive have decreased to some degree,” she said. “We serve about 300 families last month, and we haven't dropped the number of people. But they don't get as much.”
The amount of food going to food banks from TEFAP also dropped by 16 percent, said Ross Fraser, spokesman for Chicago-based Feeding America. Funding recently was increased, he said, but it will take a while to get to the food banks.
“There's a big gap between when the government commits to spending the money and when it arrives at the food bank,” he said.
Other funding woes
Both the Westmoreland County Food Bank and the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank are waiting on funding from another federal program known as the Emergency Food and Shelter Program.
The delay is the result of legal review of the program, said Iris Valanti, spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh food bank, which received $160,000 from the food and shelter grant last year.
“The period was from January and we still haven't received our money,” she said.
The money could be disbursed in the next few weeks, Valanti said.
The food bank, which serves 11 counties in Western Pennsylvania, hasn't had to turn anyone away, she said.
“But it does put more of a strain on us, sure,” Valanti said.
Feeding the hungry is becoming less of a priority to officials even as it becomes more of a problem, Kozak said.
“For the past five, six years, we've been seeing government funding — both state and federal — shrinking,” she said. “The burden just keeps shifting down to providers of the service.”
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or email@example.com.