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Published: Saturday, 1/19/2008

Aid for food banks should be part of package, senator says


U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio) would like to include some help for the nation's food banks in the "stimulus package" being talked about for the economy.

Mr. Brown said yesterday at the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank that he has introduced legislation to provide $40 million in emergency assistance to food banks.

The money would tide over the nation's charity food providers until passage of the Farm Bill later this spring.

James Caldwell, president and chief executive officer of the food bank at 24 East Woodruff Ave., said the demands for food are rising and donations to his food bank and others are dropping.

The Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank is a warehouse that gives or sells food in bulk to food pantries, soup kitchens, and group homes.

Mr. Brown said he hopes the Emergency Food Assistance Program will be included in the economic stimulus bill now on a fast track in Congress. Mr. Brown said the $40 million is high on the Senate's priority list of legislation, and said he has written President Bush to ask for support.

He said assisting those who have already suffered, such as with money for food banks, the home heating assistance program, and extended unemployment benefits, are the elements he wants in a "stimulus" package.

He was lukewarm about the plans to offer tax rebates and incentives to individuals and businesses to stimulate the economy.

"I think there's some reason for putting money into middle-class pockets. There is some call for helping companies invest. But I want to make sure whatever we do on the stimulus side has a sustainable effect, not just a one-shot effect," Mr. Brown said. "I'm willing to work with whatever we have to do to get there."

Mr. Calwell said the food bank last year served 294 agencies representing about 300,000 people.

"What's alarming to me is I've seen donations decline precipitously this year," Mr. Caldwell said. "Sen. Brown's initiative is crucial. It will certainly help to stave off further crises around the country and help our efforts here in northwest Ohio."

A spokesman for Senator Brown's office said Ohio receives about 5 percent of the national allocation of emergency food funding, which would be about $2 million of the $40 million. In all, Ohio received about $8.6 million in fiscal year 2006, down from $13.2 million in fiscal year 2005.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.

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