What’s Wrong With a Bill That Helps the Hungry and Reduces Food Waste? [UPDATED]

The Fighting Hunger Incentive Act could help increase charitable donations—but some see it as a tax giveaway.

(Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Feb 9, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.
UPDATED Feb. 10, 2015—11:43 a.m.
Congressman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., provided comment to TakePart after publication.

A law that could help feed those in need and reduce the amount of perfectly good food chucked into landfills—some 40 percent of fruits, vegetables, and other items goes to waste—would appear to be a double shot of good. A bill that’s making its way through the Republican-controlled House would do just that. So why is the Obama administration threatening to veto it?

The Fighting Hunger Incentive Act, which passed out of the Committee on Ways and Means late last week, promises to increase donations to food banks and other charitable groups by providing tax incentives. But some antihunger advocates are concerned that the bill would amount to little more than a massive tax write-off for corporations.

"Why don't we have a tax policy that recognizes and (provides incentives) to say, 'Why don't we donate that to our neighbors, to the food banks of America, so that they can use that food, rather than putting it in the ground in a landfill?' ” Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., one of the bill’s five Republican cosponsors, told the Star Gazette on Sunday. “Use that food where it needs to be utilized best. And that's on the tables of hungry Americans across the country,"

It’s a conservative idea for addressing poverty that, unlike cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program, has earned the support of food banks. Feeding America, the largest antihunger group in the country, supports the bill.

“Passage of this legislation will make it easier for farmers, retailers, restaurants and food manufacturers to donate millions of pounds of food to food banks across our country,” Bob Aiken, the nonprofit’s CEO, said in a statement when the bill was being considered last year.

However, the bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the bill would add $1.9 billion to the budget deficit. The lack of offsets for the lost tax revenue is what has earned it the promise of President Obama’s veto pen.

Rep Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a leading voice on hunger issues for the Democrats, said the bill "cherry picks among worthwhile provisions without a thoughtful strategy to address issues like hunger and poverty. It’s also not paid for."

"The Republicans insist that we have to pay for things like unemployment insurance, so I don’t understand why they would allow these provisions to add to the deficit," he continued. "And maybe I’m just skeptical, but I have a hard time trusting a Republican Leadership that has gone out of its way, time and time again over the last several years, to shred the safety net in this country. Just because you call something an ‘anti-hunger bill’ doesn’t mean it actually solves the problem.”

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said the bill could provide benefitial incentives for some, but worries that it is not targeted enough. “You need to carefully separate the farmers who would be able to give away more food from big corporations that are just going to get another tax break,” he said.

If Congress is willing to increase deficits by $1.9 billion in the name of fighting hunger, why not give it to SNAP or raise the earned-income tax, Berg wondered. “Is this a cost-effective way to feed people?” he asked.

Still, if the legislation were to pass, it would put an actual bill behind the conservative notion that churches and charity groups—not the government—should provide food aid to those in need. Which is something the last Congress, which tried to push through historic cuts to the social safety net, never managed to do.