Eligibility changing for federal food assistance program, but food pantries say people won't go hungry

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MADISON (WKOW) — On September 1, eligibility for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) is changing. Through the program, the federal government purchases shelf-stable food and sends it to states, which then distribute it to food banks and pantries.

Right now, anyone whose gross income is at or below 300% of the federal poverty level qualifies. For a family of four, that’s $83,250/year or $1,601/week.

Next week, the limit is dropping to 200% of the federal poverty level, which is $55,500/year for a family of four or $1,607/week.

Amber Duddy, the executive director of Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin (CACSWI), said the change is due to extra pandemic funding ending.

“It’s more of a supply and demand issue,” she said. “We have less food because we have less money because the COVID money went away.”

CACSWI distributes TEFAP food to food pantries in Dane County, including Badger Prairie Needs Network (BPNN) in Verona.

The pantry has been a TEFAP pantry for all 36 years it’s been open. Food pantry volunteer Marcia Kasieta said people shouldn’t worry too much about the changing income limit.

“Ninety-six percent of the people that come here are probably going to qualify again anyway,” she said.

As for those who don’t requalify, Kasieta said they won’t go hungry because food pantries get their food from several sources — including ones without income restrictions.

She said donated food and food the pantry buys on its own will be options available to give to people who don’t qualify for TEFAP.

Additionally, TEFAP food doesn’t make up a large percentage of the food on pantry shelves. Kasieta said it was about 6% of the food BPNN distributed in 2021.

“When you really look at the full picture, this is kind of a pretty small portion of how much food is actually sitting on the shelves at pantries, and most folks might not even know if this is a USDA commodity or something that your neighbor donated or something that was purchased from the food bank,” Duddy said.

Kasieta said people who use TEFAP will need to bring identification and proof of address after September 1 to requalify for the program.

If you need food assistance, you can call 211 to connect with the United Way of Dane County and find a nearby food pantry.