Late yesterday, the House of Representatives passed legislation encouraging the federal government and its contractors to donate surplus meals to food banks and soup kitchens serving the hungry throughout the nation and Maine. The Senate passed the Federal Food Donation Act (S. 2420), co-sponsored by Senator Susan Collins, last month.

The combination of rising food prices, an increase in the number of people served at shelters, and a slowing of the overall economy has created a shortage at food banks and soup kitchens. The legislation amends contracting rules to encourage federal agencies and certain contractors to donate surplus food to nonprofit organizations that aid hungry families in the U.S. According to the nonpartisan group Rock and Wrap It Up, on average 5 percent of food at events is left over and is thrown away. The bill also expands protections in the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act that shield donors from lawsuits when they donate wholesome food. Under current law, the fear of lawsuits discourages federal agencies and contractors from donating their surplus food to soup kitchens and food banks.

Senator Collins said, “With one in six children in this country not sure where their next meal is coming from, we have an obligation to do everything we can to feed our nation’s hungry. I hear from food banks and shelters throughout Maine that they are extremely concerned about a decrease in food donations and the difficulty they are having in meeting the needs of communities in these difficult economic times. This bill encourages the federal government and contractors to donate wholesome surplus food to help families in need. This is a common sense bill, and it is my hope that it is signed into law quickly.”

The bipartisan bill was authored by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In addition to Senator Collins, it was cosponsored by Senators Richard Lugar (R-IN), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), George Voinovich (R-OH), and Mike Crapo (R-ID). The bill was also endorsed by a number of food banks and shelters throughout the nation including Preble Street in Portland.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, of which Senator Collins is Ranking Member, approved the legislation in April, before the Senate’s passage in May. It now goes to the President’s desk to be signed into law.