Senate Approves Collins-Lieberman Bill to Ensure Future of Emergency Food and Shelter Assistance Program

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. Senate on Wednesday night unanimously approved legislation that would grant communities continued access to federal resources to help individuals who are at risk of becoming homeless or going hungry due to an emergency or economic disaster. The measure, the Emergency Food and Shelter Act of 2004, was sponsored by Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman (D-CT).

Their legislation would reauthorize the Emergency Food and Shelter Program and provide steady, but responsible increases in the program’s budget to meet the growing need. Although Congress has continued to provide funding, the program’s authorization expired in 1994.

“Each year, this program helps families across America who are at risk of losing their homes or going hungry because of circumstances beyond their control,” said Senator Collins. “This program is successful because it gives communities the flexibility to determine how best to spend these resources and assist families with the greatest need.”

“This program lends a helping hand to the nation’s homeless population and to working people with big responsibilities but small paychecks,” Lieberman said. “The program is a highly efficient example of government relying on the private sector — in this case, non-profit organizations — to help people in innovative ways.”

Since its creation 21 years ago, the Emergency Food and Shelter Program has provided a helping hand to local social service organizations that assist thousands of people in need of food and shelter. A national board, chaired by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, governs the program. The Board itself is composed of representatives from the American Red Cross, Catholic Charities; United Jewish Communities, the National Council of the Churches, the Salvation Army, and the United Way of America. The volunteer participation by these charitable organizations has kept administrative costs to less than 3% of the total program, making even more funds available for communities.

Those funds are distributed by the national board according to a formula that includes unemployment and poverty statistics in each county. Once local boards — composed of individuals and organizations who live and work in the communities they serve — in counties, parishes and municipalities across America receive the funding, they decide how to best address the needs of their communities. For example, many communities use these funds to supplement the efforts of local soup kitchens, Meals-on-Wheels programs, and food pantries or to address emergency shelter and housing needs.

The Emergency Food and Shelter Program is administered by the Department of Homeland Security, over which the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has jurisdiction.