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Bill would boost funding for food shelves

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Hunger relief advocates want the state Legislature to increase funding for food shelves.

  Minnesota food shelves currently get about $2.5 million from the state each biennium. A proposal at the Legislature would increase that by $1 million, or about 40 percent.

DFL Rep. John Benson of Minnetonka, the chief author of the House bill, said the state has a moral responsibility to help fight hunger, which is a problem even in his suburban district.

"That's one of the things a lot of people don't understand," Benson said. "The need isn't just in the inner cities or even in rural Minnesota. It's also in the suburbs. It's an enormous problem for the elderly and for so many people who are still unemployed or underemployed."

The bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate.

Benson said the state should play a role in the fight against hunger and not just leave the effort to charitable organizations and the federal government.

"I see it as a moral obligation for the people of Minnesota," Benson said. "Minnesota ought not be ... a farming state, an agricultural state in which we have people going hungry."

The money would help organizations serving hungry families across the state, said Jill Martinez, who works with Hunger Solutions Minnesota, an advocacy group.

    "This allows food shelves to buy more food, buy equipment such as freezers, refrigerators," Martinez said. "It's also there to respond to emergencies, so if there's a flood or a fire, the money's there."

Minnesota's 300 food shelves continue to serve a record number of people, she said, with more than 3 million visits last year.