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Remark on food bank users draws fire

US official fends off calls to resign

WASHINGTON -- A senior Agriculture Department official's comment that people who eat at food banks are "taking the easy way out" was taken out of context, an agency spokeswoman said yesterday, after five members of Congress called for his resignation.

Eric Bost, the department's undersecretary for food and nutrition programs, was quoted in a June 6 story in The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch about the growing use of food banks as saying he was skeptical of claims that food needs among the poor were increasing.

"There's a bump, but how much of that is due to people taking the easy way out? I don't know," he said.

Bost told the newspaper that food-stamp enrollment is up because of government outreach to eligible people. He also said that since many food pantries don't require documentation of income, not everyone receiving provisions is truly in need.

Ohio Democratic Representatives Sherrod Brown, Ted Strickland, Marcy Kaptur, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, and Tim Ryan sent a letter Tuesday to Bost, calling on him to resign.

"You have displayed a disparaging attitude toward the victims of hunger and an astonishing lack of awareness of what is happening beyond the Beltway," the lawmakers' letter said.

Jean Daniel, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, said the article included quotes that were "not quite right."

Bost was concerned that people who are eligible for food stamps or other federal food assistance programs are instead going to food banks because they don't know they're eligible or they think the application process is too cumbersome, she said.

"There is a perception that it is a simpler process -- not that people are taking the easy way out," she said. "We know that there are hungry people out there who need assistance, and we want to make sure that they have access to all of the food safety programs that they are eligible for."

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