Costa, Caples weigh in on State of the Union speech

Congressman Jim Costa, Food Bank CEO Natalie Caples agree President Biden was on point, addressed key topics relevant to the Central Valley

(Congressman Jim Costa's office)
(Congressman Jim Costa's office)
Darren Fraser
Published March 12, 2024  • 
10:00 am

WASHINGTON D.C. – In a Zoom call following President Biden’s State of the Union Speech, Valley Congressman Jim Costa told a small group of reporters that while the President is achieving milestones at the national level – 14 million new jobs, including 800,000 manufacturing jobs, plunging inflation and unemployment at a 50-year low – he attempting to achieve the same results in his own neck of the woods.

After the address on March 7, the Congressman said he is attempting to hit the same milestones at the regional level by using $12 million in new appropriations to invest in infrastructure, transportation, broadband and water. He added that the U.S.’s post-pandemic recovery is the envy of the world.

“We have the strongest economy in the world and the strongest recovery from the pandemic,” Costa said. “As a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, I work with our allies in Asia and Europe. They all (attest) that America’s recovery has been very strong.”

Costa was joined on the call by Natalie Caples, co-CEO of the Central California Food Bank (CCFB). Each year, Costa invites someone from the Valley to be his guest at the speech. Costa said he chose Caples because of the essential work CCFB is doing to assist Valley residents across five counties who are food insecure.


Costa said the President was consistently direct on the issues, including illegal immigration.

“The (southern) border’s a problem,” said Costa. “We need to do more. The President asked for funding for additional border patrol agents and additional judges to give him greater authority.”

The border should not be a political issue, but former President Trump and the Republican Party are politicizing it, said Costa.

“Senator (James) Lankford and Senator (Chris) Murphy worked for months on a comprehensive, bipartisan border package,” said Costa. “Senator Lindsay Graham said this was the most forceful security measure in 20 years, but the former President said, ‘No. Don’t vote on it. I want this to be an issue for the campaign.’ I don’t understand hypocrisy.”

Costa continued, “This (the border) is an issue. Everyone agrees it’s an issue. The President said if you want to solve the problem, let’s sit down and solve the problem. ‘Give me a bill.’ Do you want to have a political debate or do you want to solve the problem?”

Costa said he recently co-sponsored legislation titled “Protecting Our Border.”

“It has border security, funding for Ukraine, funding for humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians and for the Armenians who have lost their homes because of Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said. “I believe if it would come to the floor, that measure would have over 300 votes and would pass the Senate and the President would sign it. Let’s skip playing politics. Let’s get the job done.”

He said, so far, President Biden has signed over 400 partisan bills into the law, with the most important being the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package. The $12 million appropriation Costa received from the package will fund the second phase of Friant-Kern Canal repair project. The money will also fund repairs to the San Luis Reservoir and increase the reservoir’s capacity by 120,000 acre feet of additional water.

Costa said he also secured $3 million in grants to improve water supply and availability for the Valley.

“I announced today three $1 million grants that involve the Fresno Irrigation District and the Consolidated Irrigation District of Alta, all to provide their greater capability to recharge our groundwater,” said Costa. “Included separately in this was the Tulare District for a recharge water project.”


CCFB CEO Caples said she was encouraged that the President addressed issues that directly impact the Valley.

“There are a number of priorities that impact our neighbors and their ability to be able to secure healthy and nutritious food for themselves and their families,” she said.

In his speech, the President called for the passage of the Child Tax Credit for 2024. The current credit – refundable amount per child – is capped at $1,600. The new credit would increase that amount to $1,800. For 2024 and 2025 tax years, the amount would increase to $1,900 and $2,000, respectively.

“The Child Tax Credit would benefit about 16 million children and families with low incomes,” said Caples. “It is a proven strategy. It could lift as many as 400,000 children above the poverty line. It is a very tangible piece of legislation that would mean the difference for low-income families struggling with food insecurity and other basic needs.”

Caples said she was encouraged that the President addressed improving healthcare, lowering prescription drug prices; focusing on a future where all Americans can negotiate better prices and save billions of dollars.

She said in the Valley, many seniors who use CCFB programs say rising medical and prescription drug costs are the reason why they are showing up in food pantry lines.

“Either a medical bill they did not anticipate or because they have recurring monthly expenses that means they are making choices between receiving their medication this month or buying food,” she said.

The President said he advocated free education for three and four-year olds. Caples said such a program would provide enormous benefits for low-income families.

“When families are struggling with food insecurities, they are also struggling with basic needs. Childcare is a huge, huge challenge for low-income families. Making early childhood education free so families can free up their budgets and put money toward other basic needs like food is very critical,” said Caples.

Lastly, Caples said she was encouraged to hear the President’s remarks about supporting local farmers.

“Our food bank has implemented a program where we are working with historically underserved and disadvantaged farmers in the Fresno and Tulare area,” she said. “We are investing in a food system and in economic stability for us here locally. When we are making those investments and choosing who we are working with, we are prioritizing food purchases from small and medium-sized historically underserved farms. That makes a real impact in our community.”


Californians routinely rank homelessness as one of their top concerns. Proposition 1, spearheaded by Gov. Newsom, squeaked by in the March 5 Primary, with just over 50% of voters approving. Voters in Fresno and Tulare counties were more so against the measure than for it.

When asked about the fact California voters say they are concerned about homelessness but are apparently reluctant to take steps to fix the problem, Costa was pragmatic.

“One out of 11 Americans have a mental health issue,” he said. “In California, it’s one out of nine. I think the governor’s initiative is in the right direction. You have to provide not only housing, but wraparound services for the underlying causes of homelessness. It begins with mental health. It begins with treatment for substance abuse and it begins by ensuring you have the ability for food security. All of these factors need to come together if we’re going to deal with this plague of homelessness.”

Caples echoed Costa’s sentiments. She said she is not an expert on mental illness or homelessness, but she understands the necessity for the wraparound services to which Costa referred. She mentioned Fresno’s City Center as the working embodiment of services housed in a co-located space.

“City Center is the vision of Fresno Mission CEO Matt Dildine,” she said. “He gave community-based organizations, like CCFB, the opportunity to engage in this co-located space which was meant to serve as a hub. A place where these organizations could come together and, comprehensively, provide services.”

CCF operates a free grocery store at City Center. The store has been open for four months and operates three days a week. During that time, Caples said the store has served over 10,000 households.

“It feels like an incredible success in such a short time,” said Caples.

Darren Fraser