The Weekly Food Research and Action Center News Digest highlights what's new on hunger, nutrition and poverty issues at FRAC, at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, around the network of national, state and local anti-poverty and anti-hunger organizations, and in the media. The Digest will alert you to trends, reports, news items and resources and, when available, link you directly to them. Previous editions of the Digest are available on FRAC’s website.
Issue #17, April 30, 2012
2. Organizations, Advocates and Columnists Speak Out Against Ag Committee Cuts to SNAP/Food Stamps 3. SNAP/Food Stamp Myths Used to Justify Budget Cuts 4. Expect SNAP/Food Stamp Participation Increase to Continue Through 2014 Says Government 5. NYC Poverty Increase Slowed by SNAP/Food Stamps 6. Struggling College Students in Michigan Can’t Access SNAP/Food Stamps 7. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania Take SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge and Protest Asset Test 8. SNAP/Food Stamp Challenges Feature Famous Chef and Media Participants 9. Hotels Adjacent to Disney World House Homeless Children 10. School Installs Vending Machine Featuring Healthy Meals and Snacks 11. Georgia Drug Test Law Makes TANF Approval Tougher 12. America’s Long-Term Unemployment Disastrous for Individuals and the Country
1. Senator Gillibrand Votes No on Farm Bill Cuts to SNAP
(The Hill, April 26, 2012; North Country Public Radio, April 27, 2012; FRAC, April 26, 2012)
“The Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday approved a new five-year farm bill over the objections of southern senators in a 16 to 5 final vote. Southern Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voted against it. The rice and peanut lobbies strongly oppose the farm subsidy changes in the bill arguing that it leaves their producers without a safety net. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also voted against the bill after expressing concerns about cuts to food stamp funding in the legislation.” A $4 billion cut to SNAP (formerly food stamps) was “a major reason why New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand voted against the bill” at the Agriculture Committee mark up on April 26th. “She told the committee that 300,000 families in New York currently receive food stamps, and they would each lose about $45-dollars per month.”
[Editorial Note: FRAC President Jim Weill noted that the Senate Agriculture Committee’s 2012 Farm Bill “means less food in the refrigerator for struggling families. Attempts to dismiss such cuts as ‘accounting’ fixes obscures the fact that it is a cut in benefits with real impact on people and their ability to purchase food.”]
(Marketwatch, April 19, 2012; Reuters, April 18, 2012; NBC11 News, April 19, 2012; Newark Star-Ledger, April 19, 2012; AFRO.com, April 20, 2012; The Chicago Maroon, April 20, 2012)
Columnists, anti-hunger advocates, and other organizations swiftly opposed the $33 billion in SNAP/Food Stamp cuts over 10 years the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee recently approved as part of a budget reconciliation measure.
“The U.S. House Agriculture Committee literally took the draconian step of taking food out of the mouths of hard-working families in our nation…[the committee] has not just voted to take money out of a line item, but literally to undermine the health of 300,000 of the nation’s neediest children,” said Tom Cochran, CEO and Executive Director, U.S. Conference of Mayors, in a statement. “If there’s a more misguided, mean-spirited and counterproductive way to address decades of deficits in this country, the Mayors of the United States can’t think of one.”
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote Congress to preserve food assistance program funding. Three million people could be pushed out of the SNAP/Food Stamp Program because of the cuts, noted FRAC. “For decades…SNAP has enjoyed strong bipartisan support and has helped ensure the poorest and hungriest people in our nation can put food on the table,” said Jim Weill, president of FRAC. He went on to note the program is “one of the most effective safety net programs” because of its responsiveness to increased unemployment.
“The Environmental Working Group’s top priority in the Farm Bill is protecting…the SNAP program,” said a statement from Ken Cook, president and co-founder, Environmental Working Group, “the only national environmental organization at all that has taken a stand on that issue.”
Colorado’s Beacon Newspaper is urging seniors to tell Congress they don’t support the SNAP/Food Stamp budget cuts, and notes that a USDA report shows the program substantially reduced poverty rates during the recession.
“All the formerly moderate Republicans from New Jersey are responsible for this because they voted for the budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) – the one that mandates cuts of this size,” writes the Star-Ledger Editorial Board. “[T]he Republican plan is far harsher than anything Ronald Reagan proposed. It ignores two bedrock principles of the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles plan: to balance spending cuts with tax increases and to protect the most vulnerable. And it is nothing but sad that New Jersey’s delegation, once independent, is marching in lockstep with this nonsense.” Poor families can qualify for SNAP/Food Stamps in New Jersey if they are just over the eligibility limit and can show unusually high housing or home heating costs. The recession and stagnant wages made many Americans poor enough to qualify, and compared with a decade ago, more eligible families now receive SNAP/Food Stamps. “That’s not a sign of waste[,]” notes the Star Ledger, “it means the program is working better.”
(Austin Statesman, April 19, 2012)
Myths about SNAP/Food Stamps “are being used as justification for dangerous policy changes and funding cuts that would make it harder for families struggling to get by day to day to put food on the table,” writes Kathy Green, senior director of advocacy and public policy at the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas, in this op-ed. Benefits are not “overly generous,” with the average participant receiving $134 a month, which amounts to less than $1.50 a meal. While program participation grew 70 percent between 2006 and 2011, unemployment grew 94 percent over the same period. The most vulnerable households receive the assistance – 85 percent of SNAP/Food Stamp households have a gross income at or below the federal poverty level, and 76 percent of households receiving benefits include a child, senior citizen, or disabled person. The program responded quickly to the recession, as it was designed to. Without SNAP/Food Stamps, the demand on food banks “would be crippling.” The Texas food bank saw a 62 percent increase in food assistance requests from 2006 to 2010, while during the last year the amount of emergency food program assistance dropped. “Food insecurity is a national problem that needs a national solution, and that starts with a strong federal commitment to SNAP.”
(The Wall Street Journal, April 19, 2012)
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projects that the number of SNAP/Food Stamp participants will continue to rise through 2014, and is expected to fall after 2014 as the economy improves. “Nevertheless, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits will remain high by historical standards,” said the CBO. In 2011, 45 million people – one in seven U.S. residents - received SNAP/Food Stamps, said the agency, a 70 percent increase from 2007. CBO estimates that in 2022, 34 million people – or one in ten U.S. residents – will receive SNAP/Food Stamps, “and SNAP expenditures, at about $73 billion, will be among the highest of all non-health-related federal support programs for low-income households.”
(The New York Times, April 17, 2012)
According to a Center for Economic Opportunity report, New York City’s poverty rate increased 1.3 percent – 100,000 people – to 21 percent between 2009 and 2010, the largest year-to-year increase since 2005, when the city adopted a more detailed poverty definition. SNAP/Food Stamps, along with tax credits and other assistance, helped keep the poverty rate from rising to 23.7 percent. The poverty rate for families with children increased to 23 percent; without SNAP/Food Stamps and other assistance, it would have risen to 27.6 percent. A city outreach effort helped expand SNAP/Food Stamp participation from 773,000 in 2008 to more than 1 million in 2010. The report blamed the poverty rate increases on reduced earnings and higher unemployment during the recession. “Given the priority that policy makers have given to child poverty,” said Mark Levitan, the center’s director of poverty research, in the report, “the rise in the poverty rate for children, from 22.9 percent in 2008 to 25.8 percent in 2010, is particularly notable.” To fight poverty, the analysis recommends subsidized employment programs and expanded child tax credits.
(Detroit News, April 17, 2012)
Anne Calhoun’s household had been receiving $232 a month in SNAP/Food Stamps, but that amount was cut to $94 a month three months ago; one month ago her SNAP/Food Stamps were cancelled. After her caseworker couldn’t tell her why this was happening, Calhoun looked online and found that, since she and her husband are full-time students, they no longer qualified for the program. Michigan eliminated students from SNAP/Food Stamps last year. In February 2011, Calhoun’s job at Wayne State University was eliminated, and she has been unable to find another job. “I don’t lack in drive or education,” she said, noting her associate’s degree in elementary education, and the fact that she’s working on a degree in human services. She’s baffled that her attempts to create a better life for her family come at the price of badly-needed assistance. “Everything is so expensive,” she said. “Even $90 a month would enable my son to get what he needs.”
(Philadelphia Tribune, April 23, 2012)
Congressman Bob Brady (D-PA), Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, state Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and state Representative Tony Payton Jr. recently took the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge to bring awareness about the importance of the nutrition program and protest the state’s upcoming asset test. “It’s just mean-spirited to attack children, to attack those with low income,” said Nutter, at a shopping trip to select $34 worth of groceries for the Challenge week, with the other officials. “Why should we cut the benefits to the most needy? SNAP is real important to Philadelphians, and no one should ever be hungry or without food.” The Challenge “really illuminates the plight of poor people, and those who have their foot on the necks of poor people,” said Payton. “This is really a wakeup call to pay attention. There are people making decisions that will impact your life and victimize the poor.” On a weekly basis, dozens of people visit Payton’s office looking for food assistance. It’s estimated that thousands will be affected by Governor Corbett’s asset test, which officials are deriding as cruel.
(Philadelphia Inquirer, April 20, 2012; NY Daily News, April 19, 2012)
Chef Mario Batali recently challenged well-known musicians and actors to join him in taking the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge sponsored by the Food Bank for NYC. Batali and his family will spend $31 per person on meals May 11-18. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall participated in the Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge the last week in April, limiting her meal budget to $5 a day. She writes that the Challenge goal is to raise awareness of the fact that hunger is real in Philadelphia, especially as “the mean-spirited, totally unnecessary asset test” looms on May 1. Although the need for assistance is great, SNAP/Food Stamps are still underused, she notes. The negative perception of SNAP/Food Stamp users comes from “selective blindness,” said Casey Morgan, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, which sponsored the Challenge with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “[W]e’re all just one paycheck or layoff away from applying for food assistance ourselves,” writes John-Hall.
(Huffington Post, April 19, 2012)
In Central Florida, about 2,000 children live in hotels, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The number doesn’t count those children too young for school, or those who have dropped out of school or evaded government record keeping. Their families are the “new face of poverty in America” say advocates, likening them to those who lived in city shelters in the 1980s and the migrant camps of the Depression. The Department of Education reports that 47,000 hotel kids are in schools across the country, a 38 percent increase since 2007. “It’s hard to think of a place more emblematic of the disillusionment at the heart of the American economy than the row of $149-per-week accommodations pointing the way to the fairytale opulence of Cinderella’s Castle,” notes this article. Along Florida’s Highway 192, one of the area’s main arteries, hotels began renting rooms to homeless people and families after the recession caused tourism to fall and jobless adults looked for affordable shelter for their families. Studies show that homeless children, moving three to four times a year, fall behind in their schoolwork by about 6 months because they’re often also changing schools.
(Amherst Patch, April 5, 2012)
Souhegan High School in Amherst, New Hampshire, installed a refrigerated vending machine that offers healthy meals and snacks, which students, including those receiving free or reduced-price school meals, can access using their meal accounts. All the foods in the machine are made by the School Nutrition Department staff, and include salads, sandwiches, yogurt parfaits, and hummus with vegetables. The school is the first in the state to install the state of the art machine, and “the machine basically sells out,” said Danielle Collins, school nutrition director. Students can also access the healthy food during the afternoons and evenings.
(The Nation, April 20, 2012)
Georgia residents approved for TANF must now receive a drug test within forty-eight hours, and must pay a $17, non-refundable test fee, according to a law recently signed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal. “In effect, it’s an application fee,” said Lisa Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Schott notes that the “universal, suspicionless drug test” is “unconstitutional as an unreasonable search – like we saw with the recent Florida law…To the extent there are individuals on TANF with substance abuse problems, what you would want to do is identify them and provide treatment. The drug testing bills generally do nothing like that.” Should someone approved for TANF fail the test and be disqualified from benefits, that person can reapply after completing treatment, although every substance abuse treatment facility in the state has a waiting list. “It’s not about doing something about substance abuse,” said Schott. “It’s about Georgia continuing to make it harder for anyone to get on welfare – trying to get to zero.” According to CBPP, for every 100 of Georgia’s poor families with children in 2008-09, only eight received TANF. Last October, Federal Judge Mary Scriven ruled a Florida drug testing law was likely unconstitutional and issued a temporary injunction against it. She said the state’s own pilot program “debunked the assumptions of the State, and likely many laypersons, regarding TANF applicants and drug use.” Testing demonstrated that TANF recipients tended to have lower incidences of substance abuse than the general population.
(The New Yorker, April 30, 2012)
The main focus of talk in Washington – budget deficits, tax rates, the looming “fiscal crisis” – ignores the fact that almost thirteen million Americans continue to be unemployed. The unemployment rate is three points higher than the postwar average, with the percentage of adult Americans employed at a thirty-year low. Forty percent have been out of a job for six months or more – a troubling fact, notes this editorial. The unemployed stay without jobs for an average of 40 weeks, about the same time frame as in 2010. “The economic recovery has now lasted nearly three years, but for millions of Americans it hasn’t yet begun.” Research has found that unemployment negatively affects people’s health, and “the lifetime earnings of workers unemployed during a recession are permanently reduced.” Mortality rates are also higher for unemployed workers even twenty years later. A long-term unemployed person loses job skills. Unemployment adds to the budget deficit, as unemployed workers aren’t paying taxes since they have no income. “After all, people doing something to create value, rather than nothing, is the fundamental driver of growth in any economy.” The federal government could institute an aggressive monetary or fiscal policy to put people back to work. “We could follow Germany’s example and subsidize job-sharing programs, which have helped Germany bring down its long-term unemployment rate despite the recession.” But policymakers don’t seem interested.
2. Organizations, Advocates and Columnists Speak Out Against Ag Committee Cuts to SNAP/Food Stamps
3. SNAP/Food Stamp Myths Used to Justify Budget Cuts
4. Expect SNAP/Food Stamp Participation Increase to Continue Through 2014 Says Government
5. NYC Poverty Increase Slowed by SNAP/Food Stamps
6. Struggling College Students in Michigan Can’t Access SNAP/Food Stamps
7. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania Take SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge and Protest Asset Test
8. SNAP/Food Stamp Challenges Feature Famous Chef and Media Participants
9. Hotels Adjacent to Disney World House Homeless Children
10. School Installs Vending Machine Featuring Healthy Meals and Snacks
11. Georgia Drug Test Law Makes TANF Approval Tougher
12. America’s Long-Term Unemployment Disastrous for Individuals and the Country