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 #19, May 16, 2012
1. Food Banks Can’t Afford SNAP/Food Stamp Cuts, Official Tells Congress
(Oklahoma Politics News, May 9, 2012)
“We’re at a point right now where we can’t afford to cut [SNAP/Food Stamp] benefits,” said Rodney Bivens, founder and executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, to the House Agriculture subcommittee on Nutrition and Horticulture. “We are absolutely stretched to our limits already and trying to keep up with current demand.” Although Oklahoma’s unemployment rate is low, emergency food demand has increased 30 to 50 percent in some areas, said Biven.
2. Agriculture Secretary Dispels SNAP/Food Stamp Myths
(The Gazette, May 1, 2012)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke with The Gazette’s editorial board recently in order to dispel the “misunderstandings” about the SNAP/Food Stamp Program. Three out of four SNAP/Food Stamp households include a child, a senior over age 60 or a disabled person, according to a recent Congressional Budget Office report. While some want to restrict SNAP/Food Stamp purchases, Vilsack said it’s but tough logistically, as sorting through 300,000 items on store shelves would be daunting. USDA is experimenting with giving SNAP/Food Stamp recipients incentives when they buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
3. Ohio SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge Aims Attention at Congressional Budget Cuts
(Public News Service, April 30, 2012; Toledo Blade, April 30, 2012; Toledo Blade, May 8, 2012)
From April 30 to May 4, the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies sponsored a SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge and invited participants to attempt living on $23 in groceries for five days. Phil Cole, the organization’s executive director, said the Challenge not only gives participants a chance to experience what life is like on SNAP/Food Stamps, but hopefully will increase awareness about ongoing poverty and hunger in Ohio as Congress is proposing more than $33 billion in cuts to the program over the next 10 years. Toledo Blade writers and editors also participated in the Challenge, and blogged their thoughts and experiences at http://toledoblade.typepad.com/hungergames.
4. Report Finds NYC Homelessness and SNAP/Food Stamp Benefits Linked
(City Limits, April 11, 2012)
In New York City, SNAP/Food Stamps only cover part of a family’s food bill, and recipients may still be forced to choose between food and rent according to a report by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness (ICPH). In 2010, the average NYC family receiving SNAP/Food Stamps had an average income of $1,419 a month, received $287 in SNAP benefits, and had an average monthly food bill of $619. Their $332 shortfall for food means 25 percent of the family’s monthly average income was devoted to food costs. NYC’s homeless shelter population has steadily grown, and ICPH links it to the SNAP/Food Stamp shortfall – if the nutrition program matched a realistic food bill, families would have to spend less money to eat, and would have more money for rent. The city has made great strides in SNAP/Food Stamp outreach – the Community Food Resource Center estimated that 900,000 New Yorkers were eligible for the program but had not applied in 2002. Since January 2003, SNAP/Food Stamp participation increased 118 percent, from 830,000 New Yorkers to more than 1.8 million.
5. Idaho Stores Struggle with Large SNAP/Food Stamp Crowds at First of Each Month
(KMVT, May 2, 2012)
Since three years ago, when Idaho started issuing SNAP/Food Stamps to all 240,000 beneficiaries on the first of the month (instead of staggering the issuance over the first five days of each month), many stores are struggling. “Some of our stores have their volume more than triple on the first day of the month,” said Michael Read, Winco Regional spokesman. He thinks the state made the switch as a cost-cutting measure. Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, presented the legislature with a plan to stagger SNAP/Food Stamp issuance over 10 days, at a cost of $200,000, with four staff added to help answer recipient questions about the change. While the bill passed the House, it died in the Senate. “There’s a strong philosophy within the legislature that smaller government is better government,” said Armstrong. “And, smaller government is generally viewed as the number of employees that are employed by the state of Idaho.”
6. First-Person Account Describes Applying for SNAP/Food Stamps
(Huffington Post, April 28, 2012)
Wendy Fontaine applied for SNAP/Food Stamps when her daughter was two and after her husband left her. Waiting for her name to be called at the Department of Health and Human Services office, she “wanted to run out, to jump into my car and drive away,” she writes. Instead, she stayed, since she needed the assistance. “My new job was only part-time and minimum wage, but it was the only job opening in town.” Her case worker told her she was eligible for $300 a month in SNAP/Food Stamps. “That was more than I earned all week at the pharmacy. I felt like crying, mostly from relief but also from embarrassment. Before Angela was born, I had worked as a newspaper reporter for more than a decade, interviewing presidential candidates…I had a college degree and a retirement account. Never once had I thought I would need help with something as basic as buying food for my kid.” Although she’s off SNAP/Food Stamps now, Fontaine notes that the House Agriculture Committee’s vote to cut $33 billion from the program “would affect nearly every family receiving food stamps in this country.” Rep. Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, proposes tax reduction for the rich while cutting programs that “disproportionately affect kids, teens and women.” Politicians aren’t looking to curb spending by looking to billionaires like Warren Buffett, Fontaine says. Instead “[t]hey are looking to people like me: working parents with inadequate jobs already struggling to make ends meet.” Fontaine writes that she, like many Americans, “used the program not as a permanent crutch but as a way to dig myself out of a terrible situation, one that had come about because of circumstances beyond my control.”
7. Three States and D.C. Selected for School Meal Community Eligibility Option
(USDA, May 4, 2012)
USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon announced that the agency selected D.C., New York, Ohio and West Virginia for participation in the school meal community eligibility option, which uses the number of households in a community on SNAP/Food Stamps as a method of automatically signing up students for free school breakfast and school lunch. Community eligibility reduces paperwork burden and administrative costs by eliminating the need for families to fill out School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program applications. The community eligibility option is one of the reforms contained in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act; Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan were the first states USDA selected to participate in 2011-2012.
8. Letter to the Editor Supports Free School Breakfast
(Sun Journal, May 1, 2012)
“I work two jobs and have at times worked three to make ends meet. I live in Auburn [Maine] and my property taxes are outrageous, but cutting the free breakfast program in Auburn is the last thing to do,” notes this letter to the editor. “Students who eat breakfast do better in school.” The author “would rather see (city officials) stop planting flowers around the city or putting up holiday decorations rather than take food out of the mouths of our future leaders.” To conclude, the letter quotes Hubert Humphrey: “The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”
9. Cities Nationwide Attending Leadership Conferences on Combating Hunger Through Afterschool Meals
(Newsplex.com, April 30, 2012; NLC.org, May 7, 2012)
Charlottesville, Virginia is one of 21 cities nationwide chosen to participate in the Cities Combating Hunger Through Afterschool Meals Programs Leadership Academy. Each city will provide a three-person team, including municipal officials and local partners, to the academy, where they will learn strategies to increase the number of children benefitting from the expanded Afterschool Meals Program. Nine of the cities will receive grants of up to $60,000 from the Walmart Foundation to help implement the ideas the Academy develops. The National League of Cities and the Food Research and Action Center will join the cities at the Academy.
10. Afterschool Meals Benefit Students in Oakland, California and Surrounding Area
(Mercury News, May 5, 2012)
California’s Pittsburg School District began participating in the federal Afterschool Meal Program in March, and now serves the meal to more than 600 children each day in its eight elementary schools. The district plans to expand to middle and high schools next year. “This is long overdue in a community like Pittsburg, where more than 80 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price meals,” said Matt Belasco, the district’s director of child nutrition services. The afterschool programs provide help with homework, guest presentations on the environment and animals, and recreation time until 6 p.m. “We know so often our children go home and they don’t have access to food. That’s just the reality,” said Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland’s director of nutrition services. Parents are finding the assistance helpful – one parent wrote to Belasco, stating that her husband was laid off and it was difficult to find time to cook for her son while attempting to work overtime shifts at her job.
11. Alabama County’s Schools Well on Their Way to Meeting New Nutrition Requirements
(Alabama.com, May 5, 2012)
New federal nutrition standards require schools to serve healthier meals, and Madison County in Alabama has already implemented most of the new guidelines, making the changes two years ago according to Jan Waller, acting coordinator for Huntsville City Schools’ Child Nutrition Program. In 2007, the county’s elementary schools began changing their menus as part of the HealthierUS School Challenge, and each school won the “Gold Award” for their efforts in 2008. Many students are now accepting the healthier meals in larger numbers, notes Connie Bell, the lunch room manager at Jones Valley Elementary. While the change will have some financial impact, Waller estimates that it won’t be a significant amount. Last month, Alabama’s Department of Education announced it was putting revised nutrition requirements in place based on the federal requirements. Schools across the state will eliminate fried foods, ensure that children receive fresh fruits and vegetables each day, switch to whole grain breads, cut sodium amounts, and offer 1 percent or fat-free milk, fat-free flavored milk, water, and 100 percent fruit juices.
12. Minnesota County Starts Accepting WIC Applications Online
(St. Cloud Times, May 5, 2012)
WIC applicants in Minnesota’s Stearns County can now fill out and submit their applications online. Previously, they were required to call a public health office, answer questions for about 20 minutes, and make an appointment to visit the clinic. Now, a public health office staff person will call online applicants to make an appointment. Although WIC participation is slightly down across the state and nationally, Stearns County has seen a slight increase, according to Renee Frauendienst, county public health director. Currently, about 3,300 county residents participate in WIC.
13. NYC’s Budget Slashes Child Programs
(The New York Times, May 4, 2012)
While NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed budget provides for teachers, firefighters and police and contains no new taxes, it slashes funding for vital children’s services. City daycare and afterschool programs – which enable the working poor to keep their jobs - will lose $150 million. In 2009, there were 137,000 child care and afterschool programs in the city; today, there are 94,000, and the budget proposal would mean there would be about 53,000. Early Learning NYC, which provides nutrition and health care along with education, would cover 43,000 of the 50,000 children now in city child care and Head Start, dropping 7,000 children from the program. When the mayor was asked about these child program cuts he said “The city cannot do everything for everybody.” This editorial states Bloomberg’s comment is true, “[b]ut Mr. Bloomberg and the Council need to do a lot more for the city’s neediest children.”