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 #25, June 28, 2012
1. Senate Farm Bill Contains $4.5 Billion in SNAP/Food Stamp Cuts
(HeraldNet.com, June 23, 2012; FRAC, June 21, 2012; Chicago Sun-Times, June 26, 2012)
While the Senate Farm Bill rejected “amendments that would have crippled the [SNAP] program and left poorer, hungrier, and unhealthier millions of people who rely on the program for basic food,” noted the Food Research and Action Center, it still contains $4.5 billion in SNAP/Food Stamp cuts. For more than 230,000 Washington State households, the cuts “deals a devastating blow,” notes an op-ed in HeraldNet by Shelley Rotondo, executive director of the non-profit food bank distributor Northwest Harvest., with those households on track to losing a week’s worth of groceries. “It comes at a time when the need is at an all-time high: many parents are still without jobs and children in your community got to bed hungry.” In order to help fill those needs, many have stepped up to donate to Northwest Harvest. “But food banks can’t handle the need by themselves,” notes Rotondo. “Food stamps are, and must remain, our first line of defense against hunger.” Notes the Food Research and Action Center in the organization’s statement on the Senate Farm Bill: “No community – no congressional district – is free from hunger, and it is time for Congress to tackle this challenge with the urgency the situation demands.”
2. As SNAP/Food Stamp Participation Increases, Oregon Organizations Struggle to Provide Additional Nutrition Assistance
(OregonLive.com, June 11, 2012)
As the state’s SNAP/Food Stamp participation rate continues to climb, Oregon’s churches and charities are struggling to keep up with increased need for food assistance. “I don’t think the general public understands how precarious the safety net is,” said Liesl Wendt, CEO of 211Info, a hotline linking people in 19 Oregon counties to government and private assistance. “Some people are a $30 rent increase away from saying, ‘What am I going to do?’ We’re on the other side saying: ‘We don’t know.’” The Oregon Food Bank dipped into its reserves for the first time in its 30-year history in order to meet demand. “We raised $2 million in the current fiscal year and dipped into our reserves by $2.5 million to buy food,” said Rachel Bristol, the food bank’s CEO. “That’s not sustainable in the long term. And the signs are it’s going to get harder.” Each week, 500 to 600 jobless Oregonians come to the end of their unemployment assistance, up from 400 to 500 per week at the start of 2012. Higher food, drug and fuel prices have forced seniors living on fixed incomes to seek help in getting food and other necessities. “We’re seeing a softening of financial contributions and food drives have gone down,” said Bristol.
3. Maryland Improves SNAP/Food Stamp Application Processing Timeliness
(Baltimore Sun, June 15, 2012)
A circuit judge has found that Maryland’s Department of Human Resources (DHR) is now processing nearly all SNAP/Food Stamp, medical help and cash assistance applications within 30 days after an application is submitted, the time mandated by law. DHR Secretary Ted Dallas said at least 96 percent of applications have been processed on time for the last 19 months, and credited hard work by thousands of DHR employees, staff overtime, software upgrades and new equipment for the improvements. At the time the court case was filed, 4,100 SNAP/Food Stamp applications were overdue. Debra Gardner, legal director of the Public Justice Center (one of the groups that filed original court action), said the state deserves credit for improving application timeliness, but relying on staff overtime and other “stopgap” measures is not sustainable. “They have antiquated case-management software,” said Gardiner. “We’re really concerned that they still haven’t put in place all of the things they told the court in the corrective action plan would allow them to sustain the level of achievement.”
4. SNAP/Food Stamp Participation Triples in Affluent New Jersey County
(CNN Money, June 12, 2012)
In the last five years, the number of Morris County, N.J. residents on SNAP/Food Stamps tripled. The county is known for its wealth and million-dollar homes. According to Phyllis Tonnesen, who works for the Department of Human Services Office of Temporary Assistance, need now is the worst she’s seen in her 27 years with the agency. The SNAP/Food Stamp caseload has grown 240 percent since the start of the recession. “These people thought they had the American Dream,” said Tonnesen. “They had decent jobs, a home, a new car every five years, took the kids to the shore for vacation. Suddenly here they are applying for food stamps.”
5. Milwaukee Self-Service Office Helps Latinos Access SNAP/Food Stamps
(USDA Blog, June 13, 2012)
The Robles Center in the predominantly Latino south side of Milwaukee, Wisc., offers low-income residents access to SNAP/Food Stamps through easy-to-use computer terminals and scanning stations, and provides bilingual staff to assist clients in filling out applications. The Center is not a traditional welfare office, “where you’d expect to see a roomful of people waiting to see their caseworkers,” writes Kathleen FioRito in this blog post. “Although it shouldn’t seem novel, we allow the customer to use all of the equipment independently to manage their own case,” said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force (HTF). “We only step in if they need help.” USDA SNAP/Food Stamp outreach money and Hunger Task Force support fund the center. USDA is particularly concerned with reaching out to low-income Hispanics who are eligible for SNAP/Food Stamps but are not receiving them. “Language and cultural differences, confusion and fear about immigration status of family members are very real roadblocks for many Latinos,” writes FioRito.
6. NYC Official Pushes for Breakfast in the Classroom
(The New York Times, June 20, 2012)
New York City Council member Steven Levin introduced a resolution for all city schools to offer breakfast in the classroom; currently, only 22 percent of the city’s 1,750 schools offer it. “We have universal breakfast, but we hover among the lowest big cities in the entire country with actual enrollment in school breakfast,” said Levin. “Other cities do it successfully. The benefits to eating breakfast are well known for students’ nutrition and attentiveness and ability to do well in school.” In a report from the Food Research and Action Center, New York City ranked last among major cities for school breakfast participation. The city lets principals decide where and how to serve school breakfast, but advocates say the city should compel principals to offer in-class breakfast. “They tell the principals what to do each and every day on a thousand different things,” said Joel Berg of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
7. Pennsylvania Farmers’ Markets Accepting WIC Vouchers and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Benefits
(PR Newswire, June 15, 2012)
Elderly Pennsylvanians receiving Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program benefits can use program vouchers at farmers’ markets across the state and purchase up to $20 in fresh, locally-grown fruits and vegetables. State Agriculture Secretary George Greig, at a kick-off event for the program, noted that Pennsylvania is one of a few states that contributes state funding to the program’s federal funding, which opens the program up statewide. Individuals aged 60 or older with total household incomes (before taxes) of less than $20,665 (single person household) or $27,991 (two-person household) can qualify. The WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program allows WIC participants to use vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables at farmers’ markets. “Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, fiber and other substances that are important to good health,” said the state’s Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila at the kick-off event. “With WIC recipients eligible for this program, we have even more ways to improve the nutrition and health of Pennsylvania’s new mothers and our children.” Information on participating farmers’ markets is available at www.agriculture.state.pa.us (search “farmers markets”).
8. Researchers Find Healthy Eating Costs More
(Food Navigator, June 7, 2012)
Nutrient-rich diets cost more, according to a study funded by the National Institutes of Health titled “Nutrient Intakes Linked to Better Health Outcomes Are Associated with Higher Diet Costs in the U.S.” and recently published in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One. The researchers studied sample data from more than 2,000 adults in the Seattle Obesity Study, which used food frequency questionnaires to study dietary intakes and estimated diet costs for each respondent using Seattle supermarket retail prices. The study authors concluded that “nutrients commonly associated with a lower risk of chronic disease were associated with higher diet costs…By contrast, nutrients associated with higher disease risk were associated with lower diet costs” – saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars. However, not all nutrients were equally expensive. Since milk and milk products are relatively inexpensive, “calcium and vitamin D showed… weaker associations with diet costs,” as did iron and folate, “which may reflect the ubiquity and relatively low cost of grain products fortified with iron and folate.” Nutrients from fruits and vegetables (vitamin C, beta carotene, potassium and magnesium) showed “the most pronounced positive gradient with diet cost[.]”
9. Thousands of Jobless Reach End of Unemployment Benefits, Numbers Expected to Increase
(Bloomberg, June 14, 2012)
Between April 7 and May 12 of this year, about 370,000 unemployed people in 23 states reached the end of their extended unemployment benefits, according to National Employment Law Project estimates. The organization says the numbers will continue to climb, as state unemployment rates fall below thresholds required for federal funding to continue. Legislation introduced in Congress in February will reduce benefits further starting this month. Two months ago, 52,000 jobless Georgia residents received notice their extended benefits would expire before the end of their payment period, as the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 8.9 percent. The formula used to end benefits for long-term jobless people does not take into account pockets of higher unemployment in a state. Emma Bartenfield, 58, lost her benefits in April. Georgia’s labor department explained, in her notice, that the state “had reached a tipping point,” said Bartenfield. “But how can that be, when nobody in Dalton has a job?” Kelly Browning’s loss of her $194 weekly benefit “really put me in a bind. I have two kids in school, and they’re always wanting something.” She said she’s now receiving SNAP/Food Stamps. Miguel Gines has been using his savings and $133 a week in jobless benefits to get by. Since he lost his unemployment compensation two months before his expected cut-off date, he’s afraid he’ll end up homeless.
10. Study Shows Steep Decrease in U.S. Family Incomes
(Modesto Bee, June 11, 2012)
A recently released report – the Survey of Consumer Finances - from the Federal Reserve charts the steep decline in income families have experienced between 2007 and 2010. Before the income decline, incomes stayed flat at the end of the “dot.com” recession and up to the “Great Recession” in December 2007. According to Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, this marks the first time since World War II that workers made no income progress throughout a full business cycle. “It’s why I think about it as a lost decade for families,” he said. The survey found that, when adjusted for inflation, family income median value fell 7.7 percent, from $49,600 in 2007 to $45,800 in 2010. Median net worth dropped 38.9 percent, from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010. The mean, or average U.S. family income, fell 11.1 percent.