Welcome to the first issue of FRAC Features, the Food Research and Action Center’s new e-newsletter dedicated to keeping you up-to-date on key anti-hunger news and developments here at FRAC in a concise, easy-to-read bimonthly e-publication. Each issue will provide a snapshot of FRAC’s latest activities, highlights from our partners and network, some synopses of press coverage, and brief summaries of top issues.
While our other e-publications, including the Weekly News Digest, the weekly FRAC Federal Nutrition Programs Update and FRAC Focus: Obesity and Hunger, provide detailed data and analysis on anti-hunger and nutrition issues, FRAC Features’ goal is to offer brief highlights of the work we and our network are undertaking and the successes we’re achieving—stories that too often get lost in the longer and often “wonkier” materials we produce. We will also be profiling or interviewing FRAC staff and reporting on organizational developments.
We hope you will find FRAC Features a useful resource. We look forward to receiving your feedback in the months ahead as we fine-tune the e-newsletter’s content to best accommodate your needs and those of our other friends and supporters.
James D. Weill
President Obama signed into law the new Child Nutrition Reauthorization law on December 14th. Titled The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, it broadens the Afterschool Meal Program to cover all 50 states (currently is covers just 13), supports the expansion of direct certification for school meals, improves area eligibility rules so more family child care homes can use the CACFP program, changes summer food rules to make it easier for nonprofits to operate, makes important reforms in the nutritional quality of food served in schools and child care, and makes “competitive” foods sold or offered in schools more nutritious.
To implement quickly and robustly the Act’s provisions, FRAC is launching a Webinar series – CNR: Putting the Act into Action – to explore key improvements made by the bill and outline steps necessary for implementation.
The passage of the Act was accompanied by the commitment of the President to work with Congressional leaders to fix the SNAP (food stamp) cut included to pay for some of the child nutrition improvements. In the weeks leading up to the vote, FRAC led the effort to urge Congress to pass the child nutrition bill and address the SNAP cut. Working closely with organizations across the country, FRAC used a range of strategies in the effort, including promoting SNAP Challenges (where a person pledges to live a week on the average SNAP benefit) and hosting two successful virtual rallies on Twitter and Facebook. For the rally, FRAC asked Twitter users to incorporate #SNAPcuts or #Rally4CNR in their messages; these hashtags ranked among the most used in several areas, including Minneapolis, New York City, and Washington, D.C.
PHOTO CREDIT: FRAC President Jim Weill took this photo during the signing ceremony for The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
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One in seven Americans struggled with hunger in 2009, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The annual survey from USDA and the Census Bureau showed a slight increase from 2008, rising from 49.1 million to more than 50 million Americans. The relatively modest size of this increase during the ongoing recession – compared to the dramatic jump from 36.2 million in 2007 to 49.1 million in 2008 – is attributable both to improvements in nutrition programs benefits and to increased participation in these programs – and FRAC and its partners played a key role in both.
A new analysis by FRAC gives a more current look at hunger in America by chronicling families’ inability to purchase enough food (“food hardship”) through September 2010. FRAC’s analysis of data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index shows that the number of respondents saying that they at points during the year could not afford enough food for their families declined slightly in 2010, down from an average of 18.5 percent in the last quarter of 2009 to an average of 17.7 percent over the six months from April to September 2010. The number had peaked at 19.5 percent in the last quarter of 2008.
FRAC released these findings on a conference call with reporters, and was joined by Debbie Weinstein of the Coalition on Human Needs and Mariana Chilton from Witnesses to Hunger. During the call, FRAC President Jim Weill noted that the decline in food hardship in the midst of ongoing economic distress demonstrated the importance of the federal nutrition programs. He particularly credited the increase in SNAP benefits - which took effect in April 2009 and was included in the economic recovery act – as playing a major role for struggling families. “Quite simply, the increase in SNAP benefits worked. The goal of the increase was to provide stimulus to the economy, help people weather the worst of the recession, and make SNAP more adequate to get through the month. The Gallup data show just how effective and essential that increase was and still is,” he said.
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Read the full poll results on FRAC’s website.
In the wake of the recent election, 80 percent of Americans believe that hunger in the U.S. is a serious problem that must be addressed, and that the SNAP (food stamp) program must be protected for its key role in reducing hunger, according to polling data released by FRAC.
The poll of 802 registered voters was conducted by Hart Research Associates from November 5–8. FRAC President Jim Weill noted that “these findings demonstrate that Americans want national leaders to make fighting hunger a priority and they want Congress and the President to recognize the absolutely essential role of SNAP.”
Support for ending hunger and protecting SNAP from budget cuts was high across party lines, age, race, gender, income, and geographical areas. According to the poll, for example, 94 percent of Democrats, 84 percent of Independents, and 63 percent of strong Republicans believe that low-income children and families not being able to afford enough to eat is a very or fairly serious problem for the country.
A vast majority opposed cutting SNAP funding to reduce spending next year or to pay for increased funding for school lunches. Voters also strongly supported the President’s goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015, and felt it was important for Congress and the President to set also a goal of ending senior hunger by 2015.
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New recommendations from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) "will change the nutrition rules in all states for all children participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program," said Geri Henchy, FRAC’s Director of Nutrition Policy and Early Childhood Programs. Geri was one of 12 expert members from around the nation on the prestigious IOM panel that developed and issued the recommendations aimed at updating the meal requirements of CACFP to meet current nutrition science and dietary guidelines. The recommendations call for more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and less fat, salt and sugar; 100 percent fruit juice with no added sugar; and one percent fat milk.
In its report, IOM noted that these important nutritional improvements will increase program costs. FRAC is urging Congress to support this important investment in children’s health and nutrition; if that investment isn’t made, child care providers may have to choose between lower dietary quality or dropping out of the federal program.
The recommendations now go to USDA, which administers CACFP meal standards and monitors compliance. CACFP helps child care centers, Head Start programs, family day care homes, afterschool care centers, adult care centers and emergency shelters provide food to children and adults from low-income families.
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Q: Geri, you’ve been at FRAC for almost 20 years. What accomplishment from your time at FRAC makes you most proud?
In the most recent few years, I’m particularly proud of FRAC’s efforts to help overhaul the WIC food package to incorporate fruits and vegetables and other healthier foods. Before coming to FRAC, I worked as a nutritionist at a WIC program in Texas – providing nutrition counseling and pointing out shortfalls in the diets of my clients and their children. I didn’t fully understand the constraints that many of the mothers faced in providing nutritious foods until one day, as I was talking with a client about the importance of giving her children enough fruits and vegetables, she started crying. She pointed out that she was painfully aware of how important fruits and vegetables were, but she couldn’t afford them. I started crying then, too, because I realized more fully than before how her struggle wasn’t caused by a lack of information about good nutrition, but by a lack of resources to afford a healthy diet. So, in the past several years, as FRAC began working with our partners to improve the WIC food package, I was motivated by that client’s struggle, and that of the many other mothers in the program. Working at FRAC has allowed me to transfer my voice to create effective policy change.
We’ve also seen significant progress in our work to expand the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to serve more children in some of the lowest-income child care settings. We’re now reaching previously unserved populations of low-income children at a point where it makes a huge difference in their physical, mental and emotional development.
Q: Could you share with us some highlights from your work in the field?
I am incredibly impressed by the dedication and skill of the advocates, food program sponsors, child care providers, school food service staff, and WIC nutritionists I work with in the field – their ability to do a wonderful job of meeting the needs of the children in the program, and to deal with a broad range of constituencies, and to do it all with limited resources. The field also is really an early warning system for us – they are the first to understand about successes and hurdles; help determine how trends are developing; and often develop front-line solutions that FRAC can help promote across the country or ask Congress or USDA to fix. FRAC in turn has the luxury to “dig deep” and analyze these policy issues in such detail, and it’s very satisfying to help the field understand our results and watch them make it a reality.
Q: What do you see as the most important challenges and opportunities in the nutrition area for early childhood programs in the coming year?
The overhaul of the eating environment in schools and child care will be a truly major task. If done correctly, it will really improve the lives of low-income children. If not – if it doesn’t take into account the specific needs of schools and low-income families and struggling child care providers – it could be disastrous. It’s very much a high-risk, high-reward situation.
More information about Geri can be found on our website.
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New Maryland Hunger Solutions Director
FRAC is pleased to welcome Cathy Demeroto to our staff as director of our Maryland Hunger Solutions initiative. Cathy comes to us from Catholic Charities, where she directed that organization's Social Concerns Ministry for the last three years. Cathy brings a wealth of experience working with the Maryland legislature, state agencies, Maryland’s anti-poverty groups, and the Governor’s office to improve and implement anti-poverty policies. Please join us in welcoming Cathy as she assumes the leadership of our anti-hunger work across the State of Maryland. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2010 Philanthropedia survey of foundation professionals, researchers, and senior nonprofit staff found the Food Research and Action Center to be the fourth top nonprofit in the nation working in the field of child nutrition and health. Other groups in the top ten included the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The Food Trust, The Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Experts in the field listed FRAC’s advocacy and leadership as its key strengths.
Register for FRAC Policy Conference – March 6-8, 2011
The National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference will be held March 6-8, 2011 in Washington, D.C. The annual conference – hosted by the Food Research and Action Center and Feeding America in conjunction with the National CACFP Forum – provides a venue for hundreds of advocates from the nation’s anti-hunger, anti-poverty, and nutrition communities to organize around the goals of ending hunger in America. For conference and registration information, go to www.antihungerpolicyconference.org.
Anti-Hunger Advocates Hit the Hill
More than 70 advocates from across the country joined FRAC in D.C. in mid-November for a discussion of upcoming challenges and opportunities for anti-hunger work following the election. Many took advantage of their visit to D.C. to meet with their Members of Congress to talk about the need in their states for a strong child nutrition bill, without SNAP cuts, and to lay the groundwork for the upcoming reauthorization of the SNAP program in the Farm Bill in the next Congress. Have an update from your state? E-mail FRAC to share.
FRAC President Addresses Hunger and Obesity
Ending hunger and reducing obesity are complementary tasks, and there are many opportunities with the federal nutrition programs to accomplish one goal while advancing the other, noted FRAC President Jim Weill during a panel discussion on November 17, 2010 at the Institute of Medicine. Weill spoke about the “sweet spot” – a place where there are significant positive effects on both hunger and obesity from a single intervention, such as school breakfast – and pointed out a variety of positive impacts the federal nutrition programs have on nutrition and health. He pointed also to the types of research needed to deepen our understanding of the intersection of hunger, poverty, obesity, and the federal nutrition programs. His full remarks are available online (pdf).
Three quick reads…
“Addressing Food Insecurity: Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear” by Samuel Bitton, M.D. and Jesse Roth, M.D. appears in the December 1st issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Inspired by the upcoming 70th anniversary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, the authors encourage the medical community to use its influence to elevate the issue of hunger and obesity. They refer readers to FRAC materials deemed helpful for “self-education regarding the effect of food insecurity at the local, state, and national levels.”
“Hunger In A Season of Plenty” by Julianne Malveaux, President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, discusses the irony of the holidays and hunger in a December 1st column in The Seattle Medium. Malveaux asks, “What might we do to ensure that the bounty of the season is shared, that we celebrate a holiday season when not a single person goes hungry?” She credits FRAC for the work it does “to keep the issue of hunger out front.”
“Take Action to End Hunger Now” by Leonard Pitts Jr., a nationally syndicated columnist for The Miami Herald, tackles hunger in his November 24th column. Looking at FRAC’s food hardship data, Pitts notes that “it might not be a bad idea to also drop a line to your elected representative and let her or him know you consider it unacceptable that children – and even their working parents – hunger in the richest nation on Earth.”
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