Congress is beginning debate on the federal budget and beyond. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget would make many draconian cuts to safety net programs. One of the elements in his proposal is to convert SNAP (food stamps) into a block grant and cut SNAP by tens of billions of dollars. In a statement, FRAC noted that SNAP has succeeded for 40 years as the nation’s most fundamental public nutrition program. Block-granting the program, said FRAC, “would have the effect in the long term of harming tens of millions of children, seniors, and working-age adults, damaging our education and health systems, creating havoc with state and federal budgets, and weakening the economy.”
FRAC is leading the charge by rallying national, state and local organizations to oppose the block grant and the cuts to SNAP. For more details and ongoing analysis, visit FRAC’s Legislative Action Center.
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The annual national rate of food hardship – the inability to afford enough food for a household – in 2010 was 18 percent. No community was immune: in 324 of the 436 congressional districts (including the District of Columbia), 15 percent or more of all respondent households reported food hardship in the 2009-2010 period.
FRAC’s latest release of its food hardship data provided detail for the nation, every state, 100 large Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), every congressional district, and – for the first time – regions. The report analyzed data gathered by Gallup, which has been interviewing more than 1,000 people per day since January 2, 2008 on a series of questions related to well-being and health.
For state-based organizations, such up-to-date data can underscore the challenges facing struggling families. “Being able to break down the data by congressional districts is very illuminating for Members of Congress. They can see ‘Okay, here is my area, and here are the people I represent. Here is their plight, and what they have to deal with on a day-to-day basis’,” said Brian Simpson of the Association of Arizona Food Banks.
FRAC released the report with Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) at a March 3rd event on Capitol Hill. McGovern noted that the report brings the issue “up close and personal” to every Member of Congress.
The full report is available online (pdf).
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One in four Americans is worried about having enough money to put food on the table in the next year. That’s one of the main findings from a new survey commissioned by FRAC and Tyson Foods, Inc. The survey, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates, aimed to explore Americans’ perceptions of hunger. Findings include:
A vast majority (91 percent) of Americans are committed to the principle that no one should go hungry in the U.S.
More than one-third of those surveyed indicated they have a direct connection to hunger.
More than half (54 percent) said that more should be spent to address hunger compared to other problems, and nearly three-quarters saw a major hunger relief role for the federal government.
The federal nutrition programs – like SNAP and school meals – are seen by more than 70 percent as highly effective ways to combat hunger.
The findings were released at the National Press Club on March 10th. At the event, FRAC President Jim Weill noted that “the survey demonstrates very broad and deep support for efforts from both the public and private sectors to implementing solutions to this continuing challenge for our nation.”
The online survey was initiated as part of Tyson’s “KNOW Hunger” campaign, which is focused on helping more people understand and actively address the problem of hunger in the U.S. “People do think hunger is a serious issue. They’re willing to become involved. But they also need to be shown how it directly impacts their own communities. We believe creating more awareness creates more involvement,” said John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods.
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Nearly 700 participants from across the country convened in Washington, D.C. to learn best practices and build momentum for anti-hunger work in 2011 at the annual FRAC/Feeding America Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. The 2011 Conference, held from March 6 to 8, was the largest to date and welcomed anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates; federal, state and local government officials; Child and Adult Care Food Program sponsors and advocates; child advocates; representatives of food banks and food rescue organizations; service providers; and nutrition and anti-obesity groups for three days of training, networking and Capitol Hill advocacy.
“We need your activism more than ever… don’t take no for an answer,” urged Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) during the opening plenary of the conference. Rep. Jim McGovern (D–Mass.) underscored the important role of advocates in giving a face to hunger. Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) joined the conference on Monday to offer his perspective on the budget discussions taking shape on the Hill, telling the crowd that he had faith that “we are going to end up on the right side of hunger.”
Geoff Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, and Leslie Dach, executive vice president of Corporate Affairs for Walmart, joined FRAC President Jim Weill and Feeding America President and CEO Vicki Escarra for Monday’s plenary session to talk about issues facing the anti-hunger community, including ways to make healthy food more affordable and strategies to increase use of SNAP and WIC.
Other highlights included a “Listening Session” with USDA on the child nutrition programs, which provided advocates with an opportunity to submit direct feedback to USDA on recommendations for the implementation of Child Nutrition Reauthorization; and award ceremonies for three long-time anti-hunger leaders. Joyce Rothermel of the Pittsburgh Food Bank received the Dick Goebel Public Service Award; Pat Baker of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute received the Wheeler/Wellstone Anti-Hunger Advocacy Leadership Award; and Ginny Hildebrand of the Association of Arizona Food Banks received special recognition for her dedication to eliminating hunger.
Attendees wrapped up their conference experience by advancing on Capitol Hill to meet with their Members of Congress on Tuesday’s Lobby Day – stressing how vital anti-hunger efforts are to the health and well-being of communities nationwide, and citing Rep. McGovern’s remarks that it’s unacceptable to “balance the budget on the backs of the hungry.”
The expertise and momentum developed at the 2011 Anti-Hunger Policy Conference will energize advocates in their work throughout the year. The 2012 Conference will be held February 26-28, 2012 at the Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C.
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Since joining FRAC in 2007, Etienne has worked with FRAC’s state and local network, national organizations, and Congress, advocating for improved access to and participation in domestic anti-hunger programs for low-income people. She also coordinates FRAC’s Annual National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. Prior to joining FRAC, Etienne worked with RESULTS’ domestic policy campaign on early childhood development issues.
What made you become interested in anti-hunger work?
Mississippi, my home state, has one of the highest food insecurity rates in the nation. I was in college when Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown and surrounding areas, and I saw the impact it had on families throughout the entire Gulf Coast. It made me want to work on anti-hunger issues. I attended the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness conference. When I got back to my campus, I had my first lobbying experience and got my college to host a Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. It was interesting to see how little students knew about domestic hunger. They thought it was just an issue in other countries. In our campaign materials we brought awareness to what was actually happening in our city. Students were awestruck to see that there were that many people in our community who were homeless or didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. It was a challenge to attract students and interest, but it started the conversation on campus. It hasn’t stopped. It’s now an annual event. Read More…
You’ve now organized the FRAC/Feeding America conference for three consecutive years. That’s often a thankless task. What do you like about it? How has it changed?
When I started at FRAC, the conference drew about 400 attendees. This year’s conference had close to 700 people attending – that’s great. We’re seeing more attendees coming from every state, and organizations are sending both their policy and outreach staff. Getting people from a variety of states and backgrounds really adds to the conference, and gives us a wide range of experiences to learn from.
We’ve also made it a priority to keep the agenda closely attuned to events and advocacy trends. Three years ago, we weren’t talking about social media, and now it’s one of the most popular sessions at the conference. We’re getting great speakers – people are still talking about Rep. Rosa DeLauro energizing the crowd this year, and we benefit from the presence of long-time anti-hunger champions like Rep. Jim McGovern and hearing from key leaders like Rep. Sander Levin.
For me, our attendees are the highlight. We’re seeing people from across the nation who are fighting the fight with us. And it’s great to hear an attendee say, “I learned this at a workshop, I did it in my community, and here are the results.” With budgets being tight, most of our attendees can only choose one conference to attend. It’s an honor when they choose ours.
Clearly, there’s a lot of energy in D.C. when the conference happens. How does that inform your legislative work throughout the year?
It’s helpful to hear from people who are on the ground. We need those real stories from people who’ve filled out applications or conducted outreach. For Members of Congress, these stories make it clear that hunger is a challenge in their district. The stories make it personal and make it local.
The Lobby Day of our conference really shows how powerful a network we are, and it shapes the discussion for the remainder of the year. This year, we had more than 300 people attend Lobby Day. It’s really important that Members hear from constituents, and that’s why we try to continue the dialogue throughout the year – through community calls where we bring in organizations by phone to talk with Hill staff (or even the Member) and site visits when Members are back home.
Editor’s note: For those who want to mark their calendars, next year’s conference will be February 26-28, 2012.
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FRAC will hold its Annual Benefit Dinner Wednesday, June 8, 2011 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. Proceeds benefit our Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, which has achieved major gains in feeding low-income children in communities throughout the United States. We expect some 350 guests representing business, labor, professional associations, agriculture, national and grassroots anti-hunger groups, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Members of Congress and Congressional staff to join us for a special evening. For information on the program and to purchase tickets, please visit www.frac.org.
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Have you friended FRAC yet? FRAC has entered the social media scene, and has quickly been gaining friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. “Using Facebook and Twitter has been a great opportunity to learn what draws the attention of people in the anti-hunger community,” said Betsy Edwards, FRAC’s Field Organizer. “It’s also a great way to share information and connect with other anti-hunger advocates.”
Edwards noted that the Facebook page is introducing many new “faces” to FRAC, and to anti-hunger work being accomplished across the nation. The Friday Action Notes (FANs) series is one way that FRAC is shining a spotlight on anti-hunger activities across the nation. Each month, FRAC highlights a different activity and posts a profile each Friday of an organization that sponsored that activity. This month, FRAC is focusing on SNAP Challenges (where participants pledge to use the average SNAP benefit as their total budget for grocers) by highlighting recent challenges in Maryland and Texas.
Food Bank of Contra Costa Community Relations Manager, Lisa Sherill, reports finding Twitter and Facebook especially helpful during legislative fights. She used both social media platforms to give and get real-time updates of Child Nutrition Reauthorization developments. “When the House was voting on Child Nutrition Reauthorization, I was glued to C-SPAN and following #CNR on Twitter. If I missed something on C-SPAN, it was likely that someone else would post it on Twitter. Afterward, I was able to post a summary of the vote on Facebook for our fans.”
Advocates used Twitter to update each other during the 2011 National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference. Using the hash tag #hungerpc2011, conference attendees tweeted quotes from plenary speakers, tips from workshops, and useful information for Hill visits. Over the three day conference, more than 760 tweets were generated and shared by attendees.
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D.C. Hunger Solutions staff filled conference rooms to the brim with training materials in preparation for a workshop it hosted on the D.C. Healthy Schools Act. The workshop, held in partnership with the D.C. Farm to School Network and the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Wellness and Nutrition Services, brought together more than 100 participants – including school administrators and staff – to taste school breakfast options from four different food service providers, fueling themselves for a day of practical learning and discussion on putting the Healthy Schools Act into action at their own schools.
That’s just one way that D.C. Hunger Solutions – FRAC’s initiative focused on ending hunger in the District of Columbia – is getting the word out and mobilizing the community to help implement and promote the Act. With its “Free Breakfast – That’s What’s Up” Campaign, D.C. Hunger Solutions has provided schools with posters, magnets, lawn signs, and other promotional materials to encourage students to participate in free school breakfast. It also launched a website dedicated to the Act, providing details on the legislation and highlighting successful ways schools are implementing its provisions.
The Healthy Schools Act, passed in May 2010, expands access to school meals by making breakfast free for all students in the District, and bringing breakfast into the classroom; eliminating the reduced-price co-pay for lunch; raises nutrition standards and improves the quality of school meals; promotes farm to school; triples over time the amount of physical and health education students receive; and expands school-based health and wellness programs. D.C. Hunger Solutions has been leading the charge to successfully implement this landmark legislation.
D.C. Hunger Solutions’ work to implement the Act is supported by grants from Kaiser Permanente and the Walmart Foundation. For a first-hand look at how these important investments are improving health, wellness and the school environment, D.C. Hunger Solutions Director Alexandra Ashbrook, Walmart Foundation head Margaret McKenna, and Councilmember Harry Thomas recently joined first graders at Center City Public Charter Schools’ Trinidad Campus for breakfast in the classroom. They captured this video of the students singing about the benefits of a healthy breakfast and good nutrition.
“D.C. Hunger Solutions provided invaluable help to me since the Healthy Schools Act was conceived last year. The name “D.C. Hunger Solutions” is very apt because not only does the organization educate public officials and community members about the nutritional challenges that so many low-income District residents face each day, but it also proposes excellent policy solutions to address these important problems. From raising nutritional standards in schools, to providing additional local reimbursements for school meals, and making breakfast free in all the schools, the Healthy Schools Act is full of policy ideas that D.C. Hunger Solutions shared with me. With D.C. Hunger Solutions’ assistance, the Council was able to enact and fund the Healthy Schools Act.”
-- D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh
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The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland, which includes FRAC’s Maryland initiative, Maryland Hunger Solutions, was awarded more than $900,000 through a grant from USDA’s Hunger-Free Communities initiative to increase participation in eight Maryland counties in the federal nutrition programs, and improve access to SNAP and other food resources.
The highly competitive Congressionally-created grant program is designed to fund research, planning, and activities that improve access to nutrition assistance for those in need. The Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland is one of four grantees nationwide awarded funds to implement an existing community plan to end hunger. Ten other communities received funding to develop plans to end hunger in their communities.
Maryland Hunger Solutions led grant-writing efforts for the proposal and will be working to expand SNAP participation and improve administrative procedures; increase participation in school and out-of-school time meal programs through outreach and improvements in direct certification from SNAP to school nutrition programs; and document and evaluate the success of the project. Other key partners in the work include Catholic Charities, the Governor’s Office for Children, Maryland Department of Human Resources (DHR), Maryland Food Bank, Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE), Share Our Strength, and SHARE Food Network, on behalf of the Partnership to End Childhood Hunger in Maryland.
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Three Things to Read
The Financial Times looks at the increase in SNAP (formerly food stamps) participation, and visits a tax outreach site in Washington, D.C. The site, managed by the D.C. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Campaign, provides residents with free tax assistance, educates them about the EITC, and is staffed with D.C. Hunger Solutions-trained volunteers who screen for SNAP eligibility. Watch the video to see a volunteer in action. LINK:
The Boss puts down his guitar and picks up his pen to write this letter to the editor. Bruce Springsteen applauds the Asbury Park Press for spotlighting “anti-poverty workers and analysts such as Adele LaTourette, Meara Nigro, Cecilia Zalkind and Raymond Castro, all of whom have something important to add to the discussion: real information and actual facts about what is happening below the poverty line” to the discussion. “I'm always glad to see my hometown newspaper covering these issues,” he adds.
The San Francisco Chronicle uses FRAC’s food hardship data to illustrate how the lingering impact of the recession continues to hit home in California. "There's no reason the rate of food hardship in this country shouldn't be near zero,” notes FRAC President Jim Weill, who also outlines way that the state’s SNAP (CalFresh) program could better meet the growing need. The article profiles a former nutrition instructor’s struggle to provide enough food for her children against the backdrop of unemployment, low wages and rising food prices.
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