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 #41, December 5, 2011
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1. Recently-Passed Budget Bill Increases Food Assistance Funding
(The Washington Post, November 17, 2011)
Before Thanksgiving, Congress passed* a $130.4 billion measure that funds five Cabinet departments, cuts programs that send cash to local government agencies, supports law enforcement and programs funneling money directly to voters, and adds money to federal nutrition programs. SNAP/Food Stamps gets $12 billion more, and the school lunch program budget is increased as well. “The good thing is that – in a time when more and more people need school breakfast and school lunch and the other programs – Congress is meeting that need,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.
[*President Obama signed the bill into law on November 18.]
2. SNAP/Food Stamps Vital to Fighting North Carolina’s High Food Hardship Rate
(NC Justice Center, November 2011)
North Carolina’s food hardship rate ranked the state thirteenth in the nation in 2008; currently the state ranks sixth, with more than two million residents facing food hardship in 2010. Three metropolitan statistical areas (MSA) in the state are in the top ten for food hardship among 100 MSAs: Winston-Salem (third highest at 25 percent), Greensboro-High Point (fourth highest at 24.9 percent), and Asheville (seventh highest at 23.9 percent), according to FRAC’s report on food hardship. SNAP/Food Stamps helped nearly one in five North Carolinians in September 2011, and the number of recipient households grew in every county since the recession began. In relative terms, rural areas saw the highest increase, although urban areas saw significant increases also. Participation rose as high unemployment and underemployment forced more residents to face food hardship. Policymakers should focus on investing in education, health care, and infrastructure in order to create jobs, and resist calls to create barriers to SNAP/Food Stamp participation.
3. Finger Imaging SNAP/Food Stamp Applicants is Barrier to Participation in NYC
(Capital New York, November 22, 2011)
Currently, only Arizona and New York City require SNAP/Food Stamp applicants to be fingerprinted in order to receive benefits. At a recent hearing, New York City Councilman Abert Vann asked the Human Resources Administration commissioner Robert Doar if the practice wasn’t “a little disturbing.” Doar said that he thinks it’s ok to be different from the rest of the country, and maintains that the practice found 2,000 instances of duplicate applications last year, although he also said some of those duplications “may be inadvertent or due to human error” and would not specify how many exactly are due to clerical error and not fraud. “Finger-imaging most harms working parents who have to leave work and lose wages just to spend a day at a city government office to prove they are virtuous enough to obtain the federal nutrition assistance benefits for which they have already paid taxes to support,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. In a statement, Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer explained that “[W]e deter enrollment by requiring applicants to be fingerprinted – a requirement that adds stigma to those already struggling with hunger and poverty.” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, recently called fingerprinting “a psychological barrier to say the least.”
4. “Near Poor” Helped by SNAP/Food Stamps, But Still Struggling
(New York Times Economix blog, November 19, 2011)
When the Census Bureau added SNAP/Food Stamps and other forms of assistance like tax credits to its poverty measure in November, it found these benefits helped a fifth of people who would normally be classified as living in poverty rise into the “near poor” category. The new measure showed 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line (“near poor”) – 76 percent more than in the previous “official” count published in September. Still, a third of Americans – 100 million people – live in poverty or immediately above the line; many in higher incomes were pulled down to the “near poor” level by taxes, medical costs, and work expenses (child care, gas). People with incomes between $31,693 and $47,539 for a family of four with a mortgage in the Washington, D.C. area are classified near poor, although most saw themselves as part of the middle class. However, many noted to reporters that they are struggling to remain in the middle class.
5. Congresswoman Notes Myths About SNAP/Food Stamps
(Alternet, November 21, 2011)
As she ended her participation in the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) spoke out in support of SNAP/Food Stamps, and noted “[t]here are a lot of myths associated with food stamps,” including “the argument that it is rife with fraud.” According to USDA, more than 98 percent of those receiving SNAP/Food Stamps are eligible for the program, and the program has “had the lowest error rate in history[.]” Nearly 90 percent of SNAP/Food Stamp households are below the poverty level, and 40 percent of households exist on less than $10,000 a year for a family of three – or 50 percent of the poverty line. The SNAP/Food Stamp Program is meant to increase participation during tough economic times – especially now, during the worst economic time since the 1930s. Reducing and removing this boost to struggling households would be cruel to the millions currently receiving the benefits, notes this editorial.
6. Pennsylvania College Students Expand on their SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge Experiences
(Readmedia.com/Worldwide Faith News, November 5, 2011)
Students at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania who participated in the recent Fighting Poverty with Faith SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge were encouraged to write letters in to government representatives in support of continued and increased aid for the program, and many created and posted videos in which they answered the question “What is it about my faith that causes me to advocate or act on behalf of the hungry?” Student participants took the Challenge in one of three ways: eating one meal for $1.50 (the amount of SNAP/Food Stamps that cover one meal); eat for a day on $4.50 (the daily SNAP/Food Stamp amount); or live on a SNAP/Food Stamp budget of $31.50 for a week. “By stepping into the shoes of someone who lives on food stamps, students experience the difficult decisions many families make every day,” said Amy Shorner-Johnson, assistant chaplain at Elizabethtown College. “My hope for the Food Stamp Challenge is students go beyond simply being grateful for what they have, toward action and advocacy on behalf of the hungry.”
7. SNAP/Food Stamp Increases in the States; Applicants and Agency Workers Comment on the Need for Food Assistance
(Hometown Annapolis, November 20, 2011)
SNAP/Food Stamp participation in Maryland’s Anne Arundel County jumped from 13,571 people in September 2006 to 37,386 in September 2011, and caseworkers say they’re processing applications for salesmen, real estate agents, and other white collar workers. “The people coming in now, they are engineers and former lawyers,” said Marcia Kennai, director of the Anne Arundel Department of Social Services. One applicant, who wanted to remain anonymous for the news story, didn’t want her children to know of the family’s financial struggles. “All I can tell you is neither of us have a job and there is zero income coming into the house.” SNAP/Food Stamps “used to be embarrassing,” said Annapolis resident Thias Hicks, “but me being embarrassed is not going to feed my children.” County caseworkers can handle up to 15 applicants a day. “You try to do the best you can to make sure they eat,” said senior case manger Loretta Allen. “Yesterday at the grocery store, I heard my name screamed across the parking lot. ‘Ms. Allen! Ms. Allen, thank you!’ That makes it all worthwhile.”
(MPR News, November 10, 2011)
SNAP/Food Stamp participation increased 68 percent from 2008 to 2011 in Minnesota’s Twin Cities suburbs. Job losses and home foreclosures have forced many middle class families in the affluent communities of Minnetonka, Eagan and Lakeville to apply for the assistance and visit suburban food shelves, and helping children access nutrition assistance at school – especially at those schools where most children are doing fine – is tricky. One 55-year old Minnetonka resident, named “Bob” in the story in order to protect his confidentiality, lost his job three years ago and makes half as much now as he did then. He said his wife didn’t want to ask for help. “She said ‘I’m not going. I’m not going to do that.’” Bob went to the food shelf without telling his wife or his children.
(Poughkeepsie Journal, November 19, 2011)
SNAP/Food Stamp participation increased in New York’s Dutchess County from 12,501 people in July 2008 to 22,675 in July 2011. “Without [SNAP/Food Stamps], I would not eat,” said City of Poughkeepsie resident Evelyn Bruno, who has a 13-year-old disabled son. According to the county’s Department of Social Services commissioner, Robert Allers, changes in qualification requirements, the application process, and the SNAP/Food Stamp distribution process increased program participation, along with the recession.
(Independent Mail, November 21, 2011)
Pickens County, South Carolina, residents received nearly $24 million in SNAP/Food Stamp benefits in June 2011, up from $11.2 million in 2008, according to an analysis of Department of Social Services data by the Independent Mail. Anderson County saw benefits increase from $28.4 million in 2008 to $52.7 million in 2011; Oconee benefits increased, during the same time, from $8.6 million to $16.5 million. Statewide, $1.3 billion in benefits helped South Carolina residents near the close of 2011, compared to $62.6 million in September 2008, and $114.4 million three years later.. “Food insecurity is what causes children to hoard food,” said Julie Capaldi, director of the Pickens County United Way. “I never understood the correlation between obesity and hunger. But if they don’t know when their next meal will come from, they eat as much as they can.”
8. Report Shows Extent of Child Hunger in New York City
(NY1.com, November 22, 2011)
Between 2008 and 2010, 25 percent of New York children lived in households lacking enough to eat, a 61 percent increase from 2005 to 2007, according to a report by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. The report also found that 1.5 million New Yorkers were unable to afford food for themselves or their families. Emergency food providers in the city are struggling with increased demand. “We found that 47 different soup kitchens and food pantries either closed permanently or suspended their operations over the last few years,” said Joel Berg, [executive director] of the Coalition. “There is no question that the single greatest reason that has happened is government cutbacks. The FEMA emergency food and shelter program, the main source of federal funding for soup kitchens and food pantries, was cut by 40 percent this year.” Continued SNAP/Food Stamp funding, combined with more living wage jobs, could help fight the city’s hunger problem, say advocates.
9. Las Vegas is Among Top MSAs for Food Hardship
(Fox5Vegas.com, November 29, 2011)
Last year, 31 percent of Las Vegas, Nevada families “did not have enough money to buy food,” according to FRAC’s [food hardship] report. The report ranked Las Vegas as sixth in the nation among 100 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) for the number of families experiencing hunger. “We know that half the kids in (Clark County) school district are on free and reduced lunch,” said Brian Burton, president and CEO of Three Square Food Bank, “and all I know that we can do is rally and mobilize the community to respond to this need.” There are about 300,000 Las Vegas valley residents who need food assistance, according to Three Square Food Bank.
10. Thousands in New Jersey Received Disaster SNAP/Food Stamps After Hurricane Irene
(NBC40.net, November 21, 2011)
Disaster SNAP/Food Stamp benefits helped more than 10,000 Atlantic County, New Jersey residents after Hurricane Irene. Applications from the county totaled more than $5 million for storm victims. Another 3,000 applications could be submitted by the end of the year, notes the county.
11. Economy, Direct Certification Increases Number of Students Receiving Free or Reduced-Price School Meals
(The New York Times, November 29, 2011)
A New York Times analysis of USDA data found that the number of students receiving free or reduced-price school lunch increased from 18 million in the 2006-07 school year to 21 million in the 2010-11 school year – a 17 percent rise. During that same time, Florida, Nevada, New Jersey, Tennessee and seven additional states saw 25 percent increases. “These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing,” said Benjamin Senauer, a University of Minnesota economist studying the school meal program. The numbers skyrocketed so fast “that people like myself who do research are struggling to keep up with it.” Some of the growth is can be attributed to direct certification – Congress’s 2004 requirement that the nation’s school districts directly enroll match student enrollment lists against records of local food-stamp agencies, to directly qualify students receiving SNAP/Food Stamps into the for free school meals programs. There were 12 million children in SNAP/Food Stamp families in the 2009-10 school year; that number rose to 14 million in 2010-11. “We’re seeing people who were never eligible before, never had a need,” said Peggy Lawrence, director of school nutrition for Rockdale County Schools in Conyers, Georgia, where 46 percent of students received school meal assistance in 2006 and 63 percent received assistance in 2011.