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 #7, February 22, 2012
1. Few Nevada Residents at End of Unemployment Benefits Turn to SNAP/Food Stamps
(Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 30, 2012)
A study by the Nevada Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS) found that only 27 percent of Nevada residents reaching the end of their unemployment benefits turn to SNAP/Food Stamps, Medicaid and welfare; 22 percent specifically apply for SNAP/Food Stamps, although the study found that most people at the end of unemployment benefits wait seven months to apply for nutrition assistance. While the study does not cover what the remaining 73 percent do for assistance, officials working with low-income and unemployed people believe they may live with a partner or spouse who has income, move in with family or friends, move out of state, or stop paying their mortgages, which places them in danger of foreclosure. More than 30 percent don’t know there are other programs, like SNAP/Food Stamps, that could help them. Others are too proud to ask for help. While DWSS offices “are seeing people who never thought they would be in a welfare office,” said Mike Allard, a staff specialist with the agency, other residents think applying for assistance is too much trouble. Only about half of unemployed Nevadans actually receive unemployment benefits. SNAP/Food Stamps currently help a record 353,737 Nevada residents, an increase of 29,000 from last year.
2. LTE: FRAC Survey Shows Majority of Americans Oppose Cutting SNAP/Food Stamps
(Boston Globe, February 4, 2012)
More than three-fourths of voters, in a recent poll conducted for the Food Research and Action Center, oppose reducing spending by cutting SNAP/Food Stamps, notes this letter to the editor by Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director, and Patricia Baker, senior policy analyst, at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. “SNAP...is one of the most effective first lines of defense against hunger in the United States,” they note, “and has been critical in responding to food insecurity and improving health outcomes, especially during the recent recession.” More than 800,000 low-income residents – “many of whom are in families with children” – receive SNAP/Food Stamps. It’s also an effective economic stimulus. Every SNAP/Food Stamp dollar generates $1.72 in economic activity, according to Moody’s Analytics.
3. Some Children of Undocumented Immigrants Denied SNAP/Food Stamps in Alabama
(Yahoo! News, February 7, 2012)
According to an Alabama law, it’s a felony for government employees to engage in “business transactions” with undocumented immigrants. Some employees are interpreting the law broadly and denying SNAP/Food Stamps to undocumented immigrant families, although the benefits would be for their U.S.-born children. The Southern Poverty Law Center has brought two lawsuits against the state over the law, and may file a third, on behalf of people who said the state required them to prove their citizenship status when applying for SNAP/Food Stamps – and denied the benefits for their children when they could not. According to Barry Spear of the Department of Human Services, the state does not demand proof of citizenship from the guardians of Americans needing SNAP/Food Stamps.
4. U.S. Should Defend SNAP/Food Stamps as Economic Benefit
(Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2012)
“With the increasing protest against economic inequality across the country, the 99 percent should defend food stamps as a crucial pillar of the American promise, and as something good for the economy,” write Lisa Levenstein, author and associate professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Jennifer Mittelstadt, author and associate professor of history at Rutgers University, in this op-ed. SNAP/Food Stamps help not only the hungry and grocery stores. According to USDA “[e]very $5 in new food stamp benefits generates a total of $9.20 in community spending,” while each “$1 billion of retail food demand by food stamp recipients generates 3,300 farm jobs.” Although SNAP/Food Stamps currently help 45 million people, almost one-third of those eligible have not enrolled; if they did, then 20 to 25 percent of all Americans would receive SNAP/Food Stamps. For all the benefit, The Heritage Foundation claims SNAP/Food Stamps make Americans “dependent on government.” The op-ed states the SNAP/Food Stamp Program is a crucial part of the safety net, as people “can't be productive...if they are hungry and fearful about not having enough food to feed their families.” The grocery industry, and not social welfare advocates, first pushed for SNAP/Food Stamps, and the program was first conceived during the Depression as a “Keynesian approach to priming the economic pump.” The program replaced lines of people waiting to accept government surplus food. “Today’s food stamp users are issued debit cards to swipe at the register just as other consumers do.”
5. SNAP/Food Stamp Fingerprinting Keeps Many from Aid, Says NYC Official
(NY1.com, January 7, 2012; The Leader, January 14, 2012)
New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio recently said that the city’s practice of fingerprinting SNAP/Food Stamp applicants “is an immoral policy that must end.” One more roadblock in the SNAP/Food Stamp application process, fingerprinting discourages many struggling families from seeking the aid. “The chief federal official in charge of the food stamp program has made abundantly clear that fingerprinting stigmatizes and interferes with the process of families getting food stamps,” said de Blasio. “Why do we know this is true? Because every state in the country except for Arizona has ended this practice.” Governor Cuomo, in his State of the State address, said he wanted to see SNAP/Food Stamps reach more eligible residents, especially as the state is missing out on more than $1 billion in SNAP/Food Stamp funding with 30 percent of eligible residents not receiving the assistance. Of the 205,000 residents in Chemung, Steuben and Schuyler counties, 50,000 are eligible for SNAP/Food Stamps. “Single individuals, families, the elderly – they all have different reasons for applying or not applying,” said Steuben County administrator Mark Alger. “Some of the older folks are too independent, and the younger folks may not know they’re eligible.”
6. Connecticut Could Face Federal Sanctions for Poor SNAP/Food Stamp Processing
(Connecticut Post, February 4, 2012)
Connecticut processed 81 percent of SNAP/Food Stamp applications on time in 2006. That number dropped to 59 percent in 2010 and, according to Roderick Bremby, the state’s commissioner of the Department of Social Services (DSS), the current rate is probably worse. If the state doesn’t improve its error rates (providing too little or too much SNAP/Food Stamp benefits to recipients, or wrongly denying applications), the federal government has warned the state that it could face financial sanctions. Connecticut ranks last among states and territories in timeliness of SNAP/Food Stamp application processing. Last March, Gov. Daniel P. Malloy appointed Bremby commissioner based on his success modernizing Kansas state government as the former cabinet secretary of the state’s Department of Health and Environment. “It’s not a pleasant system to work in,” said Bremby. Our staff are incredibly frustrated because they know that they’re limited by what they can do. And the volume is just incredible – 3.7 million pieces of paper a month is what we process.” Connecticut’s computer eligibility is system more than 20 years old, the state has fewer welfare offices, and applicants submit paperwork that is frequently lost. Bremby has appointed one person to oversee SNAP/Food Stamps, is hiring 134 additional staff (mostly SNAP/Food Stamp and Medicaid workers), and has started a systematic approach to modernizing DSS. The demand for SNAP/Food Stamps in Connecticut has more than doubled, from 100,000 monthly cases in 2007 to more than 210,000 in 2011. However, staffing levels dropped, from 800 DSS eligibility workers in 2002 to about 500 today.
7. Some Michigan Families in Limbo Due to SNAP/Food Stamp Asset Test
(ABC/Associated Press, February 8, 2012)
Last fall, Michigan adopted new limits to the assets that SNAP/Food Stamp applicants and recipients can own and still receive benefits. The new rule made residents ineligible for the benefit if they have more than $5,000 in the bank or own cars worth more than $15,000. Renee Moore’s family was receiving SNAP/Food Stamps after their family income dropped below the poverty level; they had $1,000 in the bank and an SUV with 300,000 miles on it. After the family inherited a car, which they kept parked in the garage, the new rule made them ineligible for the $419 in SNAP/Food Stamps they were receiving. On May 1, 2012, Pennsylvania plans to limit SNAP/Food Stamp recipients to $5,500 in assets, which includes cash, checking and savings accounts, other investments, as well as boats and planes. Life insurance, one car and a home are excluded. Advocates for the poor have been fighting these asset tests in both states; criticism has caused the states to revise their original limits. Still, thousands in Michigan have been made ineligible for SNAP/Food Stamps, and it’s estimated that 4,023 Pennsylvania households will lose their benefits on May 1.
8. North Carolina Seeks to Streamline Assistance Application Process
(Star News, February 6, 2012)
North Carolina’s Brunswick County is leading an effort to streamline the assistance application process by training county social workers, and other employees who interview residents, in multiple programs. Before, if a person wanted to apply for SNAP/Food Stamps and Medicaid, they would have to go through separate interviews, after multiple waiting times in the county’s Department of Social Services (DSS) office. Now an applicant for SNAP/Food Stamps and energy assistance can talk to one employee. Brunswick County’s more efficient process has resulted in SNAP/Food Stamp participation increases. In 2010, 6,185 households applied for SNAP/Food Stamps; in 2011 applications increased 20 percent, to 7,400 households. In 2010, 6,068 households received SNAP/Food Stamps each month; in 2011, 7,398 households received the benefit. “In the past, people typically would come in to apply for Medicaid first and it would sometimes take awhile, so they would have to leave,” said Patricia Connelly, director of Brunswick County DSS. “Now, we’re seeing significant increases [in] food stamp applications, which is good. We want to make sure everyone who is eligible can receive them.” County residents will also be able, starting this summer, to apply for SNAP/Food Stamps online.
9. Afterschool Meals Feeding More California Students
(Huffington Post, February 9, 2012)
Nearly 200 California schools are now serving afterschool meals to students, a federally-funded effort to provide meals to low-income students involved in afterschool activities. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act made it possible for afterschool educational programs to serve and be reimbursed meals (at the school lunch rate) if they have at least half of students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals. In San Diego, the 1,650 students receiving afterschool meals will increase in March to about 2,100, and by the middle of next year, to 13,000 students, according to Gary Petrill, the school district’s director of Food Nutrition Services. Without the afterschool meals, students receiving free or reduced-price meals and involved in afterschool programs would have to rely on a snack between lunch and the time they’re picked up by their parents, sometimes 6 or 7 pm. “We’ve heard through the principals that the kids really love it,” said Petrill, who noted that parents have called and sent letters in support; one financially-struggling parent said the meals have saved her $100 a week in groceries. Organizations like YMCA, or Boys & Girls Clubs, that offer afterschool educational programs are also eligible to serve afterschool meals and be reimbursed by the federal government.
10. School Lunch Prices Going Up
(abclocal.com, January 23, 2012)
For some students, the price of school lunch is going up, in part through a change in government rules for school meals. Some school districts have used the funding of subsidized meals for low-income students to help reduce school lunch prices for all students. Stricter government regulations are forcing districts to subsidize only those meals going to low-income students. Still, some students who are ineligible for free or reduced-price lunch are facing trouble paying for their full price meals. “Many times [these students] are not poor kids, they’re from families who are working who just can’t afford to make ends meet and sometimes…you hear parents say [they’re] ‘between paychecks’ when they can go out and buy groceries. That school meal is sometimes the only meal a [student] has,” said Assm. Steven Bradford, D-Inglewood in California. Over the past 20 years, California’s school lunch price has risen 90 cents.
11. New WIC Food Package Helps New Hampshire Participants Eat Healthier
(Boston Globe, February 10, 2012)
A survey of New Hampshire WIC participants before and after WIC’s new food package went into effect in 2009 found that participants significantly improved their eating habits. The new food package included vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables. The number of women who said they were eating vegetables three or more times per day increased 74 percent after the program adopted the new food standards. A similar increase occurred in children. The women and children surveyed also said they were eating more fruit and whole grains.
12. New WIC Center in New York State Helps Program Participation Increase
(Hudson Reporter, January 15, 2012)
Last March, the WIC Center in Union City opened, after merging the former Union City and West New York offices; the new center provided more space for the program’s 12,000 participants. Since the opening, enrollment increased to 12,600 participants. WIC currently reaches about 84 percent of the area’s eligible women, and the local program has a goal of signing up the remaining 16 percent. “We see around 200 participants in a day,” said WIC coordinator Karen Lazarowitz. “Thanks to the new center, they can get an appointment in around two days, whereas before it took at least a week or two.” The new center offers a larger, darkened breastfeeding lounge.
13. High Tennessee Child Poverty Rate Means Many Children Going Hungry
(Huffington Post, March 3, 2012)
In Tennessee, one in four children lives in poverty, compared to one in five children nationally, notes this op-ed by Dr. Bill Frist, former Senate Majority Leader and a heart and lung surgeon. A family of four in poverty has an income below $23,050 a year, and “childhood poverty limits access to the simplest, most basic things such as healthy foods…and a secure place to play, exercise, or even sleep.” Poorer children are 25 percent more likely to drop out of high school, and “impoverished youths” suffer disproportionately from obesity and diabetes, caused primarily by lack of access to healthy foods. One million Tennessee residents, including 200,000 children, live in communities without supermarkets selling healthy food, according to a 2011 Food Trust Report. A USDA pilot program is helping battle child poverty and hunger in Tennessee, Kentucky and Illinois. The program allows children in low-income areas to access free school breakfast and lunch without filling out applications. The National School Lunch Program was overhauled and made healthier by decreasing the amount of sodium, adding more whole grains and greater selections of fruits and vegetables. “America is the wealthiest nation in the world,” concludes Frist. “The most technologically advanced. The most generous and accepting. We are the fastest car on the fastest track. We cannot afford to leave more than a fifth of our children behind.”
14. Massachusetts Proposes Cuts to Senior Meal Programs
(Sun Chronicle, February 10, 2012)
In his budget, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is proposing cutting 24 percent from the state’s elder nutrition program, which means $1.5 million less for Meals on Wheels and other senior nutrition programs. Advocates say that the cuts, if approved, will stress an already frail system of providing those basic services. In order to stretch their budgets, more seniors are already eating at soup kitchens, said Madeleine McNielly, executive director of the Attleboro Council on Aging’s Larson Senior Center.
15. Michigan Enforces Welfare Time Limits and Thousands Lose Assistance
(Bridge Magazine, February 2, 2012)
Michigan cut off welfare payments for more than 15,000 families in October 2011, part of an “aggressive” welfare reform initiative. The initiative limited benefits to 48 months for a lifetime. It also began enforcing the federal government’s 60-month cash assistance limit. The state Department of Human Services (DHS) which runs welfare (known as the Family Independence Program) estimated that 11,000 families would lose their assistance, but 13,000 families lost assistance in the first month, and by December the number had climbed to 15,799 families. This translates into more than 54,000 Michigan residents, most of them children, when family members are counted. Some families were able to turn to SNAP/Food Stamps for assistance after losing welfare.
16. Study Finds U.S. Cities More Integrated
(The New York Times, January 30, 2012)
U.S. cities are more racially integrated than at any time since 1910, according to a study of census results for thousands of neighborhoods by economics professors Edward Glaeser of Harvard and Jacob L. Vigdor of Duke, both fellows at the Manhattan Institute. Other experts agreed with the findings, although they cautioned that the study does not show the end of all segregation. According to William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution, the report “sends a potentially harmful message that black-white residential separation is no longer a priority issue in this country.” He noted that census data from 2010 show “the average white lives in a neighborhood that is 78 percent white and 7 percent black.” Glaeser and Vigdor also found that 20 percent of blacks are living in “ghetto” neighborhoods (80 percent or more of the population black). A half-century ago, nearly 50 percent of blacks lived in similar neighborhoods. “[T]here is every reason to relish the fact that there is more freedom in housing today than 50 years ago and to applaud those who fought to create the change,” write the report authors. They concluded that housing desegregation does not magically create equal opportunity.