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.


Issue #6, February 22, 2010

FRAC News Digest

  1. SNAP/Food Stamp Applicants Facing Application Delays in Colorado, Connecticut
  2. California Losing Billions in Unclaimed SNAP/Food Stamp Revenue
  3. More Receiving SNAP/Food Stamps in Florida County
  4. North Carolina Communities See Spike in SNAP/Food Stamp Use, Poverty
  5. Child Nutrition Programs Need More Money to Help Reach 2015 Goal
  6. South Carolina Ranks High in Food Hardship Report
  7. Law Students Take SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge
  8. Food Hardship Stats Help Pediatrician Serve Patients Better
  9. Schools Start Serving Breakfast in the Classroom
  10. Ohio Schools Work to Increase Breakfast Participation
  11. California Summer Meal Coalition Offers Resources
  12. NYC Milk Policy Reduces Students’ Fat, Calorie Consumption
  13. Church Remakes Sanctuary into Food Pantry
  14. NYC Program Encourages Grocery Stores to Locate in Food Deserts
  15. Grocery Store Closure in California Bodes Ill for WIC Mothers, Employees and Senior Citizens
  16. D.C.’s Needy Suffer During Recent Snow Storms
  17. States, Cities, Counties Forced to Lay Off Assistance Staff, Cut Costs, and Reorganize to Close Budget Gaps
  18. Cold Winter Sends LIHEAP Funds South
  19. Stimulus Aid in Pa., N.J. Can Be Used for Job Creation

1. SNAP/Food Stamp Applicants Facing Application Delays in Colorado, Connecticut
(Longmont Times-Call, February 7, 2010; Westport Now, February 12, 2010)

In October 2009, nearly one in five SNAP/Food Stamp applicants – or 19 percent - in Colorado experienced long delays in receiving their benefits, notes this editorial. In 2007, the state said it would fix the computer problems responsible for the delays, but the delays continue. More families facing economic challenges are going hungry, and according to the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, more food banks and other emergency food providers are pressed into service. “Though the state itself faces budget challenges,” concludes the editorial, “it must step up to the plate and fix the system that fails so many residents now.”

In December 2009, 5,000 SNAP/Food Stamp applications were still pending in the state, an increase from 3,500 in December 2008. According to End Hunger Connecticut!, forty percent of the applications have been on hold for more than the 30 day time limit set by the federal government. In addition, 90 percent of 500 emergency SNAP/Food Stamp applications have passed the 7-day time limit. “It’s bad,” said Claudette J. Beaulieu, deputy commissioner for the Department of Social Services (DSS). “We just aren’t able to keep up.” Beaulieu said that DSS is working to remove the backlog, and assigned a 9-person team to “tackle pending applications.” Budget cuts decreased the number of caseworkers over the past year, with 260 workers taking early retirement and only 75 percent of those positions refilled. Administrative costs for the SNAP/Food Stamp Program are shared by the state and the federal government. But more people are applying for the program – resulting in long waits to submit applications, and many applicants are sent away from the DSS offices at the end of the day and told to come back later. “This is chaotic,” said Suzette Strickland, a food stamp access manager at End Hunger Connecticut! “[DSS has] lost the people who have been there and know how to run these programs.” Current caseworkers are estimated to be handling 2,000 cases. “That’s just not a caseload anyone could handle,” noted Strickland. “They can’t work magic.” Connecticut ranks 13th from the bottom in processing time. “The state is not meeting the requirements set by federal law and that’s a real problem,” said Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!


2. California Losing Billions in Unclaimed SNAP/Food Stamp Revenue
(San Diego Union-Tribune, February 10, 2010; San Bernardino Sun, February 14, 2010; Voice of San Diego, February 8, 2010)

Advocates for the poor in San Diego report the county loses out on $100 million in federal money each year because of low enrollment in the SNAP/Food Stamp Program. “The last time the Super Bowl was played in San Diego, in 2003, the economic impact from that was pegged at $367 million,” notes Union-Tribune columnist Michael Stetz. “So we’re missing…half a Super Bowl worth of economic might.” One hundred percent participation in California would bring in $3.9 billion in federal benefits, writes Congressman Joe Baca Sr., representing the 43rd District. Because the program is “one of the most successful tools for stimulating economic activity,” the $3.9 billion would create $6.9 billion in economic activity. “Given our current budget situation in California,” notes Baca in a letter to the editor responding to SNAP/Food Stamp Program critics, “why anyone would oppose these additional revenues in our state is beyond my comprehension. I am committed to seeing better participation from California in the SNAP program because I believe it is the right thing to do. It is right for those families that struggle every day to feed their loved ones in this tough economy. And it is right for our state and local economies, which are desperately in need of any and all resources available.” A recent study of San Diego’s SNAP/Food Stamp participation by the Supportive Parents Information Network found that it takes a long time to apply for the benefit, that many still feel they would be stigmatized if they applied, and those that do apply find a culture of “fear and degradation” at assistance offices.


3. More Receiving SNAP/Food Stamps in Florida County
(staugustine.com, February 6, 2010)

SNAP/Food Stamp participation increased 236 percent since 2006 in Florida’s St. Johns County; in the past year, use increased by nearly half. The Department of Children and Families has been swamped with applications, which created a backlog. To eliminate this backlog, the agency shuffled workloads and paid employees more overtime. Eligible residents can apply for the benefit online at www.myflorida.com/accessflorida/. 81-year-old Mary Martin is one county resident who recently applied after she ran out of savings. Living on small Social Security payments, Martin is a diabetic and an amputee. “Starving” forced her to apply for SNAP/Food Stamps, she said.


4. North Carolina Communities See Spike in SNAP/Food Stamp Use, Poverty
(News-Record, February 5, 2010)

SNAP/Food Stamp participation has risen in a portion of North Carolina – use is up 32 percent in Guilford, 30 percent in Rockingham, and 41 percent in Randolph. The poverty rate also is higher. In the Greensboro-High Point metro area, 30,000 live in poverty. A Brookings Institute study forecasts a rise in the area’s poverty rate for 2009, going from 14.1 to 17.4 percent, which will mean more than 150,000 people in the metro area are living in poverty. Emergency service providers are already seeing the effects of the recession and increased poverty, as more and more people swamp organizations with requests for utility bill and rent assistance.


5. Child Nutrition Programs Need More Money to Help Reach 2015 Goal
(Religious Action Center blog, February 3, 2010)

In this posting, David Goodman, an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant at the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, calls on advocates to push Congress “to increase funding, access and participation” in school meal programs through the upcoming Child Nutrition Reauthorization. This is “one of the best ways for President Obama to work toward his intention to end childhood hunger by 2015.” The President’s budget request included $10 billion over ten years to improve child nutrition programs. In addition, the budget included a $7.6 billion SNAP/Food Stamp Program increase. Recent figures from the Food Research and Action Center showed the critical need for these nutrition programs, reporting that the food hardship rate for American families “hover[ed] between 17.9 and 18.8 percent” in 2009. These families reported not having enough money to buy the food they needed. Currently, one in eight Americans receives SNAP/Food Stamps – a record number – and 31 million children eat lunch at school through the National School Lunch Program.


6. South Carolina Ranks High in Food Hardship Report
(Columbia Free Times, February 10, 2010)

FRAC’s recent food hardship report ranks South Carolina fifth among states in the number of people – 22.4 percent – who reported not having enough money to buy the food they needed at some point in 2009. Harvest Hope Food Bank reported a 145 percent increase in the number of people seeking food from 2008 to 2009. The reports are “shocking information” noted Denise Holland, executive director of Harvest Hope.


7. Law Students Take SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge
(yournabe.com, February 4, 2010)

Law students at St. John’s College in New York City joined other students at all St. John’s campuses worldwide in taking the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge January 25 to 30. Students participating pledged to spend only $5.83 a day for food (representing what a member of a family of four would receive in benefits) during the event in order to feel what it’s like to live on SNAP/Food Stamps. “I was really, really hungry,” said participant Meredith Chester at a panel discussion on hunger at the university. “I was shaking I was so hungry. My goal was to eat a well-balanced diet, but my caloric intake was well below anything anyone should have.” Chesler lived on 800 to 1,000 calories a day, and although an avid exerciser, found she couldn’t walk up a hill on campus. “My focus in class was gone,” she noted. “It was a horrible feeling. I can’t believe there are people who have to live on $5.38 every day.” The school hopes to make this an annual event.


8. Food Hardship Stats Help Pediatrician Serve Patients Better
(Philadelphia Inquirer, February 5, 2010)

Philadelphia pediatrician Jennifer Riehl often focuses on nutrition when speaking to parents and their children. However, the recent article “Report: Pa. area among hungriest” helped her define the discussion, she notes in this letter to the editor. “I now realize that the questions I am asking my families are likely the wrong ones,” writes Riehl, “and the recommendations I make may be utterly impossible for the most well-intentioned parents.” She recently saw a family of five young children whose parents supported them on their jobs at fast-food restaurants. “Instead of asking the mother how often her children eat vegetables, I should have first asked her whether she had the resources to be able to provide enough food for her children.” Riehl’s “revelation” came from FRAC’s recent “sobering statistics” on the problem many families find with getting enough food. “Medical professionals need to be aware, ask the right questions, and advocate for those who are in need,” Riehl concludes.


9. Schools Start Serving Breakfast in the Classroom

California
(The Desert Sun, February 3, 2010)
Palm View Elementary School in California has offered free and reduced-price breakfast before school, but recently began a pilot project offering breakfast during the start of classes. The school saw tardiness drop by half, and teachers reported their students were more focused and energized – even on the first day of the program. The program was started in order to improve student behavior and academic performance, reduce trips to the nurse’s office, and teach healthy eating habits. Almost all of the school’s 670 K-6 students are eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast, although only 36 percent took advantage of it when served before school started. The program is expected to start in other Coachella Valley Unified School District elementary schools in the next year.

Montana
(Billings Gazette, February 1, 2010)
All Orchard Elementary School students in Billings, Montana can eat breakfast for free in their classrooms beginning in March. The pilot project is designed to increase school breakfast participation and improve academics and behavior. Currently, 280 to 300 of the school’s 430 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Making the meal free to all students should remove the stigma surrounding those who now receive breakfast, noted Orchard’s principal Mark Venner. “All our kids now can come in (and eat) in a relaxed and comfortable atmosphere,” he said. Free breakfast “is probably the most phenomenal academic support that any school can give to its students and teachers,” said Valerie Addis, food and nutritional supervisor for Missoula County Public Schools, where 34 schools serve breakfast free to students. Sodexo, which manages food services in Billings-area schools, plans to expand the program to more Billings schools with high numbers of qualifying students if the Orchard program is successful.

Texas
(KTRK, February 2, 2010)
Houston Independent School District (HISD) has made breakfast in the classroom available to more students, adding ten elementary and middle schools every week in order to include more than 220 campuses and 130,000 students. The breakfast, made at HISD’s 200,000 square-foot facility, does not include junk food, donuts or sugary cereals. Students miss breakfast at home because they have to get up early, and may miss breakfast at school if they arrive late, according to HISD communications director Julie Spreckelmeyer. “We find that when we serve breakfast before school, only 35 percent of our students eat breakfast,” she said. “But when we serve it in the classroom, that number jumps up to 80 to 81 percent.”


10. Ohio Schools Work to Increase Breakfast Participation
(Columbus Dispatch, February 7, 2010)

Ohio’s Columbus school district wants to increase school breakfast participation and improve student achievement. However, only 45 percent of students currently eat breakfast at school, although lunch participation has risen from 70 percent last year to 74 percent this year. Research has shown a link between child nutrition and success in school. Sodexo oversees most of the district’s school food operations, which currently operate at a deficit, and would like to increase breakfast participation to increase revenue and move the food service department into the black. To boost numbers, 11 Columbus elementary schools will offer “grab and go” pre-bagged meals which students can eat in their classrooms. Offering in-classroom breakfast is popular with students, since they don’t have to arrive at the cafeteria early in order to eat; studies have found that more children eat breakfast if they can do so in the classroom. Principals like the idea because students can eat during instruction time.


11. California Summer Meal Coalition Offers Resources
(ccrwf.org, February 5, 2010)

The California Summer Meal Program Coalition is a new statewide network dedicated to increasing access to summer meal programs. The group will host a series of webinars from April to June 2010, and will develop case studies and tool kits “to help school districts, food banks, and summer programs easily access best practices for program administration, programming, and nutrition education.” They will also encourage new sponsors to operate summer meal programs. Coalition members include: California Department of Education, California Association of Food Banks, California School Boards Association, California After-School Network, Bay Area Partnership, California Food Policy Advocates, YMCA of Silicon Valley, California Center for Research on Women and Families, and FRAC.


12. NYC Milk Policy Reduces Students’ Fat, Calorie Consumption
(UPI, January 28, 2010)

In 2005, New York City switched from whole to low-fat/fat-free milk, removing 33 calories and 3.4 grams of fat from a milk-drinking student’s diet per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Report (January 29, 2010). This translates to almost 7,000 fewer calories a year, and 900 fewer grams of fat. After the change, students purchased 1.3 percent more milk.


13. Church Remakes Sanctuary into Food Pantry
(Boston Phoenix, February 10, 2010)

The Open Table of Christ church in Rhode Island’s South Providence, the most impoverished of the city’s neighborhood, is transforming its sanctuary into a food pantry. Members removed 23 pews in November in order to move the food pantry from the basement. However, the community’s hunger problem motivated the church to do more. Eventually, a community center offering GED classes, job training, and other programs will be introduced. “We are an urban congregation in a very difficult part of the city,” said Jerry Viou, the church’s pastor of community ministries. “If that means we take out our pews and it looks like a Sam’s Club, then that’s what we do.” The church hopes to sell the pews on eBay; members of the congregation will sit on folding chairs during services. “I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Viou, commenting on the problems in the neighborhood and the rough economic times. “It’s horrible.”


14. NYC Program Encourages Grocery Stores to Locate in Food Deserts
(The New York Times, February 9, 2010)

New York City’s Fresh Retail Expansion to Support Health program (FRESH) aims to attract full-line grocery stores to low-income neighborhoods. Through the program, the city’s Industrial Development Agency approved millions in tax and real estate benefits which will help open two grocery stores in the Bronx. Stores must provide a broad selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy products in order to receive the funds. $3 million in tax and real estate benefits will go to Foodtown to rebuild a supermarket that burned down on East 204th street in Norwood, and $5.6 million will go to replacing and expanding Western Beef’s Park Avenue store near the Tremont subway station. Local residents are pleased with the news. “We need more fresh produce in this area,” said Yvonne Melendez, a mother of three who lives near the Tremont store. “It’s very difficult to eat healthily in the Bronx.”


15. Grocery Store Closure in California Bodes Ill for WIC Mothers, Employees and Senior Citizens
(Whittier Daily News, February 12, 2010)

WIC program participants will find it difficult to buy food when the only grocery store in Needles, Calif. closes in six weeks. The nearest market will be 27 miles away in Arizona. But WIC recipients can only spend their benefits in the state that issued them, which means they’ll have to travel 100 miles to the closest California store in Blythe. WIC participants can buy food through the program in another state if the state issuing the benefit grants an exception, as was done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when Louisiana residents could use their WIC vouchers in other states. The Daily Bulletin called the California WIC office for more information, but was only able to speak to an intern as it was “furlough Friday” and the office was closed for President’s Day on Monday. Retirees in Needles will have to travel far to purchase food after the store closes, although many of the seniors no longer drive. The closure also means the loss of 53 jobs.


16. D.C.’s Needy Suffer During Recent Snow Storms
(The Examiner, February 13, 2010)

The recent back-to-back snowstorms in the D.C. metro area have been particularly tough on the area’s low-income people. Those who are struggling to make ends meet were not able to stock up on food and medication, and some may have run out of food as the region was snowed in, notes Terri Lee Freeman of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region. Seniors relying on meal delivery most likely went hungry. The storms should serve as a reminder that many in the area lack food, clothing and shelter.


17. States, Cities, Counties Forced to Lay Off Assistance Staff, Cut Costs, and Reorganize to Close Budget Gaps

Colorado
(Daily Camera, February 4, 2010; Denver Post, January 31, 2010)
To close a $4.5 million budget gap, Boulder County Housing and Human Services (HHS) will lay off 25 of its 150 employees, offer 45 employees early retirement, and cut job-training, child-care subsidies and child welfare services. In a press release, the department noted that funding from the state has decreased at the same time demand for services increased. SNAP/Food Stamp applications have risen 58 percent in the past year, and TANF requests are up 62 percent. The county cannot cut those programs because they are mandated by law. HHS spokeswoman Ana Mostaccero said that people will still be able to apply for SNAP/Food Stamps and TANF, and the department will try to minimize the budget cuts’ impact on the public. Child welfare services will lose $600,000, child-care subsidies will lose $613,000, and job training will see $400,000 cut from the program. Meanwhile, in Denver, human services workers have been cut.

Many services in Colorado Springs are being or have been eliminated, and are “more visceral versions” of similar cuts across the country. In tax-averse Colorado Springs, residents are preparing for a slew of changes, including:

darker streets as more than a third of the city’s streelights will be turned off;
fewer police and firefighters, as $5.5 million in cuts decrease their ranks and dozens of positions will go unfilled;
park staff remove trash cans and replace them with signs asking visitors to remove their own litter;
water cutbacks will kill park lawns, and there’s no budget money for fertilizers and flowers;
buses no longer run on evenings and weekends;
indoor and outdoor pools, recreation centers, and some museums will close on March 31, leaving parents worried about child-care costs, and teenagers and senior citizens with “nowhere to go;”
street paving will be reduced because there’s no city money – instead, the city will rely on a regional authority that can only meet 10 percent of the needed work.

Hawaii
(Honolulu Advertiser, February 8, 2010)
The Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) is considering plans to reorganize and close more than 50 SNAP/Food Stamp and MedQuest eligibility offices statewide in order to cut costs and “improve operations.” Lawmakers are concerned because the reorganization could trigger 200 eligibility worker layoffs. The agency will replace the offices with two processing centers in Honolulu and Hilo, and applicants will communicate with eligibility workers by letter, phone and e-mail only. In a briefing, Rep. John Mizuno, chair of the Human Services Committee, called the changes “shocking.” DHS director Lillian Koller said that consultation on the changes “has barely begun and no decision have been made.”

Nebraska
(World-Herald, February 14, 2010)
Nebraska is set to eliminate 225 SNAP/Food Stamp and other assistance caseworker jobs by 2012, when the ACCESSNebraska system is up and running. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is instituting the controversial change, which will set up four call centers – in Lincoln, Fremont, Lexington and Scottsbluff – expected to process applications and case reviews currently handled by local office caseworkers. Advocacy groups are concerned about the switch, as the recession has increased the number of people applying for SNAP/Food Stamps and other assistance at the same time the state plans on eliminating caseworker jobs. Between November 2008 and November 2009, SNAP/Food Stamp cases increased 26 percent. Julie Dake Abel, executive director of the Nebraska Association of Public Employees, said that offices in Omaha have been hardest hit with applications, which have been farmed out to caseworkers across the state. Todd Recking, HHS director of children and family services, notes that in December, one out of every four applications were filed online. “We’re actually hearing that people appreciate not having to drive down and stand in line to apply,” he said. However, current caseworkers are swamped with as much as twice their normal load, and applicants are assigned caseworkers far from home. “You call (caseworkers) and their inbox is full for days on end,” said Jessica Jones of Omaha’s Together Inc. “When you do leave a message, you don’t get a call back.” One woman without a phone must travel repeatedly to her church to contact her caseworker, and many are ending up at emergency food providers because they are unable to apply for SNAP/Food Stamps.

Virginia
(WTKR, February 17, 2010)
Gov. Bob McDonnell proposes cutting $1.2 million from homeless assistance programs, $700,000 from domestic violence services, $4.8 million in child support supplements, and $3.6 million from the Healthy Families initiative, part of a larger number of cuts to the state’s budget. Compensation and benefits state employees would be cut by nearly $925 million, and employees would be required to take five unpaid furlough days in each of the next two years. Total cuts to Health and Human Resources programs would be estimated at $300 million, and education budget cuts include $92 million from Mentor Teacher and school breakfast initiatives.


18. Cold Winter Sends LIHEAP Funds South
(The Washington Post, February 11, 2010)

Northerners who rely on the Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to heat their homes are receiving less funding this winter, as colder-than-normal temperatures hit the South. The funds are dispersed using a formula that took into account the colder temperatures and added unemployment levels to the equation for the first time. Funding more than tripled this year in Florida and Georgia, and more than doubled in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas. At the same time, Maine’s funding dropped 81 percent, Vermont 80 percent, New Hampshire 78 percent, Alaska 62 percent, and Minnesota 28 percent. Maine received $29.7 million last winter, but this year received only $4.7 million in emergency aid, which provides an average of $811 in benefits to the state’s 70,000 households receiving money through the program. Although heating fuel costs are down, many people have lost jobs, making it difficult for them to keep their homes warm. Last season, LIHEAP helped a record 8.3 million people; this year, the program has distributed $4.5 billion to all 50 states in base funding. “The real problem is that we don’t have enough money to meet the needs for assistance right now,” said Mark Wolfe, executive director of the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association. The association is pushing for a supplemental appropriation that would get families through the rest of this winter. However, the President’s budget for the next fiscal year proposes a cut of $1.8 billion from overall heating aid.


19. Stimulus Aid in Pa., N.J. Can Be Used for Job Creation
(Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 2010)

Millions of federal stimulus dollars that could create new jobs have not yet been spent in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; the TANF emergency funds must be spent by September 30, 2010. “We have $330 million and nothing has been done with it,” said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. “We think we can use it to create 10,000 jobs at $10 an hour.” Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate in December was 8.9 percent. New Jersey’s unemployment rate in December was 9 percent; the state is eligible for $202 million of the emergency funds, but has only drawn down two separate grants of $3.6 million each. Officials in each state say plans to use the stimulus funding are underway. In Delaware, $1.1 million has been used to subsidize jobs, including the hire of 21 former public assistance recipients who now process paperwork for people on public assistance in the state.


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