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.
1. SNAP/Food Stamp Applicants Facing Application Delays in Colorado, Connecticut
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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 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.
10. Ohio Schools Work to Increase Breakfast Participation
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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;
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
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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