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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 #12, April 21, 2014

  1. USDA’s Kevin Concannon Calls States to Action to Boost Summer Nutrition Program Participation
  2. FRAC Joins USDA at Meeting in New Jersey on Summer Food Service Program
  3. Eligible Seniors Missing Out on SNAP Benefits
  4. North Carolina Lawmakers Considering Helping Farmers’ Markets Accept SNAP Benefits
  5. Outreach Workers Help Dispel SNAP Myths Among Seniors
  6. North Carolina SNAP Participation Skyrockets; State Successfully Reduces Application Backlog
  7. National Hunger Seder Focuses on Seniors
  8. Housing Costs in 90 Cities Exceed 30 Percent of Renter Incomes
  9. Republican Governor Joins Push for Long-Term Unemployment Benefits

Make plans to attend the Food Research and Action Center's Annual Benefit Dinner, Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at the Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C. The proceeds from the dinner will benefit FRAC's Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, which is achieving major gains in feeding children in communities throughout the United States. For more information, please call (202) 986-2200 x3950. To purchase tickets, please visit FRAC's website.


1. USDA’s Kevin Concannon Calls States to Action to Boost Summer Nutrition Program Participation
(USDA Blog, March 27, 2014)

“Consider this a call to action!” writes Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, in his blog post reporting on a recent meeting of Ohio lawmakers, educators, nonprofit directors, community leaders and others at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. The meeting focused on the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and efforts to boost participation. During the school year, more than 630,000 Ohio children receive free or reduced-price school lunch, but only about one in ten – 60,000 – also participate in the summer nutrition programs. “This means that well over half a million children across the state may be at risk of food insecurity or hunger during the summer months, when they no longer have access to meals at school,” writes Concannon. Nationwide, there are 21 million children receiving subsidized school meals, but only 3.5 million of them participate in summer meal programs.  “The key to success this year will be expanding the number of sites open for summer meals,” notes Concannon. “We must spread the word to schools, parks and recreation departments, libraries, and faith and other community organizations across the nation; their participation is critical for the continued success of SFSP.” USDA’s website – www.summerfood.usda.gov - provides more information.


2. FRAC Joins USDA at Meeting in New Jersey on Summer Food Service Program
(Philly.com, April 9, 2014)

FRAC joined USDA’s Audrey Rowe, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, and New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas H. Fisher in Camden, New Jersey, for a discussion on increasing participation in the upcoming Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). According to FRAC, summer meals reach only 19 percent of eligible New Jersey children, while participation in neighboring Pennsylvania reaches 21 children for every 100 who receive free or reduced-price school lunch. “It’s rare a government program goes underutilized, but this one does,” said Rowe, who hopes that this year the program will get more sponsors and providers, and increase participation from 14 percent to 20 percent of eligible children. Other groups participating in the discussion included the Camden Children’s Garden, and YMCA of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester Counties. Participating organizations are reimbursed for summer meals served to children in districts where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for subsidized school meals during the school year.


3. Eligible Seniors Missing Out on SNAP Benefits
(The New York Times, March 28, 2014)

While 80 percent of SNAP-eligible people received benefits in 2011, according to a Mathematica Policy Research study, only 39 percent of Americans over 60 participated in the program – with 5.2 million seniors missing out on nutrition assistance. “Some are too proud about taking ‘handouts’ – that’s the mindset,” said Diane Gonzales, director of “Senior Stop,” a Child Center of New York program in Queens which helps seniors apply for SNAP – often in just 20 minutes. Jackie Kauff, a senior researcher at Mathematica, said seniors might feel that taking SNAP benefits robs others of assistance, especially young children. Some seniors find the application process daunting. Although the government has simplified the SNAP application process, “[i]t’s very complicated,” said Kauff. “Lots of seniors find it burdensome.” While the November 2013 SNAP cut reduced benefits amounts - one recipient in Queens, helped by the Senior Stop program, saw her benefits drop from $200 a month $189 – the SNAP Program remains a vital resource that too many seniors are not receiving.


4. North Carolina Lawmakers Considering Helping Farmers’ Markets Accept SNAP Benefits
(News Observer, April 10, 2014)

A legislative committee in North Carolina is releasing recommendations on how to help residents in food deserts – areas without easy access to supermarkets and healthy foods. In studying the issue, the committee investigated the logistical challenges of farmers’ markets accepting SNAP benefits. Machines capable of reading EBT cards can cost $1,000, and markets must also provide manpower to staff the machine, coordinate SNAP sales, and process reimbursements. “It’s not a ton of money, but when the organization operates on a pretty small budget, it seems like a huge portion,” said Erin Kauffman, market manager for Durham Farmers’ Market, which has been working on accepting SNAP benefits and will be able to this year, after installing an ATM. Helped by grants, markets across the state have been able to accept SNAP benefits, and USDA is offering $4 million to help markets purchase equipment and support services for a year. Farmers’ markets in North Carolina redeemed about $100,000 in SNAP benefits last year, according to Charlie Jackson, executive director of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project. “We think we can double or triple that amount with training and technical assistance,” he said.


5. Outreach Workers Help Dispel SNAP Myths Among Seniors
(The Guardian, April 17, 2014)

SNAP participation has grown over the last five years – in Alabama, enrollment increased 38.8 percent during that time, according to the Food Research and Action Center, and in Texas, participation grew 29.7 percent. Still, there remains a need for SNAP outreach, to enroll those people who are eligible and need the benefits but are not receiving the assistance. “A lot of seniors that grew up in the Depression, or during the war, are strong and tough folks, and they don’t necessarily feel comfortable asking for help,” said PJ Cowan, SNAP and government advocacy manager for the Bay Area Food Bank in Theodore, Ala. “Or their perspective is: ‘Well, there is someone else who needs it more than I do.” However, SNAP “is an entitlement, which means there is not a cap on federal funding. It grows as the need grows, and shrinks as the need shrinks.” The application process is complicated, said Melissa Helber, social service outreach manager for the Capital Area Food Bank in Austin, TX. If an applicant is denied benefits due to insufficient documents accompanying their application, they often don’t reapply because they don’t understand the letters they’re sent – “they just assumed that they can’t have benefits.” Helber said she sees families who say they have never had to ask for assistance before, and they’re embarrassed. “They worked really hard and they can’t believe they are doing this.” Helber explains to eligible seniors who are not receiving benefits that there’s nothing wrong or shameful about asking for and receiving help. “Lots of people over 60 are receiving social security benefits. This is just another one of those things…You worked really hard all your life, you’ve paid into the system…I think if the people just hear that, they get a little bit of a reassurance then it’s easier for them to accept the assistance.”


6. North Carolina SNAP Participation Skyrockets; State Successfully Reduces Application Backlog
(Hickory Record, April 3, 2014; Charlotte Business Journal, April 16, 2014)

According to USDA figures, the number of SNAP recipients in North Carolina jumped from 1.1 million people in 2009 to more than 1.7 million in 2013, a record for the state. Last year, the government provided nearly $2.5 billion in benefits across the state. In Wake County, SNAP caseload increased from 1,500 cases per month in 2008 to 3,300 cases per month, and the county now processes nearly 4,000 recertifications per month. USDA recently called on the state to reduce its significant backlog of applications, and North Carolina has successfully reduced the backlog. The state “has made significant strides in providing service to those households that experienced delay[s] in receiving their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits,” wrote Robin Bailey, USDA regional administrator in a letter to state DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will “continue to closely monitor case processing data to ensure the state remains in compliance with federal processing requirements,” noted Bailey.


7. National Hunger Seder Focuses on Seniors
(San Diego Jewish World, April 10, 2014)

Members of Congress, Administration officials, and faith and anti-hunger groups (including FRAC) recently participated in the 6th annual National Hunger Seder, organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. The Seder, held in the U.S. Capitol, focused on seniors struggling with hunger, and participants called on Congress to provide adequate nutrition program funding in the Older Americans Act. The Act’s funding has not kept up with inflation, said Abby J. Leibman, president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger. There are nearly five million seniors experiencing food insecurity, “[a]nd unfortunately, that number is only projected to grow as 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 each day between now and 2020,” she said. “Passover is a celebration of freedom for the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, JCPA president. “But we cannot fully celebrate until all have been liberated” from hunger, he continued, and noted that while each of us has the responsibility to act, “only Congress can provide the funds necessary to give our seniors the means and ability to stay in their homes and communities for longer than they might otherwise be able.” More than 20 Hunger Seder events were scheduled to take place across the country, part of the MAZON/JCPA Hunger Seder mobilization.


8. Housing Costs in 90 Cities Exceed 30 Percent of Renter Incomes
(The New York Times, April 14, 2014)

A Zillow analysis for The New York Times reveals that median rent (not including utilities) in 90 cities exceeds 30 percent of median gross income. The report, which Zillow calculated using data from 1985 to 2000, found Miami is one of the most expensive cities for renters, with rent taking 43 percent of a typical household income. Rent in New Orleans more than doubled, from 14 percent to 35 percent, and Chicago rents consume 31 percent of household income. According to a Harvard study, nearly half of renters in the U.S. spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing – and in December, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said the U.S. is in “the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.” According to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, low income families spending more than half their income on housing spend a third less on food, and 80 percent less on medical care. Federal HOME grants have been cut by half over the last ten years, and the percentage of households receiving federal rental subsidies decreased from 27.4 percent to 23.8 percent, according to the Harvard study. Demand for housing has increased, one of the reasons for the affordability crisis, as 6.2 million additional tenants searched for housing between 2007 and 2013, while homeownership increased by only 208,000. The financial crisis has caused low homeownership rates by making it much harder to obtain a mortgage. While buying a home remains considerably cheaper than renting, many have no choice as they don’t qualify for a mortgage - they don’t earn enough or have other substantial debts.
Additional coverage: Southern California Public Radio, April 17, 2014.


9. Republican Governor Joins Push for Long-Term Unemployment Benefits
(Huffington Post, April 15, 2014)

Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada (R) recently co-signed a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) supporting the restoration of long-term unemployment benefits for the two million job seekers who lost assistance when Congress let the aid lapse in December. “When our country has experienced similar rates of long-term unemployment in the past, Congress has consistently acted in a bipartisan fashion to extend emergency unemployment benefits,” notes the letter, which Sandoval signed with Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee (D). The Senate passed a bipartisan bill calling to extend unemployment benefits, but House Republicans say they will only sign if Democrats agree to other program changes, such as in the Affordable Care Act. Boehner claims that the proposal is unworkable because state agencies would spend too much time granting retroactive benefits. “[O]ur states are more than capable of implementing this legislation, including the administration of retroactive benefits, which we have successfully done in the past,” write Sandoval and Chaffee.

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