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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 #41, December 17, 2014
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey Underscores Important Role of SNAP
- USDA Reports Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Succeeding in its First Nationwide Year
- USDA Letter to Massachusetts Voices Concerns Over EBT Photo ID Requirement
- Some Georgia SNAP Applicants Facing Holidays at Soup Kitchens
- Florida Congressman Takes SNAP Challenge to Focus on Program Recipient Struggles
- SNAP Healthy Food Incentives Could Reduce Federal Health Costs Over Long Term
- Studies Show Benefits of Breakfast in the Classroom and School Meals
Hunger, Economy and Poverty
- Op-ed: Political Will, Cooperative Effort Needed to End Hunger
- Income Variability Causing Stress on More Americans
- Poverty Grows as More City Neighborhoods Segregate by Income
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey Underscores Important Role of SNAP
(FRAC, December 11, 2014)
Seventy-one percent of cities included in this year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey on Hunger and Homelessness reported an increase in requests for emergency food assistance, with a number of cities citing recent benefit cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) contributing to this increased demand. This survey underscores the incredibly important role played by SNAP and other federal nutrition programs, and the damage that happens when these programs are cut, notes FRAC in its analysis of the new report. People have fewer resources for food, and hunger increases as a result. FRAC urges Members of Congress to look at ways to improve SNAP benefits and decrease hunger in their communities. In the coming Congress, FRAC will continue to work to protect and strengthen nutrition programs.
USDA Reports Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) Succeeding in its First Nationwide Year
(FRAC, December 9, 2014; Augusta Chronicle, December 9, 2014)
In its first nationwide year, the Community Eligibility Provision is off to a strong start, according to USDA. “We commend USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service for its ongoing support and commitment to move the Community Eligibility Provision forward,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, in a statement. “Today’s national CEP numbers show that the hard work by advocates and schools is paying off. More than six million children are benefitting from Community Eligibility and getting the fuel they need to keep learning.” In Georgia’s Richmond County, 78 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price school meals and 60 percent of students benefit from welfare, SNAP, or are homeless or in foster care. School districts are eligible for CEP if at least 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. The school system’s nutrition director, Josephine Mack, praised the program for helping eliminate the school meal application process and increasing school nutrition access to more students. USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon reported that about 52 percent of eligible schools are now implementing CEP, in 2,000 school districts across the country.
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USDA Letter to Massachusetts Voices Concerns Over EBT Photo ID Requirement
(Lowell Sun, December 3, 2014)
After store clerks turned away a number of welfare recipients in Massachusetts because their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card had a photo of someone else in their family, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute filed a complaint with USDA. USDA sent a letter to the state citing “significant concerns” about the photo ID policy implementation, warning state officials that some of their practices violate state laws. Those younger than 18, the elderly, disabled, or domestic violence victims are exempt from the photo requirement, yet the letter, sent by USDA Acting Regional Administrator Kurt Messner, said some of these recipients may be facing denial of benefits. A number of groups criticized the photo requirement when it went into effect, and issued a statement noting it “will do nothing meaningful to combat fraud, and will make it harder for vulnerable families to access these critical benefits.” In the letter, USDA also asked DTA to correct these problems with the requirement.
Some Georgia SNAP Applicants Facing Holidays at Soup Kitchens
(WRDW, December 3, 2014)
Some SNAP applicants in Georgia are having a tough time finding out if they’ll be receiving benefits, and are facing the holidays without food. “When you have to go to the rescue mission to eat Thanksgiving dinner, that’s sad,” said Dennis Tate, who applied for SNAP, yet has not heard from the state. Eric Hampton also applied, and he and Tate have called Georgia’s Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFCS) to find out the status of their applications. “You call the number, they put you on hold, and then they give you some music to listen to,” said Tate. “After the music, they hang up on you.” Hampton has a son and said they have not had much food to eat because they don’t have SNAP benefits. Georgia station News12 tested the DFCS phone system last year, and waited 45 minutes – still no one picked up the call. DCFS told News 12 at the time that they were working to fix the problem. One year later, “[t]he system is not doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Tate.
Florida Congressman Takes SNAP Challenge to Focus on Program Recipient Struggles
(Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, December 1, 2014)
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL) recently lived for a week on $29.40 in groceries, the amount that a person receiving SNAP benefits would receive for a week, in order to raise awareness of the struggles SNAP recipients face in purchasing adequate food through the program. Nearly 60 percent of households in Deutsch’s district with one or more persons over the age of 60, and nearly 41 percent of households with one or more children, participate in the SNAP Program. “I introduced the Food Security Improvement Act in Congress to remedy the fact that most SNAP beneficiaries find themselves skipping meals or running out of benefits every month,” said Deutch. “My legislation would apply more accurate assumptions about how much it costs to feed a family while struggling in poverty, and in doing so boost our economy, reduce hunger, and help SNAP beneficiaries afford more healthy and wholesome foods.” The SNAP Challenge was organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs with the JCRC’s of the Jewish Federations of South Palm Beach County and Broward County.
SNAP Healthy Food Incentives Could Reduce Federal Health Costs Over Long Term
(Huffington Post, December 10, 2014)
A number of studies have shown that creating incentives for SNAP recipients to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables increases their consumption of healthy foods significantly. The Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) in Massachusetts offered SNAP recipients a 30-cent reimbursement for every dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables, and resulted in a 25-percent increase in fruit and vegetable consumption over the control group. The pilot also increased healthy food consumption regardless of whether or not the participants lived in a food desert – SNAP recipients made an effort to find stores, even those further away, that offered fresh fruits and vegetables. These healthy foods help manage weight and reduce obesity and other diseases, which could lead to savings in Medicaid and Medicare. In 2012, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future state that “improving [the] diets of low-income Americans through SNAP pricing incentives [is] a public health priority. USDA recently launched a grant program, funded through the Farm Bill, and Wholesome Waves’ double-value coupon program for SNAP recipients expanded to 21 states, serving more than 40,000 families.
See also FRAC's A Review of Strategies to Bolster SNAP’s Role in Improving Nutrition as well as Food Security (pdf).
Studies Show Benefits of Breakfast in the Classroom and School Meals
(Tribune Review, December 7, 2014)
A study of 446 schools offering school breakfast found that breakfast in the classroom increased breakfast participation in the 58 percent of schools offering that meal option. In addition, the schools offering breakfast in the classroom showed slightly better attendance than those schools offering breakfast elsewhere. “It’s important for parents to understand that breakfast is important for getting their kids ready to learn in the classroom (and) for improving their academics,” said Lindsay Turner of Boise State University in Idaho, co-author of an editorial on the study, which appears in JAMA Pediatrics. “It’s not just about healthy eating, it’s about getting the kids to do better in the classroom as well.” Another study in that journal found lunches brought from home in 12 Houston schools contained more sodium than the National School Lunch Program guidelines recommend, as well as fewer fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk; 90 percent of the home-brought lunches contained desserts, snacks and sugary drinks. Karen Cullen, from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and senior author of the study, and her co-author also found that school lunches, at $1.80, cost slightly less than lunches brought from home.
Op-ed: Political Will, Cooperative Effort Needed to End Hunger
(Masslive.com, December 10, 2014)
The U.S. has the resources to solve its hunger problem, and in order to do it, “[w]e simply need the political will and a coordinated effort,” write Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Patrick Hughes, president and CEO of Fallon Health, in this op-ed. Better coordination among federal agencies and engaged business leaders, religious organizations, health care professionals, and others are key. “Food banks and food pantries, despite their best intentions, are not solving hunger,” write McGovern and Hughes. “They are merely managing the problem.” In Massachusetts, the household hunger rate increased 40 percent – from 8.3 percent to 11.4 percent - since 2008, meaning three quarters of a million additional people struggled with hunger in the state. One in nine households in the state now experience hunger, and one in five children in the four Western Massachusetts counties is food insecure. Many of these families don’t qualify for SNAP benefits because they make too much money – a family of four in the state earning less than $31,000 a year qualifies for assistance.
Income Variability Causing Stress on More Americans
(The New York Times, December 3, 2014)
Between the early 1970s and the late 2000s, household income became “more volatile” although there had been a period of increased stability, according to a 2012 study*. A recent report of low and moderate-income families from U.S. Financial Diaries shows “a clear upward trend in income volatility,” with nearly all 235 households studied reporting at least a 25 percent drop in income in one year due to reduced work hours, health problems, and household size shifts. “Low pay is also unsteady as well,” said Jonathan Morduch, head of the diaries’ project. “This is hidden inequality that often gets lost.” A study of 2013 data by the Federal Reserve reports that more than 30 percent of Americans reported instability in their income; 42 percent of that group reported irregular work schedules, while an additional 27 percent reported times of joblessness or seasonal work. Department of Labor statistics show that nearly seven million part-time workers would rather have full-time work, but can’t find it; these numbers are down from their peak, but involuntary part-timers still comprise 4.5 percent of the work force. Before the recession, they made up 2.7 percent of workers.
*by Daniel Sichel, an economist at Wellesley, Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, and Karen Dynan, head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Economic Policy.
Poverty Grows as More City Neighborhoods Segregate by Income
(Vox.com, December 9, 2014)
A new study from the Portland, Oregon-based City Observatory reports that in 2010 there were three times as many high-poverty census tracts in the U.S. than in 1970, and the number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods, with poverty rates of 30 percent or more, doubled since 1970. While neighborhood gentrification is thought a threat to urban areas, a bigger threat is the fact that poor neighborhoods are stuck in poverty and new neighborhoods are falling into poverty. Neighborhood segregation by income grew between 1970 and 2000 according to the Pew Economic Mobility Project, and the number of Americans living in large metro areas in middle class neighborhoods has also fallen. In more segregated cities, Pew notes that “parents also can transmit advantage by selecting a home in a wealthier community, where the schools are likely to be of higher quality and where there are probably greater economic opportunities.” Low-income families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with lower-quality schools, increased crime and violence, and scarce economic opportunities.Hunger, Economy and Poverty