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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 #30, September 25, 2014
- Poverty Rate Dips Slightly, High Number of Americans Still Struggling Financially; Figures Point to Importance of SNAP Program
- Multiple Barriers Keep Eligible Immigrants from Accessing SNAP
- Republic State Senator Joins Jewish Leaders in SNAP Challenge
- Alaska Experiencing SNAP Application Backlog
- Des Moines Public Schools Document School Breakfast Access Improvements
- Community Eligibility Can Help Improve Nutrition, Academic Achievement for Maine Children
- Fraction of California Children Eligible for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals are Participating
- U.S. Hunger Problem Ranks Country High Among Rich Nations
- Colorado Makes Strides in Anti-Hunger Programming, Yet Problems Still Exist
- U.S. Rates High in Percentage of Low-Pay Workers
- Callers to New DSS Center in Connecticut Experience Long Wait Times
1. Poverty Rate Dips Slightly, High Number of Americans Still Struggling Financially; Figures Point to Importance of SNAP Program
(The Hill, September 16, 2014; FRAC, September 16, 2014)
The Census Bureau reports that the U.S. poverty rate in 2013 was 14.5 percent, a slight decrease from 15 percent in 2012. However, after the financial crisis and recession, many Americans continue to struggle financially, and while the poverty rate fell, the number of Americans living in poverty – 45.3 million people – stayed the same, and the median household wage increased only $180 to $51,939. Household incomes are about eight percent lower than before the recession began in 2007. “[T]hese numbers barely reflect last year’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (SNAP), when all families saw a drop in benefits beginning in November 2013,” notes FRAC. “Next year’s data will likely show the impact of that struggle in 2014.” FRAC also notes that had SNAP benefits been included as income, more than 3.7 million people would be lifted out of poverty in 2013. “The data show us that SNAP is working…Congress should focus on ways to make it work even better for families by strengthening, not cutting or limiting this program.”
2. Multiple Barriers Keep Eligible Immigrants from Accessing SNAP
(Seattle Times, September 11, 2014)
About 70 to 75 percent of clients at Northwest Harvest’s Cherry Street Food Bank in Seattle, Washington are “international people,” said Anthony Brown, food bank manager. When reporter Sarah Stuteville visited the food bank, she noticed people were speaking many languages, and most of the clients she approached did not speak English. While undocumented people rely on the food bank because they are ineligible for SNAP, according to Jesse Swingle, the food bank’s communications manager, lack of education about the program keeps many eligible immigrants from applying. “We’ve heard stories from a lot of people that they think they’re going to have to pay back any government assistance they might get,” said Swingle, noting a 2011 study showing significantly lower SNAP participation among immigrant families. “Sometimes it’s a sense that the country will rise up against you,” with many immigrants believing they’ll be resented for taking assistance. Food banks have seen increased need since the cuts to SNAP benefits in the past year, said Swingle.
3. Republic State Senator Joins Jewish Leaders in SNAP Challenge
(Daily Record, September 8, 2014)
New Jersey State Senator Tom Kean (R-Westfield) recently joined Jewish community leaders in the SNAP Challenge, pledging to live on $4.20 a day in groceries for one week. “I am hopeful that my participation will bring, in some small measure, some greater awareness to the problem of hunger and will also generate a renewed commitment from community leaders to legislative leaders to work together and find solutions,” said Kean at a press conference at the Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey announcing the Challenge. He also noted that in shopping for the Challenge, he found it difficult to afford healthy food, which he realized is too expensive for people on tight budgets and often forces them into cheaper and less healthy food choices. New Jersey State Senator Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), also a participant, spoke out against cuts to SNAP. “This is not just a Jewish issue, but a community-wide interfaith issue,” said Gordon Haas of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metrowest New Jersey. The Challenge is the first event in a year-long “end Hunger Campaign” intended to raise awareness of hunger in New Jersey.
4. Alaska Experiencing SNAP Application Backlog
(KTUU, September 8, 2014)
SNAP application processing slowed in Alaska as the state Department of Health and Social Services works through a 60-day backlog. “We have received an increase in applications due to the Affordable Care Act, and we are launching a new computer system to replace our 28-year-old system and are in a period of transition,” said Leslie Houston, director of the Division of Public Assistance. Food pantries in the state are seeing increased need and are struggling to keep food on their shelves because of the backlog. “We have people telling us that their unemployment benefits got cut, the extensions, and food stamps got cut[,]” said Stacy Stone, operations director for New Hope for the Last Frontier food pantry. “People are finding that they’re working two jobs and still can’t make ends meet.
5. Des Moines Public Schools Document School Breakfast Access Improvements
(USDA Blog, September 11, 2014)
Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) in Iowa implemented breakfast in the classroom during the 2013-14 school year and saw a 33 percent increase in school breakfast participation in the 12 elementary and three middle schools taking part, writes Sandy Huisman, MS, RD, LD, director of food and nutrition management for the district. DMPS also improved school meal nutrition and access by including more fresh fruits and vegetables, and participating in Pick-a-better-snack programming which provides classroom-based nutrition and physical activity education. The HealthierUS School Challenge Award has gone to 11 DMPS schools, and one additional school is under review for the recognition, which promotes schools for their work in creating healthier school environments through nutrition education, physical activities and wellness policies. Huisman writes that she has been a member of School Food FOCUS, a national collaborative which supports more healthful regionally sources and sustainably produced schools meals, since 2011.
6. Community Eligibility Can Help Improve Nutrition, Academic Achievement for Maine Children
(Press Herald, September 15, 2014)
“[I]t’s good news that six Maine districts or schools are taking part in a new national initiative that provides free meals to all students,” notes this editorial. Through the Community Eligibility Provision, schools with at least 40 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals can offer free school meals to all students, regardless of family income and without collecting meal applications. Lunch participation increased 13 percent and breakfast participation increased 25 percent in the provision’s first pilot states, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and FRAC. In Maine’s Skowhegan-based School Administrative District 54, school meal participation increased by 20 percent through the Community Eligibility Provision, and now more than 80 percent of the district’s 2,600 students receive free school meals, said Superintendent Brent Colbry. The provision helps reduce the stigma attached to school meals, and school meals are linked to lower absenteeism rates and tardiness, improved behavior and higher test scores. In addition, “[b]ecause participating districts don’t have to hand out and collect applications and process lunch payments, they save on administrative costs and have more funds to improve school menus,” states the editorial.
7. Fraction of California Children Eligible for Free and Reduced-Price School Meals are Participating
(Yubanet.com, September 9, 2014)
A California Food Policy Advocates report shows that while nearly three out of five California students are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals, only a fraction are participating in the meal programs. In Nevada County, subsidized school lunch could go to an additional 1,373 low-income students, and free or reduced-price school breakfast could help an additional 2,651 (83 percent) of low-income students. The county’s public schools would receive $383,000 in additional federal reimbursements just by serving school breakfast to the same number of students who receive school lunch. Ways to improve participation include: adopt policies and practices supporting “after-the-bell” breakfast; improve the direct certification process; and expand use of Provision 2 and the Community Eligibility Provision.
8. U.S. Hunger Problem Ranks Country High Among Rich Nations
(Slate, September 4, 2014)
“Pew and Gallup’s findings suggest that the U.S. could have one of the worst hunger problems in the developed world – and among rich countries, we might have the worst of all,” notes this Slate blog post. Researchers at Pew and Gallup polled citizens in the developed world, asking them whether they could afford food for their families. Americans were much more likely to answer “no” to the question – 21 percent of U.S. responders reported food trouble in 2011 and 2012 – compared to eight percent of those polled in Britain, six percent of Swedes, and five percent of Germans. Pew’s polling showed 24 percent of Americans report having trouble affording food, followed by France (20 percent). Greece, at 24 percent, equaled America’s ranking, and South Korea, at 26 percent, fared worse.
9. Colorado Makes Strides in Anti-Hunger Programming, Yet Problems Still Exist
(Public News Service, September 8, 2014)
Since Hunger Free Colorado was formed in 2009, the state passed laws supporting breakfast in the classroom in some schools, and state tax credits for farmers donating produce to food banks, notes Kathy Underhill, the organization’s executive director. However, USDA reports that 14 percent of residents struggle to afford sufficient healthy food. It’s a stark contrast in an otherwise prosperous state, said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center. Colorado recently convened the fourth annual Hunger Free Colorado Summit, which brought together 200 community leaders and advocates, some with experience as recipients of anti-hunger services, to discuss ways of combating the state’s hunger problem. Underhill said an important part of the summit is to “bust the stigmas about poverty” which keep people silent or unaware there’s a problem.
10. U.S. Rates High in Percentage of Low-Pay Workers
(Economic Policy Institute, September 4, 2014)
Low-wage worker wages decreased by five percent from 1979 to 2013, although productivity increased 64.9 percent, writes Elise Gould in her paper Why America’s Workers Need Faster Wage Growth – And What We Can Do About It. By international standards, low-wage workers in the U.S. fare poorly, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Employment Outlook report. In the U.S., 25.3 percent of workers earned less than two-thirds of the median wage (“low-pay”). Among 26 countries surveyed, the U.S. had the highest incidence of low-pay work. In 2012, according to the OECD report, U.S. low-wage workers earned 46.7 percent of a median worker’s pay, which is well below the OECD average in 2012 of 59.9 percent. A 28 percent wage increase would bring the U.S. up to OECD’s average.
11. Callers to New DSS Center in Connecticut Experience Long Wait Times
(WTNH, September 16, 2014)
Since the Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) installed a new system at the agency’s three call-in centers more than a year ago, callers have complained about long wait times. In addition, DSS admitted that call wait times last month averaged an hour and 15 minutes, and three-quarters of callers hang up before their calls get answered. “They come to us because they can’t get through to DSS, if there’s a question, if they haven’t gotten their application,” said Lucy Nolan of End Hunger CT. Nolan said that 50 percent of their calls are from people having trouble reaching someone at DSS. “The wait times and abandonment rates are the last two data points that we’re trying to give some attention to and resolve,” said DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby. End Hunger CT offers assistance through their phone line, 1-866-974-SNAP (7627).