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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 #33, October 15, 2014

  1. More than 1,000 Organizations Urge President Obama to Invest in Child Nutrition Programs
  2. Maryland SNAP Challenge Shows Difficulty of Affording Sufficient Food on a SNAP Budget
  3. USDA Offers Grants to Boost SNAP Participant Access to Farmers’ Markets
  4. Nevada Working to Improve SNAP Processing Rate
  5. Hawaii Receives Bonus for Improved SNAP Program Access
  6. SNAP Participation, Hunger Rises in Maryland’s Affluent Montgomery County
  7. Universal Breakfast in the Classroom Helps New Jersey Increase School Breakfast Participation
  8. Community Eligibility Works for Maryland Schools
  9. Struggling Veterans Find Assistance at Veteran-Focused Food Pantry
  10. Photo Exhibit Shows Hunger Through Eyes of Alaska’s Needy
  11. Hispanic Hunger Decreases, But Hispanics Still Disproportionately Experience Hunger

1. More than 1,000 Organizations Urge President Obama to Invest in Child Nutrition Programs
(FRAC, October 14, 2014)

Child nutrition programs must be better funded to combat harmful childhood hunger and improve nutrition. That is the message being delivered today by more than 1,000 national, state, and local organizations in a letter to President Barack Obama, urging him to continue his commitment to the child nutrition programs and efforts to reduce child hunger and obesity by including significant new investments to the programs in his FY2016 budget.


2. Maryland SNAP Challenge Shows Difficulty of Affording Sufficient Food on a SNAP Budget
(MyMCMedia.org, October 8, 2014)

Lindsey Seegers, nutrition educator at Manna Food Center, thought she could come up with a “healthy, hearty, and supremely delicious menu for $33,” as part of her participation in the Maryland SNAP Challenge*. She was shocked, however, to discover that she spent more than one-third of her week’s budget – the amount a SNAP participant would receive for a week’s worth of groceries – on just one meal. “And [it] was only Monday. And I didn’t buy anything for breakfast[,]” she writes in a blog post. Seegers found that her remaining funds didn’t go very far. “I was frustrated at myself as an experienced Shopping Educator. I felt totally defeated on Day One.” She took the SNAP Challenge knowing that living for a week on a SNAP budget could not begin to equal the challenges SNAP recipients face every day, but would help give a greater understanding on why SNAP benefits should be increased. “It didn’t really matter if I went over-budget because I can, literally, AFFORD to make these amateur mistakes. For Manna’s clients, it’s a different matter,” Seeger concludes.
*D.C. Hunger Solutions, Maryland Hunger Solutions, and Virginia Hunger Solutions sponsored a SNAP Challenge October 6-12. Find out more at Storify


3. USDA Offers Grants to Boost SNAP Participant Access to Farmers’ Markets
(NPR Blog, October 4, 2014)

USDA announced the availability of grants, through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Program, which will boost SNAP recipient purchase power at farmers’ markets. For every $10 in SNAP benefits recipients spend on fresh food at the markets, USDA will provide, through the grants, a $10 subsidy. “Helping families purchase more fresh produce is clearly good for families’ health, helps contribute to lower health costs for the country, and increases local food sales for family farmers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, in a statement. The farmers’ market grant program “will not only empower low-income Americans to provide their families with more healthy fruits and vegetables, [it] will also help strengthen local economies by investing in local food systems[,]” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) in a statement. Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, which helped create the program as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. According to USDA, sales of locally produced food, which have increased over the last few years, have also led to the creation of new jobs.


4. Nevada Working to Improve SNAP Processing Rate
(Las Vegas Sun, September 25, 2014)

Nevada’s “sustained poor timeliness rate has created hardships for thousands of low-income households across the state and must be addressed,” stated a letter from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, critical of the state’s SNAP application processing. SNAP application processing timeliness dropped below 89 percent over the last four years, below the federal government’s acceptable 95 percent rate. The USDA letter also said that unless Nevada submits a correction plan within a 30-day timeframe, the state could lose some administrative funding. “We are confident that we will be in compliance in the required timeframe,” said Mary Woods of the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The number of Nevada residents receiving SNAP skyrocketed from 175,000 in 2009 to more than 390,000 since then. SNAP caseload growth, along with growth in Medicaid, presented huge challenges to the state’s Division of Welfare and Supportive Services (DWSS) field service offices. “Today, there are less than 750 pending applications over 30 days and (DWSS) is moving quickly to resolve each and every case,” noted a DHHS statement.


5. Hawaii Receives Bonus for Improved SNAP Program Access
(West Hawaii Today, October 1, 2014)

For the second consecutive year, and the third time overall, the Hawaii Department of Human Services (DHS) is receiving a SNAP bonus for improving access to the program. Hawaii’s Program Access Index (or PAI, a customer service measure showing the ratio of SNAP participants to the number of residents living below 125 percent of the federal poverty level) reached 96.15 in fiscal year 2013, a 7.71 percentage point improvement over the 2012 PAI. “This award is the result of continued great work by the DHS Benefits, Employment and Support Services Division staff,” said DHS Director Patricia McManaman. In Hawaii, SNAP participation averages an estimated 99,348 households (195,448 individuals) each month.


6. SNAP Participation, Hunger Rises in Maryland’s Affluent Montgomery County
(Bethesda Magazine, September 24, 2014)

According to Maryland Hunger Solutions, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits in Maryland’s Montgomery County increased 151 percent from July 2008 to July 2013, when more than 69,700 people received assistance. The number of children eligible for free or reduced-price school meals has also increased, notes the county’s public school system. In June 2014, 35.6 percent of students qualified, up from 30 percent in 2010 and 22 percent in 2002. The stigma attached to free meals and assistance means that only 80 percent of the county’s 55,000 eligible students actually take part in the free and reduced-price meal program. The county has always been an expensive place to live, and the housing crash and recession increased the number of families struggling financially. “What we saw during the recession is a lot of two-parent households who had been making it until one person lost their job,” said Uma Ahluwalia, director of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services. “All of a sudden, the numbers don’t work, and they end up in our offices for food assistance.” And after SNAP cuts earlier this year, getting help from just one organization was not enough to get by, said Ahluwalia.


7. Universal Breakfast in the Classroom Helps New Jersey Increase School Breakfast Participation
(NJSpotlight, October 8, 2014; Courier-Post, October 7, 2014)

According to the recently-released NJ Food for Thought School Breakfast Report, nearly 211,000 students participated in school breakfast during April or May of 2014, up from 184,000 in spring 2013 and 136,000 in October 2010. The increase is mainly due to school districts implementing “breakfast after the bell,” moving the meal out of the cafeteria before school starts and making it part of the start of classes. “It’s a very simple solution…It brings more federal dollars into the school districts to feed children who may be hungry,” said Nancy Parello of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which released the report. Breakfast participation climbed since 2012 when school administrators were told they could count breakfast in the classroom as instructional time. In spite of the increase there remain 300,000 children who are eligible but missing out on school breakfast. “And the need is growing,” said Cecilia Zalkind, Advocates’ executive director. “New Census data show a 22 percent increase in the number of children living in poor families since 2009. [That] means more children are likely arriving in the classroom hungry.” The increase will bring New Jersey school districts $21 million more in federal reimbursements this year; if the 50 districts the report flagged as having low participation served breakfast to all eligible students, the districts would receive an additional $16 million in federal funds.


8. Community Eligibility Works for Maryland Schools
(Public News Service, October 7, 2014)

All students in Maryland’s Somerset County, and at a number of schools in Washington County, can now receive free school breakfast and lunch through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), and the Somerset County Superintendent of Schools is finding CEP is working better than he had thought it would. More students in the county’s high schools are eating school meals at no charge, now that CEP has helped reduce the stigma attached to receiving free meals. “Being the poorest district in the state, we knew there was not only a need for our school children but also we knew this program would have an impact on our community by saving money for parents,” said Dr. John Gaddis, Somerset’s superintendent. Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, said he is encouraged by the news that CEP is working for schools in Somerset and Washington Counties, and noted that school administrators are appreciating the provision’s help in reducing the need to collect school meal applications. “We’re hopeful it’s going to be taken up by other places throughout the state over the course of the next year or so.”


9. Struggling Veterans Find Assistance at Veteran-Focused Food Pantry
(KVIA, September 11, 2014)

A food pantry in El Paso, Texas geared exclusively for veterans and their families has seen increased need over the past year. When it opened in April 2013, the pantry served 40 veterans and their families. In August 2014 the number of people picking up food increased to 140. Navy veteran Jamie Lee, 51, relies on the pantry to help feed his family even though he receives SNAP benefits. Lee said his family can only afford fresh produce by using their SNAP benefits, can only afford meat for half the month, and must rely on beans, rice, pasta and peanut butter.  Lee knows that his family’s nutrition is poor; he said he gets angry and frustrated at not being able to provide for his family on his own. Over the past year, one in four El Paso residents relied on a food pantry over the last year, according to El Pasoans Fighting Hunger.


10. Photo Exhibit Shows Hunger Through Eyes of Alaska’s Needy
(Anchorage Press, October 2, 2014)

The Hunger Through My Eyes project gave cameras to food assistance clients in Anchorage, Alaska to document their experiences with hunger and food insecurity. A joint project between the Alaska Food Coalition and the Food Bank of Alaska, Hunger Through My Eyes aims to challenge stereotypes about hunger, as well as help project participants “find their voice and to advocate for themselves and for the programs they rely on,” said Mary Sullivan, director of advocacy and agency relations at the Alaska food bank. The project was inspired by similar projects such as Witnesses to Hunger and Hunger Through My Lens. Participants in the Alaska project were asked to think about and capture how it feels to lack enough food to feed their children, and communicate to other people what it feels like to be hungry. The project recently held a photo exhibit of 48 photographs from the eight project photographers. A number of images conveyed the difficulty low-income people experience in getting fresh produce.


11. Hispanic Hunger Decreases, But Hispanics Still Disproportionately Experience Hunger
(Bread for the World, October 9, 2014)

Census Bureau data show that the rates of hunger and poverty decreased for Hispanic households last year, but Hispanics continue to be disproportionately affected by hunger. Nationally, 14.3 percent of households experience food insecurity, while 23.7 percent of Hispanic households struggle with food insecurity. In addition, 24.8 percent of Hispanics live in poverty, compared to the national average of 14.5 percent. “It is really moving to see families finally start to make their way out of the hole the recession has put us in, but it weighs heavily on my heart that in the Hispanic community, 4 million children are not sure if they will be going to bed hungry even though their parents work two or sometimes three jobs,” said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World.

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