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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 #17, November 17, 2014

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

  • SNAP Processing Delays Could Cost New Jersey Millions
  • SNAP Cuts Bring More Needy to Struggling Michigan Food Banks
  • Despite Special Immigration Status, Marshall Islanders in U.S. Unable to Access Government Food Assistance
  • Wisconsin Governor Pushing for SNAP Recipient Drug Tests
  • SNAP Among Programs Helping Massachusetts Residents Avoid Poverty

Breakfast in the Classroom

  • Editorial: NYC Mayor Should Require Breakfast in the Classroom

Child Poverty

  • Global Child Poverty Skyrockets Since 2008, Falls in Canada

Child Nutrition and Income

  • Research Links Infant Meal Quality to Income, Education

Homelessness

  • Fort Lauderdale Police Charge 90-Year-Old Activist for Breaking New Law Restricting Feeding Homeless in Public
  • NYC Homeless Rate Increases While U.S. Rate Decreases
  • Homeless Rate Increases Fastest in Massachusetts

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP Processing Delays Could Cost New Jersey Millions
(NJ.com, November 2, 2014)
Although New Jersey Governor Chris Christie hates “the persistent enemy-of-the-poor narrative” label that’s stuck with him, “you have to wonder just how much he wants to change” it, notes this editorial, especially in light of his actions on the SNAP Program. New Jersey is next-to-last among states in SNAP application processing, and USDA is threatening to keep $132 million in federal funds from the state because of the delays. In addition, Gov. Christie vetoed increasing minimum heating assistance payments to $20 a month for needy households, although the state senate backed the measure by a 36-1 vote. The governor’s move will cost the state an additional $170 million in SNAP benefits, and slash monthly benefits to participants by $90. Ten states across the country voted to increase the minimum “heat and eat” payments to keep needy residents receiving SNAP, using federal or state energy funds. According to the Food Research and Action Center, there are 347,208 food insecure households in New Jersey, and according to Adele LaTourette of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, “[e]mergency food providers are unable to keep up with demand, and that’s just a fact.” The Governor has “vetoed the minimum wage, he allowed the earned income tax credit to expire, he grabbed money for affordable housing to plug his budget – and, of course, he blamed it all on Democrats who won’t give him his tax cuts,” the editorial concludes.

SNAP Cuts Bring More Needy to Struggling Michigan Food Banks
(Mlive.com, November 9, 2014)
As Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes food bank is serving record numbers of needy in Michigan, SNAP cuts and the approaching holidays are stretching their resources. “The recession was nothing compared to this year,” said Jennifer Johnson, director of Kalamazoo Loaves & Fishes. “We saw nearly 15,000 people in July. That’s a lot. That’s stretching our program.” According to Dan Salerno, development director with the Food Bank in South Central Michigan, 7,500 Kalamazoo residents lost their SNAP benefits between October 2011 and August 2014. Those still receiving benefits saw their payments reduced in November 2013 by an average of $36 a month and households are now facing an average of $75 in cuts this month. “Especially when we’re talking about vulnerable households already making difficult choices, those choices are going to become a lot more difficult,” said Salerno. “SNAP benefits last about two weeks or less. It’s not surprising that benefits for that program will be exhausted way before the end of the month.” Underemployed workers who are struggling with part-time wages are now finding it even harder to get by as “a hard winter, higher food prices and the cuts in SNAP” are “catching up with people,” said Johnson.

Despite Special Immigration Status, Marshall Islanders in U.S. Unable to Access Government Food Assistance
(Seattle Globalist, October 31, 2014)
More than 22,000 Marshall Islanders are now living in the U.S. according to the 2010 census, a three-fold increase from 2000. They enjoy special immigration status, put in place by a 1986 “Compact of Free Association” with the U.S., which allows them to freely travel, live, work and attend schools in the U.S. indefinitely, without visas. However, these Marshall Islanders are not eligible to receive SNAP benefits. Welfare reform in 1996 cut off many immigrants from government benefits, notes Linda Stone, food policy director for the Children’s Alliance. Although the assistance was eventually restored to some immigrants, those under Compacts of Free Association are still unable to receive government benefits. Washington State created, for excluded groups, a state-funded food assistance program, which provided benefits to 15,000. Still, these benefit recipients only receive 75 percent of the food assistance they would receive under the federal SNAP Program. “Providing a different level of assistance to one group because they have a different immigration status isn’t fair and isn’t right,” said Stone. For these immigrants, “[i]t really comes down to do I pay my electrical bill or do I buy food?” said Emijah Smith, who works with the Islanders through the Children’s Alliance. “Do I buy my child’s school supplies or food? Do I go to…the doctor or food? Rent or food?”

Wisconsin Governor Pushing for SNAP Recipient Drug Tests
(Lacrosse Tribune, November 9, 2014)
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin is proposing his state institute sweeping drug-test requirements for SNAP recipients; Walker included drug testing for SNAP and unemployment testing in his re-election campaign platform. “In the states where they did do drug testing, they invested tens of thousands of dollars and found very few people,” said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of Hunger Task Force of Milwaukee. “If they come up with a positive test, is he (Walker) going to help them find treatment?” While 17 states, including Wisconsin, allow convicted drug felons to receive SNAP if they pass a drug test, states are not allowed to add additional SNAP eligibility beyond requirements in federal law, said Alan Shannon of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. In early 2014, Georgia passed a law requiring drug tests for SNAP recipients, but the state attorney general and USDA warned the law was illegal and could cost the state federal SNAP funding; the state decided in July not to enforce the law. A federal judge found Florida’s similar law unconstitutional – it violates the guarantee against unreasonable government searches – and the law has been on hold for three years.

SNAP Among Programs Helping Massachusetts Residents Avoid Poverty
(Daily Free Press, November 13, 2014)
The SNAP Program, along with Social Security and Head Start, helped keep 800,000 Massachusetts residents out of poverty, according to Joe Diamond, executive director of the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP). The organization commissioned a recently-released report from the Massachusetts Budget Policy Center, which found that one in four Massachusetts residents lives at or near the poverty level – under 200 percent of the $18,800 poverty line. The report states that in Massachusetts, one of the nation’s wealthiest states, there has been no significant progress in eliminating poverty, and for low and middle-income families, wages have remained stagnant although productivity has grown since the 1960s. However, the top one percent of earners experienced economic growth. MASSCAP is planning a task force on poverty to research poverty and develop recommendations to reduce it in the state. Diamond noted that, to successfully reduce poverty, it will take “a broad group of interested parties who can recognize that there is increased interest in addressing inequality.”


Breakfast in the Classroom

Editorial: NYC Mayor Should Require Breakfast in the Classroom
(The New York Times, November 11, 2014)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said during his campaign that requiring schools to serve breakfast in the classroom would improve the health and learning of tens of thousands of the city’s school children. Few eligible children take advantage of school breakfast, said de Blasio, partly because eating breakfast in the cafeteria stigmatizes students as needy. Low participation also costs the city millions in unused federal aid. “There is no good reason for New York to have fallen behind cities like Newark,” which has a model breakfast program, and Los Angeles, notes this editorial. Los Angeles has run a universal breakfast in the classroom program for three years, and the program is now the largest in the country. “Participation in Los Angeles has soared from 23 percent of students to 75 percent, or more than 431,000 children a day.” The challenges in implementing breakfast in the classroom – additional equipment needs, making breakfast part of the school day, classroom cleanup and other logistics – “are manageable problems, well worth overcoming for the goal of fighting hunger and poor nutrition,” the editorial concludes.


Child Poverty

Global Child Poverty Skyrockets Since 2008, Falls in Canada
(The Guardian, October 28, 2014; Toronto Star, October 28, 2014)
Since the start of the global recession in 2008, child poverty increased in 23 developed-world countries, according to a UNICEF report, and the number of children entering poverty during the recession is 2.6 million more than the number lifted out of poverty. The report, “Children in Recession: the Impact of the Economic Crisis on Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries,” notes that the longer children live in poverty, the more difficult it is for them to escape. Greece had the highest child poverty rate at 40.5 percent (up from 23 percent in 2008), while the U.S. rate was 32 percent, slightly lower than Latvia’s and Spain’s rates of 36 percent. At 3.5 percent, Norway has the lowest child poverty rate. Canada’s child poverty rate decreased from 23 to 21 percent, and the report commends the country for raising 180,000 children out of poverty. Government initiatives, notes the report, have helped Canada decrease its child poverty rate. “The impact of the recession on children…will be felt long after the recession itself is declared to be over,” states the report. Low consumer confidence is associated with increased levels of high-frequency spanking, the report found, which is then associated with greater likelihood of child protective services involvement. “The problems have not ended for children and their families, and it may well take years for many of them to return to pre-crisis levels of wellbeing,” the report concludes. “Failure to respond boldly could pose long-term risks.”
Also see: Child poverty rate falls in Canada during recession: UNICEF


Child Nutrition and Income

Research Links Infant Meal Quality to Income, Education
(The Washington Post, November 4, 2014)
Using data from the Infant Feeding Practices study, which tracked the diets of more than 1,200 infants up to age one, researchers at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Studies found diets high in sugar and fat were associated with poorer households, while infant diets that more closely followed feeding guidelines were linked to higher incomes. Foods higher in sugar and fat are relatively inexpensive, which could be a reason why low-income mothers are more likely to feed infants those foods, noted the researchers. “The extent to which lower socioeconomic classes (i.e., low household income, low maternal education) are associated with unhealthy infant dietary patterns is substantial,” said Xiaozhong Wen, the study’s lead author. These diets not only contribute to larger weight increases in infants, they also can negatively affect a child’s eating habits, food preferences, and health in the long term.


Homelessness

Fort Lauderdale Police Charge 90-Year-Old Activist for Breaking New Law Restricting Feeding Homeless in Public
(Fox News, November 4, 2014)
Arnold Abbott, a 90-year-old homeless advocate and founder of Love Thy Neighbor in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, was recently charged (along with two local pastors) for violating a new local ordinance restricting where people can feed the homeless, requiring feeding programs to obtain permits, and requiring programs to provide portable toilets. “I have tried to abide by their regulations, but we just are not able to provide a port-a-potty,” said Abbot. “I believe that is the job of the municipality, anyway. Supporters of the law say that Fort Lauderdale’s homeless commit crimes, cause sanitation problems, and need more than just a food handout. Creating laws making it harder to feed homeless people is not the answer to the city’s homeless problem, noted Mark Sims of St. Mary Magdalene Episcopal Church in Coral Springs, who was one of the two pastors also charged. “It’s not an easy issue, not cut and dried,” he said. “But what is cut and dried is that people deserve to eat when they are hungry. And people of faith are compelled to reach out to people who are in need.”

NYC Homeless Rate Increases While U.S. Rate Decreases
(The New York Times, October 30, 2014)
According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the number of New York City’s homeless increased from 53,187 in 2010 to 64,060 in 2013 and 67,810 in 2014, with 3,000 in the city not living in shelters. More than half (41,633) are families, all living in shelters. Across the country, however, the homeless rate has fallen. The HUD report uses a nationwide “point in time” survey, and was conducted on a single night in January, giving a snapshot of the country’s homeless population over time. New York City’s homeless in nearly every category – individuals, families and chronically homeless – increased. The city’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, took office just days before the HUD survey, which reveals the significant challenge the mayor faces. His campaign for mayor focused on the increase in inequality across the city, and he has spoken a number of times about lowering the city’s high number of homeless.

Homeless Rate Increases Fastest in Massachusetts
(Boston Globe, October 30, 2014)
Data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) shows that homelessness in Massachusetts increased 40 percent since 2007, a rate faster than any other state. During the same period, homelessness decreased by 11 percent across the country. Massachusetts is the only state with a “right to shelter” law, which helps the state have the lowest share – 4 percent – of homeless living on the streets. The law entitles shelter to every family the day they qualify for emergency housing, and most of the state’s homeless live in shelters or transitional housing. Housing costs continue to climb faster than wages, and in Massachusetts – one of the most expensive states - people are staying in shelters longer, according to homeless advocates. Wages have stagnated or decreased for low-income workers, and people without savings can easily falter, said Michael Durkin, president of the United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. According to the HUD report, half of the nation’s 578,424 homeless are in five states – California, New York, Florida, Texas and Massachusetts. An increased effort to house homeless veterans has helped decrease the nation’s homeless rate, notes HUD.

 

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