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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 #35, October 29, 2014

  1. National Survey Finds Bipartisan Majority Look to Government to Lead Much-Needed Fight Against Hunger
  2. Tens of Thousands in Indiana will Lose SNAP Benefits
  3. Maine’s Food Pantries Don’t Treat Causes of Hunger and Need
  4. High Rhode Island Housing Costs Leave Many with Little Money for Food
  5. Two New Jersey Cities Receive Grants to Create Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs
  6. Studies Locate Food Deserts, Barriers to Healthy Food in Wichita, Kansas
  7. Report Shows Income Increasingly Divided by Age in Canada
  8. Ebola Threatens Food Access in Sierra Leone
  9. In New York, Number of College/University Food Pantries Grows
  10. Student Loan, Mortgage Debt Loads Increasing
  11. Southern States Survey Indicates Preference for Medicaid Over Private Insurance
  12. Only Five States Show Pre-Recession Unemployment Rates
  13. Latino Poverty in Philadelphia is Twice the National Rate

1. National Survey Finds Bipartisan Majority Look to Government to Lead Much-Needed Fight Against Hunger
(FRAC, October 28, 2014)

A new survey finds that Americans believe that hunger is a serious problem in the U.S. and that government, more than individuals or communities, must play a key role in helping solve it. The survey, commissioned by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Tyson Foods, Inc. (NYSE: TSN), found that 45 percent of Americans say that hunger in the U.S. is a “serious problem.”  Just 15 percent do not believe hunger is a problem at all in the United States today. “The vast majority of Americans believe that hunger is a major problem for the country, and they are looking to government to lead and develop solutions,” said Jim Weill, FRAC President. “For Congress, the answer is clear. Americans want to see investments in food assistance programs that help struggling families get the food they need.”


2. Tens of Thousands in Indiana will Lose SNAP Benefits
(Indianapolis Star, October 20, 2014)

Indiana will reinstate a requirement next spring that able-bodied adults without children (ABAWD) who aren’t working or in job training will only be eligible for three months of SNAP benefits during a three-year period. States lacking sufficient jobs can ask for waivers from the federal government, and while Indiana is eligible for a waiver, the state will reinstate the ABAWD time limit. Indiana lacks job training programs to help those residents losing their benefits, said State Rep. Gail Riecken (D-Evansville). Neighboring states - Michigan, Kentucky and Illinois - will continue to waive the time limit, while Ohio reinstated the time limit in most of the state last year. Many states qualify for the waiver, and 28 are taking it for the entire fiscal year that began on October 1, 2014; 14 states, including Indiana, are taking waivers for only part of this fiscal year, with Indiana reinstating the ABAWD time limit in March, April or May. Tens of thousands of Indiana residents will lose their SNAP benefits once the time limit takes effect. “To us, it’s an extra threat to someone’s food security to impose a time limit when you don’t have to because a waiver is available,” said Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Ohio, those who lost their benefits turned to food pantries, soup kitchens, churches, and even to searching trash bins and begging for food, noted the Ohio Association of Foodbanks. In Ohio’s Franklin County, one out of every three of the more than 2,500 adults losing benefits had poor physical or mental health, said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the food bank association. “It has been a perfect storm for emergency food providers: more people needing more food more frequently in a population that had no resources to feed themselves,” she said.


3. Maine’s Food Pantries Don’t Treat Causes of Hunger and Need
(Portland Press Herald, October 21, 2014)

Thousands of Maine households have come to rely more and more on food pantries in the state, which are a “godsend,” notes this editorial, but this “overreliance on donated food…points to larger problems, related to poverty and economic instability that call for more comprehensive solutions.” The state’s largest food supplier, Good Shepherd, recently reported that they are serving 178,000 people each year, adding up to nearly two million annual visits, with each person visiting a pantry nearly once each month. More than half of these households receive SNAP benefits and still need to visit a food pantry, “meaning that the primary federal program for fighting hunger is just not enough.” More than 25 percent of food pantry users in the state are seniors age 60 and older, whose fixed incomes are not meeting their basic needs. Factors beyond hunger are helping drive this increased need, turning use of food pantries from “emergency” to “chronic,” and in spite of economic growth, Maine residents are struggling with stagnant wages, rising costs, and lack of good jobs in the state. “But as people return to the food pantries month after month, it’s clear that the good work is treating a symptom of a much broader disease,” the editorial concludes.


4. High Rhode Island Housing Costs Leave Many with Little Money for Food
(Providence Journal, October 11, 2014)

According to the HousingWorks RI 2014 Fact Book, about 40 percent of Rhode Islanders (71,500 households) rent their homes, and nearly half pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing, and more than a quarter pay more than 50 percent. Thirty percent is the threshold for housing affordability. These renters end up with less money for food, health care and other essentials, and the state’s economy suffers. Barbara Monahan, 82 and a former senior lecturer at Brown University, has an annual income of $30,000 (Rhode Island’s median income for renters is $30,346), and pays $637 a month for rent, which includes heat. She said she has “astronomical prescription drug and medical bills.” Rhode Island’s growing senior population means more people will end up like Monahan, and the state will need more affordable housing not just for families with children but for the elderly struggling to live on limited incomes.


5. Two New Jersey Cities Receive Grants to Create Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs
(The Jersey Journal, October 2, 2014)

Jersey City and Newark, New Jersey received grants of $50,000 from the National League of Cities (NLC) to help them create afterschool and summer meal programs. Jersey City will also receive technical assistance from NLC to build their programs. The Walmart Foundation is making the grants possible through a partnership with the Food Research and Action Center. Eight additional cities are receiving grants – Chattanooga, TN; El Centro, CA; Fontana, CA; Longmont, CO; New Haven, CT; Pasadena, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; and Portland, ME. “Access to healthy food is important for our youth as they develop both physically and academically,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop in a statement. “We will continue to seek federal funds that help us expand this type of programming.”


6. Studies Locate Food Deserts, Barriers to Healthy Food in Wichita, Kansas
(The Wichita Eagle, October 6, 2014)

Last year, the Health and Wellness Coalition of Wichita, Kansas, identified 44 square miles in the city as food deserts, where low-income residents live more than a mile from a full-service grocery store and have limited access to healthy foods. Recently, the coalition released a study which found specific barriers – cost, quality, transportation, stores, sources and personal –preventing Wichita residents in three ZIP codes* from purchasing fresh fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. Residents in these areas said they spend more time and money purchasing food, and others are limited in the amount of food they can buy because they must ride a bike or walk to a grocery store. “By the time I pay rent and utilities, there isn’t much left over for food,” said one resident interviewed for the recent report, while nearly all said that healthy foods are difficult for them to afford. Forty percent of retailers, the recent study found, are convenience stores, with less than half offering fresh fruit and nine percent stocking fresh vegetables.
*ZIP codes: 67211, 67213, 67214.


7. Report Shows Income Increasingly Divided by Age in Canada
(Canadian Press, September 23, 2014)

Canadians between the age of 50 and 54 have average disposable income levels that are 64 percent higher than 25- to 29- year olds, a 47 percent increase from levels in the mid-1980s, reports the Conference Board of Canada. The report was prompted by “anecdotal evidence” that was suggesting financial inequality by age in the country. “We all know the stories – all our kids getting really good educations but too many of them are still stuck living in parents’ basements, still in low-end service jobs that don’t really take advantage of all the education that we’ve paid for,” said David Stewart-Patterson, vice-president of the Conference Board and one of the study’s authors. As more of the Baby Boom generation retires, economic growth, the tax base, and public service support will have to come from a smaller share of the population. Companies must start to provide better wages to also cover the retiring generation’s increasing health-care costs and other expenses. “Increasingly it’s clear that Canada doesn’t have a problem with a declining middle-class; rather it’s a problem of income and wealth inequality with younger generations,” said Andrew Langille, a labor lawyer and youth employment advocate in Toronto. He noted that young Canadians are struggling with increasing tuition and home ownership costs coupled with stagnant wages and “precarious work.”


8. Ebola Threatens Food Access in Sierra Leone
(World Food Programme, October 10, 2014)

A survey by the World Food Programme’s (WFP) food security analysis unit questioned 850 people across Sierra Leone on their coping strategies regarding hunger, and found that in the districts where Ebola was reported*, more than 80 percent of people said they were eating less expensive food. Reducing the number of daily meals and serving smaller portions was reported as a strategy by 75 percent of those questioned. A 2010 survey found that these eastern regions had more food security, but they now have the worst food security in the country. The survey was conducted using remote technology – from robot calls to text message surveys. An “advantage of mobile data collection is that it is quicker than sending around teams to do face to face surveys around the country,” said Jean-Martin Bauer, a WFP food security analyst. “In a public health emergency, where the situation of communities is changing by the week, this helps WFP have more timely information to shape our response.”
*Kailahun and Kenema districts.


9. In New York, Number of College/University Food Pantries Grows
(Wall Street Journal, October 9, 2014)

Ten new food pantries will open in the City University of New York’s (CUNY) community colleges over the next year with help from the Food Bank for New York City; 15 State University of New York schools that run food pantries and three more universities in that system will work with local groups to open pantries before 2014 ends. “We make light of [student hunger], saying things like ‘I was hungry when I was in college, too!’” said Margarette Purvis, president and chief executive of the Food Bank for New York City. “No one is thinking about hunger that could derail you – that could actually result in you having to remove yourself from school.” These food pantries help students with the high cost-of-living in New York, especially those students who attend college tuition-free. The pantries help students stay in school “instead of getting a second or third job or sometimes, dropping out of school, because they can’t make ends meet,” said Dr. Frank Sanchez, CUNY’s vice chancellor for student affairs. The state’s food banks and SUNY colleges are working to open even more food pantries, as hunger awareness grows, financial aid for education decreases, and more unemployed people are returning to school. For instance, between 250 and 700 people visit Kingsborough Community College’s food pantry each month.


10. Student Loan, Mortgage Debt Loads Increasing
(The Washington Post, October 8, 2014)

In 2014, student loans made up 36.8 percent of the total debt load for consumers ages 20-29, an increase from 12.9 percent in 2005, according to recent report from TransUnion. For the same age group, the share of mortgage debt decreased from 63.2 percent in 2005 to 42.9 percent in 2014, as the number of young people buying homes decreased. Average debt loads for all types of loans, including student loans, increased for consumers 60 and older, because of their strong credit histories. In addition, some people in their 60s co-signed loans to help others, like family members, qualify for loans.


11. Southern States Survey Indicates Preference for Medicaid Over Private Insurance
(The New York Times, October 9, 2014)

Low-income residents of Arkansas, Kentucky and Texas said that Medicaid offered better “quality of healthcare” than private coverage, and through Medicaid they were better able to “afford the health care” they needed. The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, delivered the same results as other surveys, including a 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation survey which reported that 86 percent of Medicaid beneficiaries described their experience with the program as somewhat or very positive. More recently, Kaiser reported that 69 percent of Americans earning less than $40,000 thought Medicaid was important to them or their families. Surveys have also shown that a majority of Americans support the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid. The nation’s largest health insurance program, Medicaid covers about 67 million Americans, yet is a frequent political target, described as bureaucratic and substandard in its restricted doctor’s list, or worse than no insurance coverage at all. The Health Affairs study, conducted by Harvard researchers, suggests that while people understand Medicaid’s drawbacks, the program’s affordability – it requires no premiums and allows only small medical service co-payments - outweighs inconveniences and stigma.


12. Only Five States Show Pre-Recession Unemployment Rates
(The Washington Post, October 10, 2014)

While unemployment has fallen below six percent for the first time in six years, only five states have unemployment levels at pre-recession rates. North Dakota, Michigan, Ohio and Alaska have unemployment rates between .4 and .8 percent lower than those before the recession, and Minnesota’s rate is 1.1 percent lower. Four states – New Mexico, Georgia, Alabama and Maryland - have rates more than three percent above their unemployment figures from December 2007.


13. Latino Poverty in Philadelphia is Twice the National Rate
(Philly.com, October 13, 2014)

The poverty rate for Latinos in Philadelphia has reached 44 percent, twice the national rate of 23.5 percent, and well above Philadelphia’s overall poverty rate of 26.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census 2013 American Community Survey.  Asians have the next-highest poverty rate (33.7 percent), and African-Americans the third highest (29 percent). For Philadelphia’s white population, 18.7 percent live in poverty. All other racial and ethnic groups in Philadelphia have lower poverty rates, and Latino poverty is also higher than other groups in Pennsylvania’s suburbs and South Jersey.


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