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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 #23, July 23, 2014

  1. DC’s Summer Meals Program Fights Childhood Hunger and Obesity, Helps Deter Crime
  2. USDA Extends Community Eligibility Deadline for Schools
  3. California Improves Summer Meal Participation
  4. NYC’s Free Summer Meals Help Struggling Families
  5. More than 300 Florida Schools Opting for Community Eligibility
  6. Officials Link Child Obesity Rate Drop in NYC to Healthy Initiatives
  7. Commuter Busway Expected to Increase Access to Grocery Stores in Connecticut
  8. Poverty Simulation Helps Capitol Hill Lawmakers Understand Low-Income Family Struggles
  9. Number of Massachusetts Farmers’ Markets Increases, but Not Number of Customers

April 2014 SNAP Caseloads Down Over the Year - SNAP Still Matters for Millions of People Across US
An over-the-month increase of 149,751 in the national SNAP participation level to 46,247,450 persons in April 2014 was driven by a one-month jump of 216,544 persons in North Carolina; but even with that development, national SNAP participation was still 1,301,127 persons lower in April 2014 than in April 2013. The April 2014 national SNAP participation level is lower than all but two months dating back to October 2011.


1. DC’s Summer Meals Program Fights Childhood Hunger and Obesity, Helps Deter Crime
(PBS NewsHour, July 16, 2014)

Low-income families in DC rely on free school meals to help their children avoid hunger during the school year. “So you can imagine, when schools close for the summer and we have eight or so weeks where there are no school meals, that it’s a crucial time to intervene to make sure kids can get the nutrition they need to grow,” said Alexandra Ashbrook, director of D.C. Hunger Solutions. During the summer, these children are served by the Summer Food Service Program, and the DC Department of Parks and Recreation manages more than 200 feeding sites, while churches, libraries, schools and local nonprofits also provide free meals through the program. Participation in the summer program falls short of participation in the school meal programs, and while DC ranks highest in participation, the city still serves only 58 children summer meals for every 100 receiving free or reduced-price school lunches. Research shows children gain weight three times faster during the summer. “That’s why we see both hunger and obesity spiking at the same time,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center. “Hunger because the kids aren’t getting school meals, obesity because the kids aren’t getting the healthier food that they get from those meals.” DC has increased the number of sites serving meals over the past few years, and that’s been linked to lowered crime in the city. Police officers say they’re dealing with less theft of cell phones and other small valuables when school gets out. “People don’t realize that they’re actually pawning the cell phones and getting money,” said Officer Michelle Rose. “And when the kids are arrested and debriefed, they’ll say ‘I was hungry, I wanted to get something to eat.’ So these programs actually help cut down on crime because they don’t have to opt to taking things from other people.”


2. USDA Extends Community Eligibility Deadline for Schools
(Huffington Post, July 15, 2014)

Schools must determine whether or not to implement the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a federal program designed to help eliminate the need for schools to administer high volumes of free and reduced-price school meal applications while ensuring children in low-income communities have access to the food they need to succeed in school. USDA recently extended the deadline for schools to enroll in CEP to August 31 for the 2014-15 school year. “State educational agencies and local school districts often use data collected through the National School Lunch Program to carry out certain eligibility requirements for other programs, including Title I for schools serving students from low-income families,” write USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan in this op-ed. “The Department of Education recently released guidance highlighting the range of options that schools have for implementing these requirements  while also participating in CEP – and many districts already have successfully implemented Title I requirements using data that incorporate Community Eligibility.” Vilsack and Duncan urge those schools and districts that haven’t signed on to CEP “to review ED Guidance on Community Eligibility and Title I and USDA’s Resources on Community Eligibility, and carefully consider the positive impact that CEP can have for your students, schools and communities.” CEP in the country’s 4,000 pilot schools is helping increase school meal participation and revenue, reduce stigma and school administrative functions, and increase school attendance which leads to improved academic achievement.


3. California Improves Summer Meal Participation
(Public News Service, July 15, 2014)

According to FRAC’s summer food report, California’s 12 percent increase in Summer Food Service Program participation raised its ranking among states from 17 to 15 in 2013. The improvement is the state’s first major participation increase in 10 years. Still, “[o]f 21 million kids in California and across the nation that get the free or reduced-price lunches during the school year, only three million of those kids are participating in a summer meal program,” said Patrice Chamberlain, director of the California Summer Meal Coalition. During the economic downturn, schools were forced to cancel summer school, which contributed to lower participation numbers, notes FRAC’s Signe Anderson. In cancelling summer school, “summer meals disappeared because meal programs are often set up in conjunction with summer school programs.” Greater school involvement in the summer would help increase participation, she said, as would more involvement by local municipalities, city parks and recreation departments, local YMCA chapters and Boys and Girls Clubs.


4. NYC’s Free Summer Meals Help Struggling Families
(New York Daily News, July 5, 2014)

The 1,207 free summer meal sites in New York City are providing free breakfast and lunch to the city’s children until August 29, and struggling parents are grateful for the assistance. “It helps me so much financially,” said Miriam Santiago, who brought her two children to the Coalition School for Social Change meal site in East Harlem. “I’m on a budget and without this for the kids I would be struggling.” Emilio Perez brought his three nieces and nephew to the Coalition School, and said that the program saves him $500 a month over the summer. Summer meals sites include public schools, New York City Housing Authority buildings, libraries, and four food trucks. To find sites near them, families can text 877877, or visit schoolfoodnyc.org. Families have also been made aware of the program through robocalls.


5. More than 300 Florida Schools Opting for Community Eligibility
(Orlando Sentinel, July 6, 2014)

While Florida’s Orange and Osceola Counties began offering free breakfast and lunch to all students last year through the community eligibility provision, 19 additional school districts – 330 schools statewide – are joining them this year. The federal government program allows schools with high concentrations of students in need to offer all students free school meals, eliminating the application process as well as the stigma attached to receiving free meals. In the first three states that offered the pilot program (Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan), lunch participation increased 13 percent, and breakfast participation increased 25 percent between 2011 and 2013, according to the Food Research and Action Center. “The schools that this is being offered have such an overwhelming number of high-poverty students who qualify,” said Bill Sublette, Orange County's school board chairman. “Even the students who do not qualify tend to be lower-income children as it is. It’s not as if we have wealthy families taking advantage of this.” Rae Hollenbeck, director of school nutrition services in Osceola County, said the program is a win-win for them, helping prepare students to learn, and saving money and time previously spent on processing meal applications.


6. Officials Link Child Obesity Rate Drop in NYC to Healthy Initiatives
(New York Daily News, July 10, 2014)

Officials in New York City are linking reduced child obesity in the city to healthier school meals, increased physical education, and school gardens. According to the city Health Department, severe obesity among the city’s kindergarten to 8th grade students dropped from 6.3 percent in the 2006-07 school year to 5.7 percent in the 2010-11 school year. The report is promising, but there is still work to be done, noted Health Commissioner Mary Bassett. “We will continue to look for new ways to reduce and prevent childhood obesity,” she said. Carmen Farina, schools chancellor, said the numbers were encouraging, “but we must also be mindful of the 21 percent obesity rate among K-8 students.”


7. Commuter Busway Expected to Increase Access to Grocery Stores in Connecticut
(CT Mirror, July 2, 2014)

CTFastrak, a commuter busway in Connecticut which will run on a dedicated bus corridor in 2015 is expected to help state residents living in food deserts have better access to healthy food sold in large grocery stores. The busway is a portion of the multi-faceted solution to eliminating hunger in the state, notes Martha Page, executive director of Hartford Food Systems, in this op-ed. Some urban Connecticut families, lacking transportation, find it difficult to access grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables, and 14 percent of households in the state, according to FRAC, did not have enough money in the first six months of 2012 to buy the food they need. In Hartford, more than 40 percent of families with children live in poverty, and one in four residents – 30,000 people – lack access to fresh food because of distance. A number of stops on the new bus system will be adjacent to large supermarkets, and others are within walking distance of other food providers.


8. Poverty Simulation Helps Capitol Hill Lawmakers Understand Low-Income Family Struggles
(The Washington Post, July 15, 2014)

U.S. Rep. Daniel Kildee (D-MI) recently joined a bipartisan group of members of Congress and about 60 staffers and interns in a poverty simulation on Capitol Hill. The event, designed to provide insight to the struggles of the poor, was organized by Entergy (an energy company) and Catholic Charities. Ann Pride, Entergy’s director of government relations, said she hoped the simulation will instill sympathy in lawmakers debating poverty issues during the War on Poverty’s 50th anniversary. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), in remarks before the simulation started, said it was important to combat the idea that poor people are lazy, and Rep. Christopher P. Gibson (R-NY) urged those on both sides of the aisle to work on addressing poverty together. Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Richard Hudson (R-NC) emphasized the need to understand the nuances of families in poverty. As he departed the event, Rep. Kildee said he was thankful for the opportunity to participate, and noted the difficulty of balancing needs with few resources.  “Poor people are the hardest-working people in America,” he said.


9. Number of Massachusetts Farmers’ Markets Increases, but Not Number of Customers
(New England Public Radio, July 16, 2014)

While the number of farmers’ markets in Massachusetts has grown from 10 markets forty years ago to hundreds today, some farmers say that the number of customers has not matched the increase. “We haven’t seen the same percentage growth in the number of people shopping at farmers’ markets,” said Jeff Cole, executive director of the nonprofit Mass. Farmers Markets. There were 100 markets in the state a decade ago, and more than 250 now, he said. A number of markets use initiatives like doubling the value of purchases made by SNAP recipients to bring in more customers.

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