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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 #31, September 30, 2014
- Michigan Joins Three States in Not Subsidizing Heat and Eat
- New Jersey Senate Approves, and Governor Vetoes, Funds for Restore SNAP Heat and Eat Cuts
- Hire More Workers to Fix New Jersey SNAP Backlog Say Anti-Poverty Leaders
- Illinois SNAP Participation Outpaces Job Growth
- Federal Government Requiring Food Retailers to Pay for SNAP Processing Equipment, and Small Stores May Struggle Financially
- Elected Officials Favoring SNAP Cuts Should Attempt to Live as SNAP Recipients
- Birmingham, Alabama Schools to Offer Free Meals to All Students Through Community Eligibility
- College Student Hunger is Growing Problem Yet Largely Unnoticed
- American Families Aren’t Benefitting from Rising Stock Market and GDP
- Oregon’s Working Poor Families Struggling Financially
1. Michigan Joins Three States in Not Subsidizing Heat and Eat
(Detroit Free Press, September 21, 2014)
Michigan is one of only four states that will not increase the amount of Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds to needy residents so that they can also be eligible for SNAP benefits. This “heat and eat” program used to require that LIHEAP recipients receive just one dollar in benefits in order to be eligible for SNAP. The farm bill signed into law earlier this year raised that minimum to $20, and most “heat and eat” states opted to raise their LIHEAP support to keep sufficient SNAP benefits flowing to these program participants. The Michigan legislature “did nothing to add money to the heating program to help soften the blow,” notes this editorial. “And the Department of Human Services, which could have reallocated existing heating assistance funds, said the state didn’t want to ‘create a new loophole.’” Michigan residents who participate in “heat and eat” will see their SNAP benefits decrease by $76 a month, or about 36 meals for a family of four, according to USDA.
2. New Jersey Senate Approves, and Governor Vetoes, Funds for Restore SNAP Heat and Eat Cuts
(Politicker NJ, September 22, 2014)
The New Jersey Senate approved a resolution directing the governor to use unspent energy funds in order to keep a SNAP cut to “eat and eat” households from occurring. “The poor and the needy are struggling to make ends meet and to feed their families,” said Senator Raymond Lesniak, one of the sponsors of Senate resolution SCR-141. “Failing to take this action will take food off the tables of hungry people, including children. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen in America and it shouldn’t be allowed in New Jersey.” The federal 2014 Farm Bill increases the minimum amount, from one dollar to $20, that households must receive annually in energy assistance funds in order to maintain eligibility for full SNAP benefits. Raising the minimum payment in the state would have also helped the economy, said co-sponsor Senator Joe Vitale. Although the Senate passed the resolution 36-1 and the Assembly approved it 60-13-6, the governor vetoed the measure.
3. Hire More Workers to Fix New Jersey SNAP Backlog Say Anti-Poverty Leaders
(NJ.com, September 22, 2014)
Social service agency and labor leaders recently told the New Jersey Assembly Human Services Committee to hire more workers to handle the backlog of SNAP applications in the state, and improve the currently ineffective SNAP automated application system. The leaders spoke at a hearing which discussed the USDA letter criticizing the state for ranking second-worst in the nation for “chronically poor performance” in approving or rejecting SNAP applications within 30 days. USDA’s letter stated that 25 percent of the state’s applications pass the 30-day deadline. “The need (for food) is unprecedented…no county is exempt,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “We need front-line workers. You can have all the 21st Century stuff, if you don’t have front line workers you won’t have anyone processing applications. We are putting people into a broken system.” SNAP applications increased 106 percent from 2007 to 2012, while the number of employees reviewing SNAP applications increased only 24 percent, said Seth Hahn, legislative and politics director for Communications Workers of America.
4. Illinois SNAP Participation Outpaces Job Growth
(Quincy Journal, September 22, 2014)
Since January 2010, when the recession ended, two people in Illinois enrolled in SNAP for every job created during the recovery, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, 300,000 fewer Illinois residents are working today than in January 2008, while more than 740,000 residents enrolled in SNAP. In 2014 Illinois added 17,000 people to the SNAP Program, and lost nearly 6,000 private-sector jobs. “The fewer jobs there are for people, [t]he more those people will need help from the government,” said Gary Burtless, a senior economics fellow at the Brookings Institute. “Illinois has poor job growth, so it stands to reason that more people are seeking aid.” These are people who would rather not rely on government assistance, “but many have children to feed and mortgages to pay, and if it’s been months with no work, what choice do they have?” said Burtless. More than two million Illinois residents currently receive SNAP benefits.
5. Federal Government Requiring Food Retailers to Pay for SNAP Processing Equipment, and Small Stores May Struggle Financially
(Baltimore Sun, September 16, 2014)
Baltimore, Maryland’s 800 corner stores may find it difficult to afford SNAP processing equipment, officials fear, as the federal government plans to stop funding this equipment on October 25. Larger grocery stores and chain supermarkets should be able to absorb the additional cost, although SNAP recipients may struggle. “When I think of about the number of families in Baltimore that use SNAP benefits, it concerns me that there might be an interruption in their access to food,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. The new requirement is part of the Farm Bill passed by Congress earlier this year, and USDA has warned retailers not to pass the new cost on to customers, or require SNAP purchase minimum amounts. Farmers’ markets and nonprofit organizations are exempt from the change.
6. Elected Officials Favoring SNAP Cuts Should Attempt to Live as SNAP Recipients
(Examiner, September 21, 2014)
“I wonder if congressmen and other elected officials know what it’s like to wonder if you will have enough to eat today or if your kids will be going to bed hungry, let them have to live that way just for a month, even a week, bet they wouldn’t cut benefits to the hungry ever again,” said a single mother of two and SNAP recipient, in this editorial. Currently, SNAP recipients receive an average of $182 a month, down from $200 after cuts. Additional SNAP cuts would reinstate limits to participation for able-bodied, childless adults age 18 to 50 – unless they work more than 20 hours a week or enroll in job training programs, they would only be eligible for three months of SNAP benefits over a three year period. States also could be restricted in their abilities to determine SNAP eligibility based on a person’s eligibility for other assistance. “Why don’t our elected officials walk a day in the shoes of people who live near or below the poverty line,” concludes the editorial. For a week, place a hold on their bank accounts, remove their credit cards, limit their food intake to $45 for the week – “[y]ou can’t eat at any rallies, no luncheons, and no freebies.”
7. Birmingham, Alabama Schools to Offer Free Meals to All Students Through Community Eligibility
(Weld for Birmingham, September 16, 2014)
In Alabama’s Birmingham City Schools, 85-90 percent of students have been eligible for free and reduced-price school lunch over the past few years, and now the Community Eligibility Provision will make it possible for the school system to offer free breakfast and lunch to all 24,427 students. “Moving to this Community Eligibility Provision was a logical next step for the school system,” said Craig Witherspoon, superintendent. He noted that most of the students qualify through direct certification, and students did not have to get school meal applications filled out and submitted. The Food Research and Action Center ranked Alabama fourth among states for food hardship in 2012. “We’re getting breakfast and lunch to every one of our students regardless of the income of the home,” said Randall Woodfin, school board president. “Every child should have nourishment…if there is any expectation that…they will be focused on learning.”
8. College Student Hunger is Growing Problem Yet Largely Unnoticed
(The Diamondback, September 17, 2014)
As the cost of college rises, and students grapple with tuition and cost of living increases, more and more students are experiencing food insecurity, yet the issue is difficult to measure and there is little data on college student hunger. Research at the University of Hawaii at Manoa revealed that 21 percent of their students experienced food insecurity, and similar research at Western Oregon University found that 59 percent of students struggled with hunger. The Food Research and Action Center reports that 16.2 percent of Maryland residents experienced food hardship in 2012, and from 2007 to 2012 SNAP participation grew 118 percent in the state. Spurred by this data, the University of Maryland is opening a food pantry which will distribute food to needy students, faculty and staff. Devon Payne-Sturgis, a public health professor at Maryland, is working on a survey tool based on the Hawaii and Oregon research.
9. American Families Aren’t Benefitting from Rising Stock Market and GDP
(The New York Times, September 16, 2014)
New numbers from the Census Bureau show that 2013 median income was about $4,500 (eight percent) below the median income for 2007 – when household incomes were still below the 1999 peak. Wages for middle-income Americans dropped during the recession and have not recovered. “The rubber-meets-road measure of whether the economy is working for the mass of Americans is median real income and related measures of how much money is making its way into their pockets and what they can buy with that money,” notes this blog post. The Census Bureau numbers show no progress along these lines in 2013, and the blog post states the difference between the economy’s gains and a family’s needs: “You can’t eat G.D.P. [Gross Domestic Product]. You can’t live in a rising stock market. You can’t give your kids a better life because your company’s C.E.O. was able to give himself a raise.”
(Oregon Public Broadcasting, September 17, 2014)
The Working Poor Families Project reports that one-third of Oregon’s low-income families has at least one working adult, but while the economy slowly improves, these families are struggling. Nearly 150,000 Oregonians earn the minimum wage according to the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, yet legislation to raise the state minimum wage did not get far in last year’s legislative session. Rhonda Harvey would need to earn triple the $1,100 she receives each month from pay checks, SNAP benefits, child support, and limited cash assistance from the state in order to meet the “living wage” category calculated by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Although Bertha Hernandez has a full-time job as a school meal director, and her husband works seasonally, the family of six struggles most months on the $1500 a month she earns. “We can’t save,” said Hernandez as she notes all the items that need fixing in her three-bedroom trailer, and her own dental needs. Families that are struggling even though they are earning money lead some to say the government’s definition of poverty is outdated. “The fact that we’re even talking about the poverty rate is grossly misleading,” said Oregon’s First Lady Cylvia Hayes, who leads the Oregon Prosperity Agenda.10. Oregon’s Working Poor Families Struggling Financially