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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 #28, September 8, 2014
- U.S. Food Insecurity Rates Still High According to Latest USDA Data
- SNAP Participation Decreases, But Needs are Still Great
- Increasing Oregon’s SNAP Participation Would Mean Greater Economic Boost to State
- New Jersey Lawmakers Take SNAP Challenge
- North Carolina School System Sees Early Success with CEP
- Vermont Video Supports CEP and Universal Free School Meals
- Report Shows Increase in Kansas Poverty Means Increase in Free and Reduced-Price School Meal Eligibility
- Texas School District Builds Bakery to Improve School Meal Nutrition
1. U.S. Food Insecurity Rates Still High According to Latest USDA Data
(FRAC, September 3, 2014; USDA Blog, September 3, 2014)
More than 17.5 million American (14.3 percent) households struggled against hunger in 2013, according to new data released by USDA's Economic Research Service. The rate is far above the 11.1 percent rate in 2007, before the recession. "It is up to our nation’s leaders – Congress, the President, state and local officials – to make sure that workers can earn family supporting wages, and that income supports and nutrition assistance programs reach more people in need and provide more adequate benefits,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center. “That means strengthening, not cutting or limiting nutrition programs. For starters, Congress should look at ways to improve Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit levels.” The USDA report also found that 19.5 percent of households with children were considered to be food insecure in 2013, and food insecurity rates for Black and Hispanic households were substantially higher than the national average, with 26.1 percent of Black households and 23.7 percent of Hispanic households reporting they struggled against hunger in 2013. According to USDA, food security has been slow to improve even while unemployment decreased and other economic indicators improved because the price of food relative to other goods and services increased.
A Persistent Hunger in Massachusetts (Public News Service, September 8, 2014)
USDA: Despite slight improvement, hunger persists (Philly.com, September 5, 2014)
2. SNAP Participation Decreases, But Needs are Still Great
(The Wall Street Journal, September 1, 2014)
SNAP participation fell by 1.6 million people between December 2012, when SNAP benefits helped a record 47.8 million Americans afford food, and May 2014, when benefits went to 46.2 people. In August 2013, 15.3 percent of the U.S. population participated in SNAP; the percentage dropped to 14.8 percent according to more recent figures. The decrease signals growth in the economy, yet participation in the program remains high, and many new people each month seek assistance from the program. For unmarried mother and two-year SNAP participant Jessica Singh, getting a college degree and finding two jobs has enabled her to go off the program, although she still struggles financially and recently visited a food pantry for the first time. The SNAP Program “definitely gave me a sense of stability” in knowing “there is going to be food on the table,” she said.
3. Increasing Oregon’s SNAP Participation Would Mean Greater Economic Boost to State
(Oregonlive.com, August 28, 2014)
According to a study released by the Oregon Center for Public Policy, the state would receive a $500 million economic boost if all residents eligible for SNAP participated in the program. Every SNAP dollar generates about $1.70 in local economic activity. One in five Oregonians (about 766,527 people) received SNAP benefits in 2012, yet it’s estimated that 276,000 people qualify for the program in the state but don’t participate. More than half of seniors 65 and older who are eligible don’t participate, said Katie Furia, SNAP outreach manager for Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon, and some hesitate to apply because they think they’ll be taking benefits from someone else. Many Oregon residents who are eligible but not participating don’t know how to apply, or don’t know about the program or that they would be able to receive benefits. The state offers an online application at apps.state.or.us/onlineApplication, and older residents can find out more by calling the Aging and Disability Resource Center at 1-855-673-2372.
4. New Jersey Lawmakers Take SNAP Challenge
(Thinkprogress.org, September 2, 2014)
Two members of the New Jersey Assembly, Republican Nancy Munoz and Democrat Mila Jasey, are taking the SNAP Challenge during the second week of September. They will live for a week on a food budget of less than $2.50 a day to simulate the struggles of SNAP participants in the state. New Jersey has recently come under criticism for not meeting the federal requirement that mandates a certain percentage of SNAP applicants must be notified within 30 days of the status of their application. The state has the fifth-lowest SNAP participation in the country, with only two out of every three eligible residents receiving assistance.
5. North Carolina School System Sees Early Success with CEP
(McDowell News, September 4, 2014)
McDowell County Schools in North Carolina are seeing an increase in school meal participation after the first week of implementing the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) in its elementary schools. “Our lunch participation through CEP has increased for elementary students by 12.44 percent,” said Jon Haynes, the district’s director of child nutrition. “Across the board at breakfast we’re seeing a growth of 51.67 percent.” Haynes told the school board that increases of more than six percent for lunch and 21 percent for breakfast would be necessary for CEP reimbursements to be more successful than reimbursements through free and reduced-price meals. “If we can continue to show this kind of growth…[CEP] would certainly be a viable option for middle schools and the high school,” said Haynes. He said offering breakfast in the classroom has also helped boost school breakfast participation.
6. Vermont Video Supports CEP and Universal Free School Meals
(VTDigger.com, August 31, 2014)
Hunger Free Vermont released an animated video which presents Universal School Meals as the solution to improving student health, academic performance, and strengthening local economies. Under universal meals, all students receive school meals for free, which removes income segregation in the cafeteria. Addressing student hunger will help create healthier students and prevent health care costs now and in the future. The Community Eligibility Provision has helped 23 Vermont schools offer free meals to 6,500 students across the state. “This is good news for Vermont’s students that live in our communities with the highest need,” said Anore Horton, child nutrition advocacy manager at Hunger Free Vermont. The video is available at hungerfreevt.org/school-meals-hub.
Advocacy group looks to provide all Vermont school meals for free (Bennington Banner, September 3, 2014)
7. Report Shows Increase in Kansas Poverty Means Increase in Free and Reduced-Price School Meal Eligibility
(Topeka Capital-Journal, August 25, 2014)
The percentage of Kansas students eligible for subsidized school meals increased from 33 percent to 50 percent over the past 15 years, according to a report from the Kansas Association of School Boards. The rise in free and reduced-price school meal applications, notes the report, is consistent with U.S. Census Bureau data that shows an increase in child poverty. The report is in response to concerns that the increase in school meal applications was caused by changes in the state’s school finance formula. “There are a lot of reasons that are causing the increase,” said Mark Tallman, a lobbyist with the association, but there’s no evidence that one of the reasons would be the formula changes. The report also found that the state has gotten better at determining qualifying children – especially homeless children and those in foster care - without the need to submit school meal applications, and this has added to the school meal participation increase.
8. Texas School District Builds Bakery to Improve School Meal Nutrition
(News Channel 10, August 29, 2014)
Amarillo Independent School District in Texas built a bakery to provide its 53 schools with whole grain bread to help comply with the federal government’s healthier school meal requirements. The district-run bakery is “one of the first in the nation, if not the only one…that is actually doing this,” said Brent Hoover, the school district’s food service director. The bakery produces, from scratch, about a ton of dough each day, which goes into about 9,000 student meals daily. The bakery is reducing costs, notes Hoover. “We’ve combined the ingredients ourselves so we enjoy about a $40,000 savings a year.” The new requirements state that grains served to students must be whole grains, “and we are 100 percent compliant with USDA regulation,” said Hoover.