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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 #20, May 20, 2013
- Fight Poverty by Protecting SNAP, Increasing Minimum Wage, Fully Funding LIHEAP, Say Anti-Poverty Leaders
- Most Vulnerable Americans Would Suffer from Senate and House Cuts to SNAP/Food Stamps
- Oregon Representative on Ag Committee Says He’ll Push Back on SNAP Cuts
- Judge Says Connecticut Must Improve SNAP/Food Stamp Processing
- Number of Maryland Students Participating in School Breakfast Increases
- More Summer Meals Available in Rhode Island When School Lets Out
- New Colorado Law Supports School Breakfast “After the Bell”
- West Virginia to Provide All Students with Free Breakfast and Lunch Starting in Fall
- Washington’s Spending Cuts, Higher Taxes, Hampers Growth
- Hunger Causes Inattention, Poor Mental Health in Children
Make plans now to attend the Food Research and Action Center's Annual Benefit Dinner, Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at the Capital Hilton, Washington, D.C. The proceeds from the dinner will benefit FRAC's Campaign to End Childhood Hunger, which is achieving major gains in feeding children in communities throughout the United States. For more information, please call (202) 986-2200 x3950. To register for the event online, please visit FRAC's website.
1. Fight Poverty by Protecting SNAP, Increasing Minimum Wage, Fully Funding LIHEAP, Say Anti-Poverty Leaders
(The Nation, May 10, 2013)
Telling Congress to increase, not cut, SNAP/Food Stamp benefits is one of twelve ways to fight poverty, a number of experts note in this blog post. FRAC President Jim Weill weighs in on the positive effects of the SNAP/Food Stamp Program, noting it boosts food security, health and nutrition and lifts millions out of poverty and deep poverty . However, the Institute of Medicine reaffirmed that current benefit levels are not enough to make a healthy diet affordable for recipients. “This means that the program isn’t doing as much for food security, poverty reduction, child development, disease prevention and healthcare cost containment as it could,” writes Weill. The program is important to the country, say 73 percent of voters, and 70 percent say it’s wrong to cut benefits in order to reduce federal spending. “Tell your Representatives and Senators,” writes Weill, “that the right course for the nation is to improve food stamp benefits (and support at least the temporary benefit boost the President has proposed) and that they must oppose any SNAP cuts being considered by the Agriculture Committees in the ‘Farm Bill.’” Other important ways to fight poverty: support increasing the minimum wage to more than $11 per hour (from Sister Simone Campbell, Sisters of Social Service, executive director of NETWORK); fund LIHEAP at the maximum authorized level (from Dr. Deborah Frank, founder and principal investigator, Children’s Healthwatch); urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act and a national paid leave program (from Judith Lichtman, senior adviser, National Partnership for Women & Families); and "[t]ell Congress to stop harmful cuts to anti-poverty programs now" (from Debbie Weinstein, Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs).
2. Most Vulnerable Americans Would Suffer from Senate and House Cuts to SNAP/Food Stamps
(NBC News, May 19, 2013)
The proposed cuts to the SNAP/Food Stamp Program, in the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill, would cause two million people to lose their SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, estimates the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Most of these people are working families with children or senior citizens. Also, more than 200,000 children would lose their access to free school lunch, if the cuts are made law. “People in the field know how much harm these cuts can cause,” said James Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, which has been working with food banks and anti-hunger organizations to urge Congress against the cuts. “Those who actually work with low-income Americans around the country know they can’t provide a sufficient amount of people with the help they need if these cuts take place,” said Weill.
3. Oregon Representative on Ag Committee Says He’ll Push Back on SNAP Cuts
(Oregonlive.com, May 14, 2013)
Rep. Kurt Schrader, the only Oregon and Pacific Northwest representative on the House Agriculture Committee, continues to say he’ll push back on the SNAP/Food Stamp cuts the committee continues to propose to the program. The program is “a slim safety net, but a lot of Oregonians are hanging onto it,” writes David Sarasohn in this editorial. More than 800,000 Oregon residents now receive benefits, that number being a combination of long-term high hunger rates, high unemployment, and SNAP/Food Stamp outreach efforts. In some of the state’s counties, participation is up to a quarter of residents. The House Ag Committee proposes cutting $20.5 billion from the program over 10 years, which would kick 90,921 Oregonians off the program, according to the Oregon Food Bank. “I’ve tried to stay in very close touch with the folks from the district,” said Rep. Schrader. “They’re very concerned. The percentage of Oregonians who are hungry has not changed in the past year. It’s still around 20 percent.” Nancy Smith, executive director of Food Share of Lincoln County, said that the economic downturn brought many new faces to the food bank, as well as many new stories from people who have “never had to use our services before. The food banks and food pantries are running full speed ahead, and we’re not sure what more we could do to ramp up if the program is cut.”
4. Judge Says Connecticut Must Improve SNAP/Food Stamp Processing
(WTNH, May 14, 2013)
A preliminary injunctive order issued by U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant is requiring Connecticut’s Department of Social Services (DSS) to improve its processing of SNAP/Food Stamp applications. DSS has acknowledged it has lost applications and other verification documents, and has not scheduled interviews in a timely manner, but has hired more than 200 new staff as well as made technology improvements to the SNAP/Food Stamp process. Nearly 400,000 residents in more than 214,000 households receive SNAP/Food Stamp benefits in the state.
5. Number of Maryland Students Participating in School Breakfast Increases
(WBAL, May 16, 2013)
According to a school breakfast report from Maryland Hunger Solutions, more than half of low-income Maryland students who participated in school lunch in the 2011-2012 school year also participated in school breakfast, a first for the state. Maryland’s participation is now above the national average, and the number of schools serving breakfast increased 14.4 percent. “When we talk to staff, they say [student] academic performance has improved, their attention has improved, tardiness, and nurse visits have gone down, attendance has gone up, and behavior challenges have decreased,” said Cathy Demeroto, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions. She noted that schools serving breakfast in the classroom and other non-traditional serving strategies increased breakfast participation in schools. “Our goal that we have set as an organization is to try to reach 70 children eating school breakfast per 100 eating school lunch with regard to low-income students,” said Demeroto. “Right now only three jurisdictions have met that goal, so we have a lot more work to do to get other jurisdictions up to that number.”
6. More Summer Meals Available in Rhode Island When School Lets Out
(Cranston Herald, May 15, 2013)
Cranston, Rhode Island ceased operation of its summer food sites in recent years, although 4,462 students – 42 percent of Cranston’s student population - were eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch in October 2012 according to the 2013 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook. This summer, Cranston Public Schools and the Salvation Army will sponsor summer food sites in the area. USDA is encouraging expansion of the Summer Food Service Program by five million children this year in five states.* According to the latest Food Research and Action Center summer meals report, while 49,127 students in the state received free or reduced-price school meals in the 2010-2011 school year, only 6,619 participated in summer meals in 2011, a ratio of 13.5 low income students receiving summer meals for every 100 receiving subsidized school meals. In the FRAC report, Rhode Island ranked 28th among states; first-ranked D.C. served 73.5 students out of every 100. The recession is to blame for low participation, states FRAC. While many more students have needed free or reduced-price school meals, “many state’s budget cuts caused school districts to eliminate or reduce summer programs,” and sites and sponsors, in spite of federal funding, could no longer support serving meals. “There is a significant need here,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “I am not overly concerned about financial consequences. I am concerned about human consequences. This nation cannot afford to lose a single child to poor nutrition. We know there are millions of children who have been missing out on these programs.”
*Rhode Island, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Virginia.
7. New Colorado Law Supports School Breakfast “After the Bell”
(The Denver Channel, May 15, 2013)
“Breakfast After the Bell” is now law in Colorado, requiring schools to serve breakfast after the school day starts if they have 80 percent or more students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Schools have a choice of serving methods, including breakfast in the classroom or during a brief recess. The bill’s sponsors, including Rep. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City), said that schools already implementing Breakfast After the Bell have experienced no reduction in instruction time. The program helps increase participation – 30 percent of students received school breakfast in the Adams 14 School District before beginning the program; after, the district saw participation soar to 98 percent of students. The program is needed because many students eligible for free or reduced-price breakfast arrive at school too late to eat in the cafeteria, while others feel a stigma attached to eating breakfast at school.
8. West Virginia to Provide All Students with Free Breakfast and Lunch Starting in Fall
(Herald-Dispatch, May 12, 2013)
The West Virginia Legislature passed the “Feed to Achieve Act,” which will make free school breakfast and lunch available to all K-12 students starting in the fall. “The game changer for our program and for the kids in West Virginia is the breakfast delivery strategy,” said Richard Goff, executive director of the Office of Child Nutrition at the state Department of Education. “For the first time in my tenure, it makes the meal program part of the educational day. It’s not an interruption.” While all of the state’s schools offer breakfast, several, according to Goff, offer breakfast in the classroom, using grab-and-go meals, and some offer breakfast after first period. “The key words are availability and access,” said Goff. The Feed to Achieve Act cites research linking healthy eating to improved school attendance and child behavior, and overall achievement.
9. Washington’s Spending Cuts, Higher Taxes, Hampers Growth
(The New York Times, May 8, 2013)
Private sector and government economists say that the nation’s unemployment rate (6.5 percent) would be a point lower had Washington not instituted spending cuts and higher taxes since 2011. Washington’s fiscal policy hampers growth in housing, consumer spending, and business investment, economists report, citing federal tax increases and spending cuts that take money away from the economy, which continues to need stimulus to grow. The only current stimulus is expansionary money policy through the Federal Reserve. Soon, annual discretionary domestic and military program spending will be the lowest it’s been in half a century. As President Obama has fought to combine spending cuts and tax increases with targeted tax cuts for job creation and spending increases, Republicans hold strictly to the idea of spending cuts alone and smaller government, saying that will drive economic growth. President Obama has said that these anti-growth tactics are “self-inflicted wounds.”
10. Hunger Causes Inattention, Poor Mental Health in Children
(Medill Reports, May 3, 2013)
A panel of educators and school counselors at DePaul University, convened by DePaul’s College of Education for the “Kids at Risk: The Impact of Poverty on Children’s Mental Health” forum, reported that poor mental health and poverty are linked in increasing numbers of children. One symptom of mental health is inattention, said Lissette Guzman, school-based clinician for the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council. Many children, focusing on fears about where their next meal is coming from or where they will spend the next night, find it hard to concentrate in class and end up performing poorly academically. Panelists said that teachers and faculty can help by seeking out community resources that can provide assistance.