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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 #34, October 21, 2014

  1. Small Stores Accepting SNAP May Have Difficulty After USDA Stops Funding EBT Machines
  2. Maine Emergency Food Providers Heading for Struggle Meeting Increased Need After SNAP Cuts
  3. Technical Error in Wisconsin Reduces SNAP Benefits for Thousands
  4. Reporter Shines Light on Hunger and Nutrition Issues During SNAP Challenge
  5. Computer Issue in Missouri Extends Wait Time for SNAP Benefits
  6. Community Eligibility Helps Increase Meal Participation in Tennessee School
  7. Long-Term Unemployed Experiencing Downward Financial Mobility; Lack of Savings Will Affect Retirements
  8. High Percentage of Millennials Lack College Degrees; Those with Degrees Make More Money
  9. Social Safety Net Vital to Economy Yet Remains Under Attack
  10. All Massachusetts WIC Recipients Will Receive Benefits on EBT Cards by End of October

1. Small Stores Accepting SNAP May Have Difficulty After USDA Stops Funding EBT Machines
(Philly.com, October 13, 2014)

As part of the farm bill, the federal government will no longer subsidize EBT machines, a move that will force many small, SNAP-accepting stores to stop accepting benefits, or raise their prices. It’s estimated that 118,000 bodegas, corner stores and similar markets nationwide have had their EBT machines paid for through this federal and state partnership. These small stores could now see bills of up to $1,000 a year to use EBT equipment, supplies and related services, according to Xerox Corp, which administers EBT cards in 19 states. “Congress didn’t even hold a hearing to ask how this impacts stores and low-income people,” said Jessica Bartholow, legislative advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “It’s abhorrent, disgraceful, and embarrassing.” While a USDA official said the money-saving idea originated in Congress, sources on the Hill said USDA is responsible for the change. “The reasons for this were known only to a few people in a room we’ll never get to be in,” said Bartholow. The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger and the Food Trust issued a joint statement noting that more than 1,500 small, family-owned corner stores in Philadelphia may have to stop accepting SNAP because of the increased charges. Customers of stores where SNAP business is 20 percent or less may be particularly affected if these store owners stop accepting SNAP, said Kathy Fisher, policy manager with the coalition.


2. Maine Emergency Food Providers Heading for Struggle Meeting Increased Need After SNAP Cuts
(Press Herald, October 9, 2014)

Maine’s food pantries have been struggling with increased need, although the economy has improved and unemployment rates have fallen, notes this editorial. “The cost of everything is going up and people aren’t making more money,” said Kristine Jenkins, coordinating director of Partners for a Hunger-Free York County. With the SNAP work requirement reinstated, an estimated 12,000 childless Maine residents who are not pregnant or disabled must seek and gain employment to qualify for benefits, which is putting increased pressure on the state’s emergency food providers. Although these residents can qualify for SNAP if they get jobs, high unemployment rates are still the norm across the state. York County Food Rescue was about to close its doors recently because of increased demand, and received a last-minute flood of cash donations which allowed it to stay open. Still, food banks and other providers in Maine will find themselves struggling during the normally-busy fall season.


3. Technical Error in Wisconsin Reduces SNAP Benefits for Thousands
(Fox 6, October 7, 2014)

Thousands of Wisconsin residents receiving SNAP saw their benefits reduced by as much as $100 a month due to a technical error in SNAP processing. After the farm bill was passed, a utility credit was mistakenly applied to SNAP recipients living in subsidized housing, which automatically decreased their benefits. “For people who live in subsidized housing, we questioned that because we knew that they were very low income,” said Sherrie Tussler, executive director of the Hunger Task Force. “We knew they were struggling and it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense.” The Task Force investigated, the error was found, and SNAP recipients affected will receive the benefits they were eligible for. Wisconsin residents who live in subsidized housing and believe their SNAP benefits were miscalculated can call Milwaukee Enrollment Services at 1-888-947-6583 to find out if their benefits can be restored and backdated.


4. Reporter Shines Light on Hunger and Nutrition Issues During SNAP Challenge
(Marshfield News Herald, October 10, 2014)

Marshfield News Herald reporter Marisa Cuellar took the SNAP Challenge recently in Wisconsin, and was surprised at how few calories she ended up eating each day – about 1,000, “a little more than half of what I’m used to consuming daily,” she writes in this article. In addition, she was eating only half the protein she normally eats, and found that she was hungry. Cuellar also writes that while it sounded bad that Beth Kief, chair of this year’s Marshfield Area United Way annual giving campaign, went to bed hungry when she took the SNAP Challenge earlier in the year, “it didn’t resonate with me until I realized how little food I had in my grocery cart for the five-day challenge and how hungry I was after only two days.” After five days, Cuellar was able to go back to her regular eating habits, but “[t]hat isn’t the case for many people in our community.”


5. Computer Issue in Missouri Extends Wait Time for SNAP Benefits
(The Maneater, October 8, 2014)

Families and individuals in Missouri have complained to the state Department of Social Services (DSS) about problems they’re experiencing with online SNAP application processes. A computer issue, which has been resolved, has lengthened the SNAP application processing and review time, according to Becky Woelfel, the agency’s communications director. The agency is working to return SNAP processing back to its normal time frame. “We urge anyone who has encountered an issue with their food stamp application to contact the Family Support Division’s special unit dedicated to resolving those problems by calling 1-573-751-8959 or emailing FSD.CRU@dss.mo.gov for special assistance,” said Woelfel.


6. Community Eligibility Helps Increase Meal Participation in Tennessee School
(Times News, October 13, 2014)

The number of school breakfasts and lunches served at Ketron Elementary School in Tennessee’s Sullivan County skyrocketed this year after the school implemented the Community Eligibility Provision, with more than 35,000 meals served in August and September 2014, compared to nearly 28,000 meals served during the same period last year. Ketron Elementary is piloting the program, which makes free school breakfast and lunch available to all students, regardless of family income. The increase in meals served has averaged 179 more meals a day. Ketron is the only school in the system that is eligible for CEP, which requires that at least 40 percent of students are eligible for subsidized school meals through direct certification.


7. Long-Term Unemployed Experiencing Downward Financial Mobility; Lack of Savings Will Affect Retirements
(NBC News, October 12, 2014)

“Most of these people in this long-term unemployed category are experiencing downward financial mobility,” said Carl Van Horn, distinguished professor of Public Policy and director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University. People in their mid-50s and older, noted Van Horn, are unable to take Social Security yet, and those benefit levels will be much lower when they reach retirement age than if they had worked to retirement with no gap in employment. According to a recent Rutgers report, nearly one-half of the long-term unemployed surveyed said it will take them up to a decade to bounce back, and more than 20 percent said it will take more than 10 years, or that they will never rebuild their finances. The recovery has seen job growth, but mostly in low-wage, low-pay employment, said Ofer Sharone, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management. The Economic Policy Institute found that a quarter of those out of work are receiving unemployment benefits. “You’ll basically have more low-income older Americans,” said Van Horn, who will have to rely on SNAP, heating assistance, and other safety net problems.


8. High Percentage of Millennials Lack College Degrees; Those with Degrees Make More Money
(NPR, October 7, 2014)

About two-thirds of people between the ages of 25 and 32 – the “Millennial” generation – lack college degrees, according to data from the Pew Research Center. There’s been much attention paid to the struggles of college-educated young adults, but research is showing that college-educated young adults are doing better than earlier generations of college-educated young adults. A Pew report on the rising cost of not going to college found that millennials with four-year college degrees make about $17,500 more than their peers with high school diplomas only.


9. Social Safety Net Vital to Economy Yet Remains Under Attack
(Boston Globe, October 10, 2014)

“[O]ur great social insurance programs are more necessary than ever before; these programs should be extended, not attacked and cut back,” writes James K. Galbraith in this op-ed. Unemployment insurance, the SNAP Program, and other programs that fight poverty work, and “we should take note and be grateful. Yet these programs remain under threat.” Galbraith writes that cutting them will cause the economy to decline. Although unemployment is currently below six percent and the economy has steadily shown job growth, population to employment ratio remains down and labor force numbers remain low, with economic growth slow compared to recent recoveries. A decrease in the work force is fine, as long as baby boomers and older workers can retire, and have Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid provide income and health care, in order for them to be “a potent source of purchasing power,” which will help the economy reach “a new balance.”


10. All Massachusetts WIC Recipients Will Receive Benefits on EBT Cards by End of October
(Masslive.com, October 14, 2014)

Massachusetts began switching from paper WIC vouchers to EBT cards on October 1, and by the end of the month, all WIC participants in the state will be receiving their benefits on the cards. The federal government is making all states switch to WIC EBT benefits by 2020, and Massachusetts is the first New England state to make the move. Families using the cards in the state feel the EBT system removes much of the stigma associated with receiving and using benefits, said Cheryl Bartlett, commissioner of the Department of Public Health. More than 125,000 women, infants and children in Massachusetts are helped by the program – and WIC serves more than half of the state’s infants, according to state public health officials. The state joins 14 states across the country that have made the change.

 

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