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Breaking News: House Passes Farm Bill without SNAP

Last week, the House passed a Farm Bill without reauthorizing SNAP or any nutrition program, including TEFAP, by a vote of 216 to 208.

Our staff, along with Feeding America and other partners, weighed in with House members in opposition to splitting the bill in two and urged members to vote “no” on any bill that did not contain SNAP (this is the former food stamp program).  We will have a fight ahead of us to protect SNAP from cuts that would reduce or entirely eliminate benefits for needy families.

It remains to be seen whether the House will take up a nutrition bill, which would include funding for TEFAP (the program that supplies the Food Bank with food for our Food Assistance Program) and SNAP.  The results of the split could play out in three different ways (if you’re curious to learn more about the process, do not hesitate to call or email):

  1. The House could bring the nutrition title to the floor in the near future.  In this scenario, we would expect even deeper cuts to SNAP, as well as harmful policy changes such as a block grant.  Any bill that is passed would presumably be included as part of Farm Bill conference negotiations.  The Senate opposes separating the bill and would push for a single bill in conference.
  2. The House and Senate could move forward with a conference committee without passing the nutrition title in the House.  Because the Senate bill included a nutrition title, those programs would be part of conference negotiations.  While the Senate nutrition title of $4 billion in cuts to SNAP would be the starting point for negotiations, the House conferees would likely push for deeper SNAP cuts.
  3. House Leadership is also exploring the possibility of bringing up an entitlement reform bill later this year, which would include reforms and funding cuts to SNAP as well as other low-income programs like Medicaid.  While this bill would be dead-on-arrival in the Senate, the House could push to use this bill as the negotiation starting point for SNAP.

Regardless of how this plays out, a negotiated bill would need to pass both the House and Senate.  We will continue to work towards a Farm Bill that protects SNAP and the nation’s children, seniors, and working families. As this situation is obviously very fluid, we will need to be ready to weigh-in quickly once we have a better understanding of what the next steps will be, so stay tuned for more information.

Questions, please contact Lisa at lsherrill@foodbankccs.org or 925-771-1304.

USDA Announces Nutrition Standards for Snack Foods and Beverages Sold in Schools

Originally shared by FRACToday the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced its nutrition standards for all foods sold in school outside of the federal school lunch and breakfast programs, including cafeteria “a la carte” items, vending machines, and other snack foods, and beverages. These new standards are an important step to remedy nutritional shortfalls in our nation’s children’s diets and to help address the obesity crisis.

These new nutrition standards, consistent with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, will promote the health of all school children throughout America. “Low-income children will especially benefit from these strong standards.” said FRAC President, Jim Weill. “When peer pressure and stigma drive low-income students to purchase less healthy  appealing competitive foods, instead of eating healthy school meals, they lose out nutritionally in a much bigger way than their more affluent peers, and their families lose financially,” said Weill.

The new regulations also implement the new requirement that schools make free drinking water available to children during meal times. “We were pleased to see improvements to the original proposed rules for water, including the extension of the requirement to offer free potable water to breakfast,” said Weill.

Moving forward with nutrition standards for all food sold in school and the provision of free drinking water for all students is an important step in the much-needed comprehensive overhaul of the school nutrition environment.

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 5

Guest post by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada: Filing my final entry for the 2013 Hunger Challenge, Day 5.  Having participated for the past five consecutive years as a state legislator, and previous years as a county supervisor and at times as an “average citizen” over my almost forty years of public service, what is striking to me is the constancy of two dynamics:  continuing hunger in America, and the consistent mischaracterization of those who depend upon SNAP benefits.

Is there hunger in America?  Yes.  The facts are incontrovertible:  http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/us_hunger_facts.htm

Has SNAP been an effective program?  I say yes:  http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/

For last night’s dinner, I finished the brown rice and remaining chicken thigh, and scavenged some of the zucchini that I cooked with the spaghetti and pasta sauce made on Monday night.  Drank a little bit of remaining juice and coffee for my liquids.

Breakfast on this last day was coffee only,  and lunch one of two remaining overripe bananas and the last yogurt.  With today’s temperatures soaring past 100 degrees, I am drinking tap water to stay hydrated.

What I’ve missed most this whole week is… dessert!  People who know me understand J

So, as I finish my 2013 Hunger Challenge, I will finish up the last of the spaghetti and have some wheat toast, and end with that single Odwalla bar that I bought for a week end treat.   I will have perhaps 3 slices of bread leftover from the week.

I want to thank all who participated in the 2013 Hunger Challenge with me, or who read about our experiences.  In doing so, I hope that there were some aspects of the issues that were new or involved additional thinking.

Let’s all recommit ourselves to ending hunger and poverty in America by reducing waste and strengthening the economy.  Thank you to all who do this work every day!

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 4

Guest post by Assemblymember Mariko Yamada: Heading into the final day and half of this year’s challenge, there is a sense of “weariness”—not to be confused with “mindfulness”—about food.   We are literally barraged with daily food imagery—in advertisements that come in  the day’s mail; television and radio commercials; restaurant promotions; the previously noted Capitol receptions; even social media posts from our families and friends. Voluntarily limiting oneself to the groceries available on the 2013 CalFresh budget of $24.90 for five days requires both physical and mental discipline.

This morning, I opened a can of tuna, and lacking the funds for mayonnaise, opened one of the last two yogurt cups I had purchased on Sunday evening to skim off the top layer (strawberry fruit-on-the-bottom!) as the dressing for a tuna fish sandwich.  The flavors definitely clashed but one must make do with the ingredients at hand.  Upon tasting this concoction, decided to mask the hint of strawberry with a cut-up tomato, and made a tuna-tomato-on wheat bread-American cheese slice melt to take in for Thursday’s lunch.

For some reason today, I was extra-hungry and have already consumed the sandwich and an extra cheese slice intended for an afternoon snack.  Not sure if this is the cumulative effect of three previous days of having food to eat—but not feeling full since Monday.

I will drink home-brewed coffee the rest of today as I head to my District Office in Woodland.  Not sure what I will have for dinner this evening—options are narrowing, similar to what CalFresh recipients face at the end of each month.  The truism that “our food ran out before the month did” is a reality facing millions of Californians.  Please think about that at the end of June.

Final day tomorrow!

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 3

Guest post by Mariko Yamada: Got home Tuesday about 8 p.m. after a fabulous event in honor of labor leader and civil rights icon, Dolores Huerta, recognizing her for 60 years of organizing workers and standing up for justice.  What an honor to be in her presence.

Food and drink were plentiful at this hosted event—one among multiple such receptions that occur morning, noon, and night around the Capitol.

Fortunately, I have had a “no eating, no drinking” rule in place for my entire tenure in the Legislature to avoid a gift reporting requirement, so am accustomed to passing up the usual delectable spreads that are always a part of such festivities.  However, because I had only eaten a small lunch, the pleasant food aromas were harder to ignore…

After downing a glass of orange juice, again to quell the low-blood sugar feeling I came home with, I made half a package of brown rice with the chicken stock I had saved from Monday night’s cooking.  Dinner was one of the chicken thighs (I now have one whole one left from the original four) over brown rice with a cut-up tomato.   Made a cup of French Vanilla coffee to top off the meal…and the sweet taste of an overripe banana was my dessert.

This morning, I made my thermos of coffee, a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich, and tucked another overripe banana in for an afternoon snack.  Will likely have spaghetti and toast for dinner tonight after attending another reception—one where I will be receiving a recognition for work on helping the unemployed!—skipping the lovely spread I am sure will be there…

Day Four tomorrow!

Assemblymember Yamada Takes the Hunger Challenge – Day 1 and 2

Please join us as we follow Assemblymember Yamada on her fifth year participating in the Hunger Challenge as a Legislator.  Each day this week she will share her experiences on just how difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods, and stay healthy with very limited resources. She will be living on a food budget of under $5 a day – the average amount a Californian receives in CalFresh benefits.

Day 1: Skeptics have asked me, “Why are you doing this—AGAIN?”…

The reasons are simple:  hunger in America persists in the richest and most powerful nation on earth.  And the assault on feeding Americans—by cutting the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $20 Billion over the next ten years has been eloquently questioned by none other than Paul Krugman in the New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/31/opinion/from-the-mouths-of-babes.html?_r=0

Going into this, my fifth annual Hunger Challenge, I have learned “survival shopping”, looking for sales and engaging in couponing.  This year’s weekly budget of $24.90 is actually a relief over prior years when the daily amount was just a little over $3 per day.   For me, coffee is the foundation of my food pyramid, and in earlier challenges, I had to forewarn my co-workers that I would be “off the juice” for five days since coffee was unaffordable.  Fortunately, this year, the daily budget of $4.98 couple with a coffee sale and a $2.00 off coupon snagged me a 1-pound bag of storebrand French Vanilla ground coffee.

I am pleased to once again partner with Food Banks in my district, to call attention to hunger amidst plenty during June, Hunger Awareness Month.  Remember that many of the long-term unemployed, children, students, and seniors, regularly face food insecurity.  For me today, my thermos of home-brewed coffee, along with a grilled cheese sandwich on wheat bread and an overripe banana is food that will carry me through to dinnertime.

More tomorrow.

Day 2: With no Monday evening meetings, I was able to focus on cooking for the week.

Usually, dinner is a fast-grab from among two or three favorite restaurants, a luxury out-of-reach for most CalFresh recipients (although there IS a little-known restaurant program:  http://www.snaprmp.org/).

I boiled the package of chicken, prepared the whole box of angel hair pasta (which turned out to be a mistake—too much food!), and divided the noodles in half to prepare the week’s dinner of spaghetti with tomato-basil pasta sauce, and chicken chow mein with zucchini.  Had a glass of orange juice to quell the low-blood sugar feeling I had while cooking.  I had a good serving of vegetarian and a piece of American cheese spaghetti and a couple slices of wheat bread for dinner, and felt full.  The CalFresh budget did not allow for one of my other favorite foods—dessert.  I did miss my usual sweet ending of my evening meal.

Lunch today was a serving of the other pasta dish—chicken/zucchini chow mein.  Brought a blueberry yogurt for dessert. No breakfast today—my habit anyway.  Drank most of my thermos-full of home-brewed coffee.  Have had a full day of Senate committee bill presentation, water hearing and Caucus lunch (where those who knew me from previous sessions understood what I was up to by bringing my lunch) and will head to Veterans Affairs Committee this afternoon and a (non-eating, non-drinking) reception tonight hosted by the Latino Legislative Caucus.

Day 3 tomorrow—this year seems easier than all previous years.

U.S. Senate and House Consider Cuts to Food Stamps

Original post by: Jessica Bartholow, Legislative Advocate, Western Center on Law and Poverty. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate will mark up the farm bill this week in their respective committees; the Senate on Tuesday, May 14, and the House on Wednesday, May 15.

 

In the Senate, the agriculture committee chairwoman’s farm bill draft included a $4.1 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), increasing the likelihood of hunger for millions of families.

The House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas released this first draft of the farm bill into committee on Friday. His draft would cut SNAP (formerly food stamps) by $20 billion over 10 years.  Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a member of the agriculture committee, said the bill “would make hunger worse and not better.”

During the mark-up, after the chair offers the first draft, committee members have the opportunity to propose and vote on any amendments, or changes, to the bill. Once a final version is voted out of committee, leadership then adds it to the schedule for a floor vote. Both House and Senate leadership have indicated they would like a farm bill on the summer agenda.

Any cuts to SNAP would prove devastating for vulnerable Americans, including over 4 million low-income Californians who depend on the program to prevent hunger. SNAP participants are already facing a reduction in benefits—on Nov. 1, a temporary program boost that was included in the 2009 stimulus package will expire. Even more alarming: a recent Institute of Medicine study concluded that the way in which the benefit level is calculated for SNAP is inadequate for a healthy diet. Inadequate as existing levels are, just this expiration will reduce the average benefit to about $1.40 per person per meal, reports the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities.

Cutting the program by $20 billion over 10 years would reduce the benefit even further and increase food insecurity. This is why one in seven Americans polled oppose cuts to the program.

Western Center on Law and Poverty has been working with other allies in the state to oppose the cuts. “Cutting the nutrition safetynet for our poorest families is not necessary and it is cruel, increasing the likelihood that poor Americans, most of whom are children, will experience the indignity of hunger,” says Jessica Bartholow, a legislative advocate based in Western Center’s Sacramento Office.

 

For more information about the 2013 Farm Bill, go to: www.frac.org.

SNAP Provides a Significant Economic Boost

Last year partially due to the fiscal cliff a new Farm Bill was not passed. Funding for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), run by the US Department of Agriculture, was of major concern for anti-hunger advocates across the country. Representatives in the House proposed deep cuts to SNAP: $16.5 billion over 10 years, which would cut as many as 3 million low-income Americans from the program. The Senate countered with a farm bill cutting $4.5 billion from SNAP over the same time period.

Congress couldn’t agree on a Farm Bill so it simply didn’t happen, and instead Congress passed an extension until September 30. With the new congress now in session, they have to start all over. The chair of the House Agriculture Committee, told the Capital Press this weekend that the new House Farm Bill will mandate $20 billion in SNAP cuts over the next ten years. Drew Hammill, communications director for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, told The Nation, that SNAP not only helps vulnerable Americans, but it provides a significant economic boost. Research shows that for every dollar invested in SNAP over $1.84 goes back into the economy.

SNAP usage flows with the economy. During the recession, participation in the program increased (as it should) and as the economy continues to improve, we will see spending on SNAP decrease significantly over the next ten years all by itself.

In the meantime, there are still many Americans who need the help of SNAP to put food on their tables. We can’t allow a Farm Bill to pass that cuts one of our most effective stimulus programs.

As the House AG Committee takes up the Farm Bill later this month, we need to be clear that these steep cuts to SNAP are unacceptable. So what can you do? Follow our blog and join our advocacy email alerts to stay informed during the process. And tell your friends.

Sources include: http://www.thenation.com/blog/174094/house-gop-plans-even-deeper-food-stamp-cuts and http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2010/04/14/USDA-Will-Spend-63-billion-On-Food-Stamps-This-Year.aspx#page1.

An Update from the Capitol

Where can you find nearly 800 passionate anti-hunger fighters all in one place? At the National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference of course! The conference presented by Feeding America and Food Research and Action Center draws anti-hunger and anti-poverty advocates; federal, state and local government officials; child advocates; representatives of food banks and food rescue organizations; and nutrition and anti-obesity groups, for three days of training, networking and Capitol Hill advocacy.

Participants share information and learn how to strengthen the quality and reach of federal nutrition programs, learn best outreach and program practices from other states and localities, fill in the gaps in food service for millions of low-income children, and identify creative ideas for new and innovative approaches to ending hunger.

Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano staff met with offices of our local Congressmen to tell the story of poverty and hunger in our community. What did we ask of our representatives? For Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP/CalFresh and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), two of our most important resources. 1 in 4 people living in Contra Costa and Solano counties are at risk of hunger. The Food Bank is now feeding approximately 149,000 people each month but it is not enough. We can’t do it alone. With the high cost of living in the Bay Area, a family would need three full-time jobs at minimum wage just to make ends meet. Without important nutrition programs like TEFAP and SNAP the need in our community could not be met and families like Millicent’s would go hungry.

Single mother Millicent worked as a sales manager for four years until she was laid off. She was able to receive unemployment and then worked eight weeks at a temp job before she was in a car accident. Now her unemployment is only for ten weeks instead of the two years it would have been if she never worked those eight weeks. All of her cash is going to pay her bills and there is no money for food or medical expenses. She has two children ages ten and five and lost her child care. She has been coming to Food for Children for four months now and receives CalFresh/SNAP, which allows her to buy groceries.

Congress must oppose any cuts to SNAP and continue to support additional resources to purchase TEFAP commodities on which so many food banks rely on heavily. Please call your representatives today at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to protect SNAP and TEFAP.

Getting to the Heart of Poverty Problem

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter – I am incredibly proud of the work the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano does. We are currently distributing more than 16 million pounds of food a year to approximately 149,000 people each month, and through our Community Produce Program will distribute an additional 2 million pounds of fresh produce this year, making a total of 8 million pounds.

But when I take a step back, I realize that the fact we are serving nearly 50 percent more people than we were serving six years ago demonstrates a real problem. The need for food is an indicator of larger problems we need to deal with as a community.

What gives me hope is that I see agencies and people who provide assistance coming together to work on the issues we face. Government agencies, nonprofits, schools, and foundations are part of the Solano Safety Net that is working to see how we can best combine our efforts to help our community.

At a recent meeting, we talked about the fact that the recidivism rate for parolees is 70 percent. The sheriff knows that part of that is because 40 percent of the inmates in county jail read at a fourth-grade level. They are released into a community where they have no support system and have little chance of getting a job.

Although the 70 percent rate is high, there is not yet enough public support to make a change.

We all need to collaborate to strengthen the safety net, making sure that food, shelter and services are there for people who need help.

We can also work on the bigger issues, recognizing that education and job training prevent people from needing to access the safety net.

When the community creates systems that help people provide for themselves, the safety net will be the short-term response it should be.

For ways you can help strengthen the safety net, contact Lisa Sherrill, lsherrill@foodbankccs.org.