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Budget Cuts Hurt Low-Income Households

Editorial originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: Passing the Federal budget takes away one piece of chaos from the “perfect storm” striking low-income people, but it certainly doesn’t end the challenges they face. Those who receive CalFresh (food stamp) benefits may be surprised on November 1 when the benefits they receive go down. A family of four will see a 5% decline in the $668 monthly CalFresh benefit they receive, losing $36 each month and over $400 annually.

This is extremely frustrating for us who are trying to help low-income people get food because the CalFresh reduction is a political decision. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) increased the CalFresh benefits people receive. This increase helped get more food to low-income people, and helped stimulate the economy because those dollars were spent in grocery stores every month. In 2010 Congress passed bills to end this stimulus early because a decision was made that there were more important places to use the funds. Little publicity came out about this action, so people who are depending on CalFresh benefits to feed their children will be surprised when they receive less help in November.

The more frustrating part is that Congress is also considering a proposal to reduce expenditures on the CalFresh program by $40 billion over the next ten years. This doesn’t make sense when the Food Bank is providing food to more people than we ever have before. As the cost of living continues to go up, people have a difficult time making ends meet, even if they have a working individual in their family. As recent events around the Federal budget show, difficult political decisions are being made. The Food Bank must continue to speak up for the people we serve.

Old School Savings

By Food Bank Board Member Jill Steele: For today’s breakfast I made Jiffy corn muffins.  Jiffy is a basic muffin mix brand dating back to the 1930s that hasn’t changed much and is really inexpensive.  I was able to buy two boxes for $1.38 which yielded 12 large muffins after just adding in 2 eggs and some milk.  The kids will be able to eat the muffins for breakfast as well as an afternoon snack

Lunch today will be leftovers from last night.  My wonderful husband made chicken adobo and rice using another amazing deal from Safeway.  Chicken leg pieces were on sale for 99 cents/pound.  So this dinner and lunch will end up costing less than $10.

For dinner tonight I planned on making a pasta dish, but I will be working late and need to get my kids to different activities right around dinner time.  Wednesday is a night we usually eat out due to our busy schedules so we may resort to another super Safeway deal of frozen burritos that I got for 40 cents each.  I usually read ingredient labels very closely, but tonight we are probably going to trade off high-quality and healthy ingredients for cost and convenience.

Jill is participating in the Hunger Challenge with her husband and three children. Read her first two posts here. To learn more about the Challenge visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

Hunger Challenge Slashes Budgets

By Food Bank Board Member Jill Steele: I decided to take the Hunger Challenge and see what it is like to eat on $4.50 per day.  By taking the Hunger Challenge we are committing to eat all of our meals this week from a limited food budget comparable to that of a SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) recipient.  We are a family of five, so our total weekly budget is $112.50.  This is a pretty big reduction from what we normally spend on food.  I usually spend between $150-200/week on groceries, plus we eat out once or twice for dinner and my husband and I often eat out for lunch and grab coffee for a total of about $300/week on food.  

When we decided to do this challenge we sat down with our two older children to explain what we were doing this week and why.  We explained that there are many people in America (1 in 6) that don’t know where their next meal is going to come from and that many of those people are children (1 in 4 people receiving emergency food are children).  By eating on a SNAP budget and blogging about it, we hope to raise awareness for people that may not know where their next meal is coming from.  We also thought that it would be good for them to learn more about budgeting and healthy eating. 

I am a working mom with three kids, so I often rely on prepared foods and/or take out to manage our busy schedules.  Knowing that I won’t be able to do that this week, I spent almost the entire day (Sunday), planning what we are going to eat, grocery shopping, and preparing food for the week.  I started out the day planning what we would eat for the entire week (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks) and estimating whether or not we could get it all within our SNAP budget.  I didn’t clip coupons, but did leverage the Safeway Just For U app which helped me save over 30% on my grocery bill which ended up costing $84.00.  We have a couple of items already in our house (milk, pears, sunbutter, rice, popcorn, spices) that we will use for our meals this week, so I wanted to try and be under the $112.50 budget.   I realized that the only way to make this budget work, was to not rely on pre-packaged convenience foods and to make more of our meals/snacks from scratch.  I then spent about three hours preparing food including home-made granola, granola bars, and banana chocolate chip muffins.  All of these foods will save us a significant amount of money, but did “cost” me a lot of time.   

I am hoping that this will be a good learning experience for the entire family and will help to raise awareness for those who are food insecure and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

Day 2: Stretching your food

One of my tactics for living on a SNAP budget this week is to stretch our food.  This is something that my grandparents’ generation used to do a lot to make precious ingredients like meat go farther.

Our meal for dinner last night was stir-fried pork and green beans.  This is a pretty regular meal in our house, but to stretch it into two meals (dinner and next day’s lunch) I did two things: 1) added more green beans, and 2) served it with more rice. 

Knowing that we wanted to use this meal for lunch the next day, I made sure we didn’t  eat more than half for dinner.  Because of that I ate less than I normally would – assuming I would be fine given a late afternoon snack I had.  This morning I woke up before my alarm went off feeling hungry.  This was something I normally don’t feel and I realized it was probably due to controlling how much I ate last night to ensure we had enough for lunch today. 

This feeling of hunger gave me a moment to reflect on what we are doing with the Hunger Challenge and to remember the 149,000 people that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano serves each month.

 

It’s not too late to join the Hunger Challenge. To learn more and sign up, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.

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.

Sequester Impact

Over 600,000 low-income women and young children will lose WIC benefits that enable them to buy basic grocery items like milk and bread, because of the government sequester on Friday.

The sequester scheduled to go into effect this Friday will cut critical funding for nutrition assistance programs – programs that protect our most vulnerable children and seniors and that support our nation’s food banks. About 600,000 low-income women, infants, and children would be kicked off of the WIC program; programs like Meals on Wheels would have to cut as many as 19 million meals to seniors; and charities like the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano would lose TEFAP funding for the storage and distribution of food at a time when the demand for food assistance is higher than ever and food banks are stretched thin meeting that demand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sequestration Update and Call for Immediate Action

This Friday, March 1, unless the Congress acts, automatic federal budget cuts under “sequestration” will go into effect. These cuts will impact a number of vital services critically-important to low-income people.

Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on the American Family Economic Protection Act (pdf), the Senate Democrats’ bill to avoid sequestration. The proposal would prevent cuts to education, public health, nutrition and other vital services by replacing them with more gradual cuts to the Pentagon, setting a minimum tax for millionaires and closing some corporate tax loopholes.

Take Action: Contact your Senators immediately and urge them to vote for the American Family Economic Act when the bill comes up for a vote tomorrow afternoon (Feb. 28).

dc-capitol

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Phone:(202) 224-3841

 

Sen. Barbara Boxer

Phone:(202) 224-3553

 

Here is a sample of what could happen if these budget cuts go into effect:

  • 600,000 low-income women and young children could be cut from the WIC program
  • 19 million fewer meals for seniors from programs like Meals on Wheels
  • 5,000,000 fewer low-income families receiving prenatal health care and other services that help decrease infant mortality and improve maternal health
  • 112,190 fewer victims of domestic violence receiving services
  • 750,000 Americans losing their jobs
  • $2.4 million cut from funding food banks need to store and distribute food at a time of increased demand and tightened resources.

Questions? Please contact me (Lisa Sherrill) at (925) 676-7543 extension 206 or lsherrill@foodbankccs.org.

 

Charity Could Tumble Over Fiscal Cliff

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano receives nearly half of its funding from individuals. We live in a generous community where people support the cost-effective work we do.

 The Food Bank is concerned that one of the options discussed in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations has been to limit the tax deductions people can take when they donate to nonprofit organizations such as the Food Bank. Donating to faith communities and nonprofit organizations is part of our social culture, but I worry that the support people provide will be limited if the tax deduction changes.

 As an example of the changes being debated, the recently passed compromise bill enacted Congress by restored a deduction that allowed those over 70 1/2 years old to donate IRA funds they must withdraw. The restored law says that if a donation of more than $100,000 is made directly to a nonprofit organization before Feb. 1, the roll-over is tax-deductible. After that, this option will not be available, so the tax-deductible motivation will be gone.

 Other options under consideration have focused on limiting the total amount of deductible donations people can give or limiting the amount people can deduct based on their income. I understand the budget issues our country faces, but anything that discourages people from giving to charitable organizations raises concerns.

 Nonprofit organizations do incredible work with limited funds. Faith communities and nonprofits are able to respond to concerns in local communities with speed and focus. We are able to carry out the work donors want to see done because we can directly respond to those who give us the funds we need. The issues we are facing today make collaboration between nonprofits and government necessary. This is not the time to limit the ability of the community to support organizations addressing the issues they see in the community.

To learn more about how you can help take action against these changes, contact Lisa Sherrill at the Food Bank: (925) 676-7543 ext. 206 or e-maillsherrill@foodbankccs.org.

 

 

California Food Banks React to Signing of State Budget

Guest post by Sue Sigler, Executive Director of California Association of Food Banks: Last week Governor Brown signed a state budget package to close California’s $9.6 billion funding shortfall for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

While food banks across the state are relieved that a budget was passed without further cuts to the safety net, we are deeply disappointed that the budget does not include the modest temporary revenue extensions that Governor Brown had sought to help close the deficit. The revenue extensions were part of a balanced proposal to solve the state’s fiscal shortfall, which also included steep cuts. California’s low-income residents are now faced with $15 billion in cuts that hit safety programs especially hard and will continue to drive more people to food banks for assistance.

Instead of revenue extensions to bring down the deficit, the budget package anticipates $4 billion in additional revenue returns for the next fiscal year. However, if these extra revenues fail to materialize, automatic “trigger” cuts will take effect in January to make up the balance. The first tier of trigger cuts includes health and human services programs that provide vital support for our most vulnerable citizens.

The budget deal preserves several funding restorations in critical life-sustaining health and human services programs, including CalWORKS, childcare, and In Home Supportive Services. These restorations are the very least we should do to repair a frayed social safety net that has been weakened by over $15 billion in cumulative cuts made to health care and social services in state budgets since 2008, during a period of record unemployment and economic hardship.

The legislature’s inability to enact a budget solution with revenue extensions has once again highlighted the flaws in a budget process that allows a handful of legislators to override the priorities of a majority of Californians. Because a few legislators in Sacramento would not compromise on revenues, millions of Californians who struggle with hunger will bear the brunt of deep cuts made to balance the budget. California’s economic and family recovery will ultimately depend on the passing of real, sustainable revenue options that get our families back to work.

About the California Association of Food Banks
The mission of California Association of Food Banks is to provide a unified voice among food banks to maximize their ability to build a well nourished California.

Budget Cuts in Agriculture Appropriations Bill Unacceptable

I had the honor of listening in on a call this morning with Representatives Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) and George Miller (CA-7) and the press where they discussed the cuts included in the Agriculture and FDA Appropriations bill, which will be debated on the floor of the House of Representatives this week.

baby eatingThe Agriculture and FDA Appropriations bill has been slashed by 13.4%, or $2.6 billion below FY2011. Included are cuts to critical nutrition and anti-hunger programs, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which could be cut by more than $650 million, meaning that up to 350,000 women and children could go hungry and will not have access to the nutrition they need. The Commodity Supplement Food Program, which mainly assists low-income seniors, and the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which helps assist states with food banks, could also see their funding cut by up to 20%.

On the call Congressman Miller stated that: “Nutrition is essential to thrive and grow” and that “cuts to WIC will increase health costs.”

Congresswoman DeLauro pointed out that “WIC is not an admin expense. It is about nutrition education, breast feeding support, screening for harmful substance abuse and ensuring people are on a healthy lifestyle path that will only save money in the future.”

Call Today!
Call your representative by using a toll-free number, 877-698-8228 provided by Feeding America. After a brief message you’ll be asked to enter your zip code to connect directly to your House member’s office.  Once you are connected:
•    Tell them that you are a constituent and state the name of the town you are calling from.
•    Let them know you are calling about the FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations legislation
•    Deliver this message:
I am a supporter of my local food bank and I urge you to vote AGAINST the FY2012 Agriculture Appropriations legislation, which cuts funding for TEFAP commodities, CSFP, WIC and SNAP reserve funds. Cutting safety net programs is the wrong way to balance the budget.  Food banks across the country will not be able to meet the increased demand for food assistance if nutrition programs like TEFAP, CSFP, WIC and SNAP are cut.

For more information about how you can help take action against hunger, please contact Lisa Sherrill at (925) 676-7543 extension 206 or lsherrill@foodbankccs.org.

Join National Call-In Day to Protect the Nutrition Safety Net!

As hundreds of advocates converge on Washington, DC for the 2011 National Anti-hunger Policy Conference, including representatives form Contra Costa and Solano counties, you can help us amplify our voice by joining our national call-in day today.  For those of you who will not be in Washington, you can still make your voice heard by calling your Members of Congress!

Latest News from Washington

Last week, Congress passed a short-term, two-week continuing resolution (CR) funding the Federal government through March 18. The short-term CR cuts $4 billion dollars as compared to FY2010 spending levels, and more cuts are on the horizon as Congress continues to work toward a long-term CR to fund programs through the remainder of the fiscal year.

The House-passed version of the long-term CR, H.R. 1, would cut nearly $61 billion in domestic non-security spending as compared to FY2010. The Senate will take two votes this week: one on H.R. 1, and one on a Senate bill introduced late Friday, March 4 that would cut about $6.5 billion from the budget as compared to FY2010. Both votes are expected to fail and are intended to demonstrate the need for the House to work with the Senate to find some middle ground before the short-term CR expires in two weeks.

These next two weeks are a critical opportunity to influence the process, and we need to keep the pressure on. Help us keep pushing Congress to protect the low-income safety net by calling your senators today. Participate in our National Call-In Day and urge your senators to safeguard the safety net!

Sen. Roberts

Senator Roberts at Russell senate building, anti-hunger lobby day.

Call Today!

Help us track our impact by using our toll-free number, 877-698-8228. After a brief message you’ll be asked to enter your zip code to connect directly to your senator’s office.  After delivering your message to the first office, stay on the line to be connected to your second senator’s office.  Once you are connected to your first senator’s office:

  • Tell them that you are a constituent and state the name of the town you are calling from.
  • Let them know you are calling about the budget, H.R. 1
  • Deliver this simple message:I urge Sen. ____ to oppose cuts to safety net programs, especially nutrition assistance programs like TEFAP, which supports emergency feeding programs in our community. Instead, please work with House leaders to pass a budget that addresses deficit while safeguarding programs that protect low-income Americans.

Questions? Please contact Lisa Sherrill at lsherrill@foodbankccs.org.