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“Simply stated, SNAP works” – We Need to Continue to Invest in Our Future

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter:  Mathmatica Policy Research did a study that led them to conclude “simply stated, SNAP works”.  (The SNAP which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was formerly known as the food stamp program and is known as CalFresh in California).  Mathmatica’s research demonstrated that because they participated in the program, children had significant improvements in their consistent access to food, also known as their “food security”.

The Mathmatica food security study surveyed 3000 families and compared the status of families newly-enrolled in the program with those who had been in the program for six or seven months.  In the initial part of the study, 37% of newly-enrolled families were food insecure, while those who had been on the program six months or more were at 27%.  When they checked the newly-enrolled group after six months they had seen their food insecurity decline from 37% to 25%.  This type of research shows the wisdom of feeding those in need in our community.

If an individual is food insecure they cannot find enough food or purchase enough food for themselves.  In a society as rich as ours, with huge agricultural surpluses, there is no reason an individual should be food insecure.  More importantly, there is no reason a child should be in that position.  Increases in SNAP/CalFresh that were part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) were eliminated in November of 2013.  After that, Congress cut $8 billion in funding for the program over the next ten years.  Because of these actions, average benefits for recipients will drop below $130 a month.  I know there are some people who can make that work, but I also know from my attempts to live on the average CalFresh budget for a week, that the benefits are not enough.   These budget cuts will have a negative impact on people’s ability to feed their children.

My father grew up during the Great Depression and he told me stories of receiving blocks of cheese and bags of sugar from the government.  I don’t think he was ever hungry, but he lived in a house where concern about the next meal was a part of their life.  He saved every scrap of leftovers until the day he died and his choices in the grocery store always were always based on price.  I think we are in danger that the budget decisions that are being made are creating a generation that will be as food insecure as those who lived through the Great Depression.

It’s frustrating that we are cutting a program that provides hungry people the ability to get food.  People are on the program for a short period of time (average of nine months) and research shows that the effects are positive, whether you measure improved nutrition or food security.  By giving people SNAP/CalFresh benefits, we are making sure that our children receive the food they need.  We are making an investment in the future of our society when we help hungry families.

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!

Tell the Senate Your Ideas for a Fair Budget

Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee is encouraging you to share your ideas for how our elected officials can address our country’s budget challenges responsibly. MyBudget is an online platform for members of the public to weigh in as our nation works to tackle our budget and economic challenges.

Go to http://budget.senate.gov/democratic/index.cfm/mybudget  to share your stories about how federal budget decisions have impacted your family, your community, and your job, and let the senate know what issues they should be focused on.

Here’s what Chairman Murray is asking you to do:

Share your story

Budget decisions aren’t just about numbers and charts—they have real impacts on real people and communities. Your stories should be heard so we can help members of Congress understand what’s at stake for the families and communities they represent.

What are your budget priorities?

Budgets are all about setting priorities, and Chairman Murray is asking to hear about yours. Share what federal investments and programs you value in the federal budget (ex: safe roads and bridges, affordable college education, a strong national security, etc.) and if there are programs, policies, or tax loopholes that the federal government spends money on that you think it shouldn’t.

Tell us your ideas

The federal government needs to strengthen programs like Medicare so they will be there for the next generation. What are your ideas?

Hunger is Closer Than You Think

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter: Americans don’t always recognize how pervasive hunger is, or that it is a problem where they live. In our communities, it is often hidden by families that don’t want to share their economic struggles. Sometimes it hides behind doors of nice houses with mortgages in default or the heat turned off. Often it goes unseen by those not looking for it.

But we know that Americans in every community are hungry. According to the Food Research and Action Center, 1 in 6 people living in Contra Costa and Solano counties struggle with hunger.

We know that hunger is a challenge, but we also know there is a solution. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, or what we used to call food stamps — has been there to help families in need.

As jobs disappeared and wages shrank, SNAP was helped struggling Americans put food on the table. Its responsiveness to unemployment proved it to be one of the most effective safety-net programs during the recent recession.

This program also is working for millions of low-income Americans. The Census Bureau found that SNAP lifted 3.9 million Americans above the poverty line in 2010, including 1.7 million children and 280,000 seniors. SNAP not only lifts millions above the poverty line but, according to this new research, SNAP lessens economic hardships for many other Americans who have the lowest incomes in our nation.

SNAP is a lifeline for families like Henry’s. Henry lost his factory job more than a year ago and with three kids, preschool-age and younger, he hasn’t been able to make ends meet, even with his fiancé working full-time at a bank. With the Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and the help of SNAP, Henry is better able to provide for his family until he can find work again.

Yet recent legislation and proposals in Congress, including the upcoming Farm Bill, would cut this program.

Let’s be clear that any cut to SNAP is a cut to benefits. For example, the Senate plan for the Farm Bill includes a cut of $4.4 billion over 10 years to SNAP. Put in real terms, that proposal could trigger sizable reductions in monthly SNAP benefits for many households — an estimated 500,000 households a year would lose $90 per month in SNAP benefits.

That’s not an accounting fix. That’s less money for struggling households to purchase food. Congress must reject attempts to balance the budget by taking from those who have the least.

Join our online advocate community at www.foodbankccs.org/advocate to get involved.

Safety Net Needed to Keep California’s Families Afloat

Our effort to end hunger doesn’t stop with bags of groceries for our neighbors in need — we also work toward policies that will create a culture in which hunger can be eradicated. These days, stopping cuts to our safety net are our top priority. Food Bankers, pantry and soup kitchen volunteers and staff, nutritionists, food bank supporters, homelessness service providers and others from across the state concerned about the more than 7 million Californians experiencing hunger marched and spoke to legislators on May 17 for Hunger Action Day. We made known that California can do better than a budget that asks only that our children, seniors and people with disabilities sacrifice again and again.

Hunger Action Day opening remarks

This year, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano along with the Monument Crisis Center, Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church food pantry and a community advocate volunteer joined 400 other California Hunger Action Coalition (CHAC) advocates at the Capitol. We heard personal stories from people who have benefited from the very programs the governor proposes to cut. Without the safety net their families would not have been able to improve their situations and make a better life for themselves. One woman had experienced a time of homelessness and through CalWORKS was able to go back to school. It was amazing to hear how she turned her situation around with a little help and she even earned her Bachelor’s degree.

Rally around the Capitol (photo by Monument Crisis Center staff)

Our group had 7 meetings with legislative staffers and asked our representatives to protect the most vulnerable among us — the children, seniors and working families we serve each day. The response we got each time was the Assemblymember/Senator supports what you are saying but it is going to be tough.

That’s why we need your help. Even if you weren’t able to join us in Sacramento yesterday, you can get involved now! Please help us send a CLEAR message to Governor Brown to save our safety net.

Governor Brown has proposed drastic cuts to our safety net programs, particularly CalWORKS, which would instantly cut 100,000 children out of the safety net and reduce families’ grants to what they were in the 1980s if his proposal is enacted. We need to stand up for our communities and fight against policies that balance our state budget on the backs of children, seniors and working-class families.

Use the sample email below to send a message to Governor Brown. You can contact him through his website. Please let him know what you think about his budget cuts and advocate for a budget that isn’t balanced on the backs of low-income children, seniors and the disabled.

Sample letter

Governor Brown,

Over 400 advocates from across the state went to Sacramento on May 17 to stand up against hunger, and call on you and the Legislature to stand down on your attacks against California’s safety net.

After three years and $15 billion in cuts to vital social programs, it is unconscionable to allow California’s safety net to be further dismantled at a time when our families need it most. When a family’s income falls short, the first place they cut is their food budget, leading to unacceptable hunger throughout our state.
Stop allowing the California’s child poverty rate to continue to climb dangerously and keep all Californians afloat. It’s just the right thing to do.

Sincerely,

Your name

Thank you to all the amazing advocates for their passion, energy and heart on Hunger Action Day and every day. It was an amazing experience and I hope you will join us next year!

If you want to learn more about the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano’s advocacy efforts and how you can help, please contact me at lsherrill@foodbankccs.org.

I Never Thought I Would be in This Position

I met the most amazing woman this morning at a Food Assistance Program/Food For Children distribution. She and her two kids escaped an abusive husband with the help of STAND! For Families Free of Violence. Friends helped her some, but they couldn’t support her and so she found herself in a small trailer with no plumbing and only $3 in her pocket. She never thought she would be in this place. She was supposed to be at home taking care of her two small children. For four months last year she lived on WIC and $40 in cash. WIC was a life saver. She was able to make just simple meals but she also had fresh fruits and veggies to feed her daughters.

She is now enrolled in CalWORKS which she sees as a way to help her get on her feet. The food she receives from the Food Bank helps her stock her pantry. “These programs are vital,” she says. She’s not looking for lifelong help, just enough to get on her feet and go back to school so she can get a job to support her girls. Right now as part of the CalWORKS program requirement, she is working 21 hours a week but is basically working to pay for a babysitter for her 5 and 7 year old daughters. She is grateful for the work and experience but is looking forward to figuring out what she wants to do and is considering early childhood education.

Without the CalWORKS “I would be homeless. I wouldn’t be able to feed my two girls,” she says. “They have clothes thankfully but they grow so fast. What about shoes? And they would outgrow their clothes within a year.” Thanks to the Medi-Cal program her daughters are caught up on their immunizations and their cavities are fixed. Now she can focus on her own medical needs after not having insurance for 3 years. She never knew about any of these programs or free medical clinics until she needed them. She never thought she would be in this position. “I am so grateful,” she says.

What can you do? Tell Governor Brown not to cuts programs like CalWORKS and Medi-Cal that help people like my new friend. Cutting these programs will hurt real families here in California. Tell him these budget cuts aren’t just numbers on a page, they are a crushing blow to California families who struggle to keep their children in school and put food on their tables.