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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.

Food Bank Friend Joins the Farm Bill Committee

The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano would like to congratulate Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA) on being appointed to serve as a Member of the House Agriculture Committee. Mr. Garamendi, a lifelong rancher and farmer, will join in bicameral negotiations on the farm bill, which could be voted on by the House in December and includes funding for nutrition programs like SNAP/CalFresh.

“One in four American children struggles with hunger. It’s just plain wrong that the wealthiest country in the world does not feed its children,” said Congressman John Garamendi, a Member of the House Agriculture Committee. “Childhood hunger holds back physical, emotional, and cognitive health. Nutrition assistance provides vital help for these children and families literally struggling to put food on the table. Everyone deserves a shot at the American Dream, and that starts with making sure no child or family in America goes to bed hungry.”

You can help! Urge your Members of Congress to stand strong against cuts to hunger-relief programs like SNAP, TEFAP, and WIC and to protect the charitable tax deduction and food donation tax extender.

Calling Congress is easy!  Here’s how:

  • Call using Feeding America’s toll-free hotline at 866-527-1087.
  • Listen to the pre-recorded message and enter your zip code when prompted. Connect to your Senators first.
  • Once you are connected to your first Senator, state that you are a constituent and give your name and the town you are calling from. Be sure to give the name of the Food Bank or local agency you are affiliated with.
  • Let them know you are calling about anti-hunger programs and deliver this important message:

I urge you to oppose cutting SNAP and other hunger-relief programs as part of any deal on the Fiscal Cliff and to continue to protect tax incentives to encourage food and fund donations to food banks.  Cutting programs that put food on the table for hungry Americans is not the way to balance our nation’s budget. 

  • Be sure to repeat the process so that you speak with your Representative and both of your Senators.

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

CalFresh Helps Individuals and Business Community

Originally posted in the Vacaville Reporter – The vision of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is this: Through our efforts, we can assure every person in need in the community that they will be able to receive one meal a day. It is an ambitious goal because even though we are serving more than 130,000 people each month and distributing 17 million pounds of food each year, the number of people coming to us indicates there is much more to do.

Several years ago, we recognized we could make a difference by helping people enroll in the CalFresh program (the new name for food stamps). We have staff members who go to food distribution sites and help people understand what they need to do to enroll in the CalFresh program. We work with county enrollment workers at “train the trainer” workshops to create a network of people who can help those coming for food assistance enroll in the CalFresh program.

Because of the economic downturn and community enrollment efforts, participation in the CalFresh program has increased dramatically in Solano County. More than 20,000 households (more than 40,000 individuals) in Solano County are receiving CalFresh — 9.6 percent of the entire county. These households are trying to survive on an income of 130 percent of the poverty rate (approximately $29,976 for a family of four). Helping people enroll in the CalFresh program provides people with the money they need to buy food for their family.

I hope the work we do helps people understand that CalFresh is a nutrition program that brings federal dollars into our community, where it is spent in our local grocery stores. For every CalFresh dollar that comes into a community, $3 of economic activity is generated.

Like the school lunch program or the senior meal program, CalFresh exists so we can help feed our neighbors. I am grateful the CalFresh program exists for the 1 in 10 who needs it today.

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.

Hungry to finish the CalFresh Challenge

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: As part of Hunger Action Month at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I am now finishing my week of living on a CalFresh (formerly food stamp) budget.

I began living on $34.31 worth of groceries last Sunday, and am so looking forward to this coming Sunday, when every meal will no longer be a major decision in my life. For the people we serve, it is not a decision they can make as easily.

I learned from the CalFresh challenge that I am a terrible planner. I’m not good at grocery shopping anyway and am worse when I have to strictly pay attention to costs. Shopping on a budget is all about planning, so this was a challenge.

Couple that with a lack of imagination, and you have breakfast every day this week being a slice of toast and a piece of fruit. As part of the CalFresh Challenge, I agreed to not eat food served at events, to truly feel the limits of the budget. When I was the agency speaker at a United Way event with Wells Fargo leadership, I could have had a bagel and cream cheese with a nice plate of expensive fruit and, truly, if I were on food assistance, I would have.

Lunch has been yogurt, fruit, a carrot and a piece of cheese. Every day. Forget variety when the budget is tight.

Fried eggs with toasted bread was a filling Sunday night dinner. Bean burritos Monday night (with some greens). Chicken on Tuesday, with a salad. Home late from a meeting on Wednesday, so scrambled eggs (tortillas instead of bread). Black beans and toast on Thursday night because I had to hustle to an evening meeting.

So, my pattern seems to be lots of carbs and some protein. Good thing I’m getting fruit, because vegetables are not working into my limited cooking and food dollars.

I also wonder how a diet heavy on eggs and dairy products would work long-term, since I’m trying to limit cholesterol, but they are an affordable source of protein. I also realize that living on a CalFresh diet would require me to be more deliberate about grocery shopping. I’m sure I could find different options than the breakfast and lunch treadmill I am on, but it requires much more thought.

I am grateful to be able to stop making these tough food choices after a short week. I have gained empathy for the people who rely on CalFresh to help them access fresh, healthy food every month because, without it, many would go hungry.

If you are someone you know are in need of food assistance including CalFresh, please call the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano at 855-309-FOOD or visit us at www.foodbankccs.org/get-help.html.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord.

 

Farm Bill Update: SNAP Cuts Pass House Ag Commitee

From the St. Anthony Foundation blog written by Colleen Rivecca, Advocacy Coordinator: Thanks to everyone who joined in on the national call-in day to support SNAP in the Farm Bill.  Here’s an update on the Farm Bill action from July 11.

On Wednesday, July 11, the House Agriculture Committee voted to accept $16 billion in cuts over 10 years to SNAP (the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”, also known as “food stamps” or “CalFresh” here in California).  A group of Representatives (Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Joe Baca of California, Peter Welch of Vermont, Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Terri Sewell of Alabama) attempted to reinstate $16 billion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, but their amendment failed on a 15 to 31 vote.

What would the $16 billion in cuts to SNAP mean for California?

  • Put restrictions on the use of “Categorical Eligibility”.  In California, AB 433 of 2008 (one of our Hunger Action Day bills) implemented modified Categorical Eligibility in California, extending CalFresh to individuals whose income is low enough for them to qualify but who have assets (savings, retirement funds) that would make them ineligible.  Restricting the use of Categorical Eligibility in California  would make approximately 177,000 low-income households ineligible for CalFresh.
  • Put restrictions on the use of the “Heat and Eat” option.  In California, AB 6 of 2011 (another one of our Hunger Action Day bills) will, starting January 1, 2013, increase CalFresh benefits by $43/month for about 200,000 California households by allowing them to automatically qualify for a deduction for utility payments.  The Farm Bill amendment to restrict the use of Heat and Eat will limit states’ abilities to automatically allow for a utility deduction.

What happened and why?

SNAP enrollment has risen from 19 million in 2002 to 46 million in 2012.  Those who favor cutting SNAP see SNAP spending as a drain on the economy and are trying to cut costs by identifying what they call “loopholes” used by states to ease SNAP enrollment.  Two of the “loopholes” they’re trying to close are Categorical Eligibility and Heat and Eat. As House Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas stated, “SNAP’s resources have been stretched because this administration has encouraged states to take liberties in how the program is administered”.

Anti-Hunger advocates who support SNAP see the program as an important economic stimulus and point out that SNAP enrollment is supposed to rise during times of economic difficulty, when more people are experiencing job loss, poverty, and hunger.  As the economy improves, SNAP enrollment rates will go down.  The Congressional Budget Office projects that the share of the population that participates in SNAP will fall back to 2008 levels in coming years and that SNAP costs as a share of the economy will fall back to their 1995 level by 2019.

Anti-hunger advocates see streamlining efforts such as Categorical Eligibility and Heat and Eat not as loopholes, but as tools to reduce administrative burdens on states and on SNAP participants while helping to ensure that hungry low-income people are able to access nutrition benefits.  Categorical eligibility helps low-wage working families with children and seniors with modest savings to qualify for SNAP.   Heat and Eat helps reduce paperwork and allows low-income people who don’t have utility bills in their name, but who still pay utility costs, to receive a SNAP benefit that is above the minimum benefit level of $16 per month.  A cut to Heat and Eat would disproportionately affect seniors, the disabled, and working poor families with children.

Next Steps:

There is still a lot of dissention in the House of Representatives around the Farm Bill.  Although it has passed through the House Agriculture Committee, there doesn’t seem to be much support for the bill in the full House.  The more conservative members of the House would like to see the bill’s price tag cut down further.  The more liberal members of the House don’t like the Farm Bill in its current form because of the SNAP cuts.

To further complicate matters, the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill differs significantly from the House’s version.  It is unclear at this point whether either house of Congress will bring the Farm Bill to the floor for a vote before the current version of the bill expires in September. They may decide to extend the current Farm Bill until the November election and to deal with creating a new Farm Bill at a less politically contentious time.

We will continue to keep you updated on upcoming opportunities to contact your representatives and advocate for a fair Farm Bill that does not hurt hungry people.

House Agriculture Committee Passes Farm Bill Proposal

Guest post by FRAC (Food Research and Action Center): The Farm Bill proposal passed early this morning by the House Agriculture Committee slashes funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $16 billion over ten years. It does this mainly by restricting states’ ability to coordinate SNAP with two other low-income programs.

Specifically, the cuts would restrict the broad-based Categorical Eligibility (Cat El) option that allows states to coordinate SNAP gross income and asset rules for participants enrolled in other programs, and limit states’ options to operate “heat and eat” policies. The cuts particularly target seniors and working poor families. The proposed cuts would have the following consequences:

  • Limiting Cat-El would result in millions of people each year losing benefits –1.8 million according to the CBO, or from 2 to 3 million, according to the Administration. The CBO also estimates that approximately 280,000 school-age children in those low-income households would no longer be deemed eligible for free school meals through their receipt of SNAP benefits.
  • Limiting “Heat and Eat” would result in an additional 500,000 SNAP participating households losing $90 a month in benefits, according to CBO.

Every cut to SNAP means less food in the refrigerators and the cupboards of the hungriest people in America – children, seniors, working families, unemployed workers, people with disabilities and others. And such cuts have been rejected by the American public. Seventy-seven percent of voters say that cutting SNAP would be the wrong way to reduce government spending.

“These cuts mean lost meals for hungry households,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “These cuts are at odds with every bipartisan deficit proposal discussed over the past year – Simpson-Bowles, Gang of Six, and others – as well as the Budget Control Act, which protected SNAP from cuts. We urge the House of Representatives to reject these cuts and pass a Farm Bill that preserves the strong structure of SNAP.”