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Farm Bill Passes in the House, Sent to the Senate for Vote Next Week

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Originally posted by our friends at Feeding America San Diego: After three years of negotiations, the House of Representatives has approved the Farm Bill by a vote of 251-166, with 15 members not voting on Wednesday, January 29, 2014.

The Senate is expected to begin procedural moves this week so that a Senate vote on the Farm Bill will take place on Monday next week.

Highlights from the nutrition title include the following (all numbers are based on a ten-year budget):

  • $8.55 billion cut to SNAP by tightening the “Heat and Eat” policy, which would affect the following states:  California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • $205 million increase for TEFAP.  The TEFAP funding would be front loaded to provide greater resources in the initial three years of the bill, with an additional $50 million in FY2015, $40 million in FY2016, $20 million in FY2017, $15 million in FY2018 and FY2019, $16 million in FY2020, FY2021, and FY2022, and $17 million in FY2023.  The funding is indexed for food price inflation.  This funding also has the same transfer authority as TEFAP mandatory funding, allowing states to transfer up to 10% of the funding into TEFAP storage and distribution grants.
  • Establishes the Dairy Donation Program. If dairy prices fall below a specific price trigger for 5 consecutive months, USDA is authorized to begin a dairy purchase program, with the dairy products going to public and private nonprofit organizations, and with instructions for USDA to consult with nonprofits on the type of dairy products requested. While there is no set cost, this would provide additional commodities much like TEFAP bonus commodities do when prices are low enough to trigger USDA price support.
  • $250 million for states to pilot innovative programs help SNAP participants get back to work.
  • Clarifies allowable SNAP outreach activities (for example, forbids outreach workers from receiving rewards on a per-head basis for number of applications processed).
  • Improves SNAP access by allowing SNAP home delivery for homebound seniors and disabled participants.
  • Promotes access to nutritious food by tightening stocking requirements for SNAP retailers and testing new ways to use EBT cards (for example, swiping on a mobile device at a farmers’ market).
  • Improves SNAP integrity through new measures to combat trafficking of benefits by retailers and recipients and policy changes forbidding benefits for lottery winners and affluent college students.
  • Transitions the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) to a senior only program, allowing women and children currently participating in the program to remain on the caseload.
  • Protects SNAP nutrition education.

While, elements of this bill are positive, the cuts to SNAP are devastating for Californians and people in other states impacted by this cut. Please call Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and tell them “Vote NO on the Farm Bill. I oppose all SNAP cuts.” The number to use is the Capitol Switchboard:  (202)-224-3121.

Local Congressman Votes Against Increasing Hunger in America

Guest post from Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, CA): Today, Congressman John Garamendi, a rancher, pear farmer, and a Member of the House Agriculture Committee, voted against H.R. 3102, a partisan bill that would slash the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by nearly $40 billion, thereby denying food assistance to at least four million low-income Americans. The measure narrowly passed the House by a vote of 217 to 210.

Congressman John Garamendi released the following statement:

“We live in the richest nation on earth, yet one in five American children go to bed hungry. Nearly 50 million Americans, including many of our friends and neighbors in Northern California, struggle to put food on the table – through no fault of their own. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) plays a vital role in feeding the hungry, preventing millions from slipping into destitution, and helping people get themselves back on their feet. Indeed, more than 9 in 10 Americans on SNAP are children, seniors, disabled, or already working.

“SNAP has been a bipartisan success story. As President Reagan said, ‘As long as there is one person in this country who is hungry, that’s one person too many, and something must be done about it.’ This week, bipartisan Senate Leaders Bob Dole and Tom Daschle wrote an op-ed urging Congress to ‘Stop playing politics with hunger’ and reject this bill. They also point out that ongoing improvements to regulate the program have kept fraud and abuse to an historic low of less than 2%. The bipartisan Farm Bill passed by the Senate this year continues these reforms.

“H.R. 3102 breaks with this bipartisan tradition. The bill throws a monkey wrench into the work requirements for SNAP recipients found in the 1990s Welfare Reform Law. It eliminates employment opportunities by cutting job training programs. The bill’s pernicious legislative text would encourage states to pocket the savings from taking food away from their most impoverished residents. H.R. 3102 would take away school breakfast and lunch for 210,000 children. The bill would eliminate food assistance for one in five veterans and hundreds of thousands of seniors, disabled people, and low-income working Americans. At a time when so many Americans are struggling to get by, these draconian cuts would plunge even more people into extreme poverty.

“This bill will also weaken our nation’s farm and rural economies and jeopardize any chance of passing a new farm bill to support our nation’s farmers, ranchers, food security, conservation, and rural communities.”
Facts on SNAP:

 

  • Every dollar spent on reducing hunger adds $1.70 to the economy
  • The number and percent of people who struggle with hunger (i.e. meet the USDA definition of “food insecure”) in California’s Third Congressional District counties: Solano: 64,360 (15.6%), Sacramento: 243,470(17.3%), Yolo: 35,100 (17.6%), Sutter: 19,000 (20.2%), Yuba: 15,290 (21.3%), Colusa: 4,210 (19.8%), Lake: 12,990 (20.2%), Glenn: 5,080 (18.1%).
  • The number and percent of children who struggle with hunger: Solano: 21,120 (20.7%), Sacramento: 86,390 (23.8%), Yolo: 10,960 (24.4%), Sutter: 8,110 (31.1%), Yuba: 6,910 (33%), Colusa: 2,120 (19.8%), Lake: 4,530 (32.7%), Glenn: 2,350 (29.7%)
  • The rate of fraud and abuse in SNAP is less than 2%.
  • By contrast, the rate of error and fraud in the federal income tax system equals about 15 % of taxes legally owed.  That is, about 15 % of the income taxes that are owed go unpaid.
  • The House bill eliminates food assistance for more than 170,000 veterans, or nearly one in five veterans. An estimated 3 million veterans and their families don’t get enough to eat each month.
  • One in five children (16 million) struggle with hunger, a record high.
  • 22 million of all SNAP recipients are children (45% of the total).
  • There are nearly 4 million people over age 60 who are enrolled in SNAP, with the typical senior household with an average income under $10,000
  • In 2011, SNAP lifted the incomes of more than 1 million women above the poverty line.
  • Nearly 1 in 4 American Indians and Alaskan natives struggled with hunger in 2008.
  • The average SNAP benefit equates to roughly $1.40 per person per meal
  • There are two million fewer jobs than at the start of the recession
  • SNAP currently has work requirements which can be waived by the states during times of high unemployment.  46 states – including almost every Republican Governor – have sought waivers in FY13 to provide SNAP for those looking for work and repeatedly over the last ten years.
  • SNAP recipients live in all areas of the country – about 40 percent live in urban areas, 40 percent in suburban areas, and 20 percent in rural areas.
  • Sources and Resources: Agriculture Committee Short Summary of the bill, LA Times Article by Senators Dole and Daschle, Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture, Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Feeding America, Agriculture Committee detailed summary, and Feed Our Vets.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.