The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is relieved congressional leaders and the administration reached a deal last week to temporarily re-open the federal government. However, we remain deeply concerned about the lasting impact this shutdown will have for federal workers and contractors, food assistance recipients, and emergency food providers like the Food Bank.
While federal workers will receive back pay, more than a million federal contract employees will not. This is a significant financial impact, as almost 10% of their yearly pay was lost during the shutdown. We anticipate that both federal workers and contractors will continue to need food assistance as they recover from this financial hurdle and brace for the possibility of another closure.
The uncertainty of the shutdown also caused an early issuance of February Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Families and individuals received February benefits on January 16. This has created a “SNAP gap” that is likely to cause significant financial strain for SNAP participants, who will go 40 to 60 days without a benefit payment. While the total amount of nutrition assistance will not change, the long gap between the availability of benefits will cause hardship for many households and further strain the emergency food assistance network.
SNAP typically provides families with about two to three weeks of food, and a third of all recipients already rely on food banks to make ends meet for the remainder of the month. In addition to creating a great amount of confusion, this prolonged gap between nutrition benefit payments will create an unprecedented strain on emergency food networks like ours.
There is also the very real concern that an agreement on a long-term spending bill may not be reached by February 15 and we could have another shutdown. If this occurs, the same budgetary provision used to pay out February benefits could be utilized to distribute April benefits early. While this may be necessary in order to ensure that people receive April benefits, it would create another straining and confusing SNAP gap. If the government were to shut down again for an extended period of time, May SNAP benefits would face an uncertain future.
The Food Bank is calling on the administration and Congress to reach a long-term compromise as soon as possible in order to allow the federal government to remain open and alleviate the stress, hunger, and hardship the partial shutdown has caused for millions of Americans.
Tell your elected officials today: the government MUST stay open. Every elected official – from the White House and halls of Congress to local and state leaders – needs to understand that nearly 40 million Americans’ food assistance is on the line if the government shuts down again.
Carly Finkle is the Policy and Advocacy Manager for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano
Last week the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that, despite the ongoing federal government shutdown, they will continue to fund federal nutrition programs through February.
The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is relieved that important benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as CalFresh), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and school meals will remain available for the time being to provide assistance to those who need it.
We are, however, deeply concerned about the fact that households in California already received their February CalFresh benefits today, January 15th. If the government does not reopen or specifically appropriate funds for nutrition assistance, there is not enough in federal reserves to cover the cost of March benefits.
If funds are available for March CalFresh benefits, families and individuals will still experience a significant gap in between their benefit payments. CalFresh typically provides families with about two to three weeks of food, and a third of all recipients already rely on food banks to make ends meet. In addition to creating a great amount of confusion, this prolonged gap between nutrition benefit payments will create an unprecedented strain on emergency food networks like ours.
For every meal our food bank provides, federal programs like CalFresh provide twelve.
Furthermore, as furloughed federal employees and contractors missed their first paycheck last week, we anticipate an increase in demand for food assistance from families and individuals who are experiencing hardship due to the shutdown. To help bridge the gap until the government reopens, furloughed workers and CalFresh households are eligible to receive food assistance from the Food Bank.
Unfortunately, during the shutdown the USDA will not be able to provide our food bank with funding to help offset the cost of distributing federally provided nonperishable goods into our community. This additional cost is not something anticipated in our budget and will be harder to cover over time.
The Food Bank is prepared to support the community through any crisis, and this shutdown is no different. However, we remain deeply concerned that demand will exceed our capacity if these critical programs do not continue to receive funds. Please call your members of Congress today and tell them to reopen the government immediately.
Take action and
- Call the Capitol switchboard and ask to be connected to your Representative or Senator (202) 224-3121
- Call the President (202) 456-1111
Submit a comment to the President: https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/
In a historic budget agreement signed by the Governor on June 27th, the state of California is finally easing hunger for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients. This 2018-19 budget deal will allow Californians on SSI to qualify for CalFresh nutrition assistance beginning in mid-2019.
SSI is a safety net program that provides a minimal basic income to older adults and people with disabilities who have little-to-no other income and resources. Although the maximum income grant for an individual is just $910.72 a month, SSI recipients have been ineligible for CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps, since the 1970s.
During the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010, the state of California cut its contribution to SSI grants down to the minimum amount allowed by the federal government and stopped automatically adjusting for inflation. The maximum individual benefit now stands at less than 90% of the federal poverty line.
After nearly a decade without meaningful restorations to this program, the 2018-19 budget finally lifts the ban on CalFresh and reinstates annual cost-of-living adjustments. Although the base grants still need to be brought up above the poverty line, the addition of CalFresh benefits will have an enormous impact for the 1.3 million Californians on SSI.
“So many SSI recipients try to apply for CalFresh because they just can’t afford food on their fixed incomes,” says Lidia Gutierrez, CalFresh Outreach Coordinator at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. “But I always have to tell them, ‘no you aren’t eligible.’ These are our elders and people with disabilities and they are hungry.”
The state estimates that a single adult on SSI will likely qualify for $171 a month in CalFresh benefits.
“To get CalFresh means that I would have enough to actually make it through the month,” says Edward Williams, a 77-year-old Richmond resident who receives SSI. “I would have more money to buy simple things, like laundry detergent, that I normally wouldn’t have enough money for because I would need to use that money for food.”
With the current CalFresh ban still in place, most SSI recipients turn to community-based organizations like food banks just to survive. Nearly 1 in 4 households served by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano includes an SSI recipient.
Janet Ternes, a 70-year-old SSI recipient from San Pablo, relies on the Food Bank’s Senior Food Program to stretch her limited budget. “They give me vegetables and canned foods and dried foods [at the Food Bank,] and I can only afford to go to Grocery Outlet for the rest. If it wasn’t for the Food Bank, I don’t know what I’d do,” she says.
The new state budget also provides food banks with $8 million to purchase California-grown foods and another $5.5 million to support distribution capacity by investing in trucks, refrigerators, and other infrastructure. Because CalFresh benefits won’t be available to SSI recipients for about a year, due to necessary administrative preparations, the $13.5 million designated for California food banks will help meet SSI recipients’ food needs in the meantime. Food bank distributions are open to anyone in need, but SSI recipients in particular will benefit from this investment since so many rely on food banks as their primary source of food.
Finally, because a monthly income of $910.72 doesn’t even come close to the cost of a market-rate studio apartment in the Bay Area, this budget will provide additional relief to some SSI recipients through $500 million in grants for California cities to address homelessness.
On the whole, this budget takes significant steps to address the urgent poverty SSI recipients experience in California. The state still needs to restore the cuts to the base grant so people can meet their basic needs, like housing and medicine, but at least hunger will be less of a constant threat. We commend the legislature and Governor Brown for passing a budget that both saves for a future rainy day and offers an umbrella to those for whom it is already raining.
To support grassroots solutions to hunger, the Food Bank of Contra Costa & Solano has piloted the Speaker Series. This advocacy-training program for community members with lived experiences of hunger is designed to lift up the voices of real people facing hunger issues so they can become agents for change in their community.
The Food Bank‘s inaugural Speaker Series kicked off in 2017 with the Vallejo-based food pantry Faith Food Fridays and Toastmasters International. This year the Food Bank and Toastmasters co-hosted the Speaker Series with the financial services nonprofit SparkPoint Contra Costa in Bay Point.
The 3-month program consists of weekly workshops on public speaking, advocacy, and civic engagement. The participants come together to share their stories of hunger and build a community of hunger fighters.
Patricia Romero-Aguasvivas, a graduate from the first Speaker Series class, returned as a facilitator and encouraged others to speak out against hunger. “I decided to come back because after participating in last year’s series, I had a real feeling of empowerment,” she said. “I felt confident in talking about something that is so personal to me…and advocating towards ending hunger.”
Graduates from both Speaker Series attended Hunger Action Day in May in Sacramento to put their advocacy skills to work. Participants met face-to-face with their state elected officials, shared their personal stories of hunger and called for the passage of public policies that support food access and economic security.
Community members and elected officials attending June’s release of the Food Bank’s Hunger Study results also heard from some of the graduates of the Speaker Series as they described what it’s really like to be food insecure.
“It’s more powerful for an elected official to hear directly from those who are personally affected by hunger and poverty,” said Mary Ann Buggs, Advocacy & Community Engagement Coordinator at the Food Bank. “It puts a face on the issues. That’s what these graduates are able to accomplish.”
This year’s graduating class more than tripled in size, growing from 4 to 14! Jesse Alvarez, a senior and disabled veteran from Antioch who graduated from this year’s Speaker Series wants to see the program continue to grow. “It helped me to be confident in myself, fine tune my speaking skills, and become a positive influence in all aspects of life,” he said. “I am a proud advocate against hunger.”
Did you know that 1 in 8 members of our community turns to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano each month? The Food Bank supports neighbors from all walks of life and in all corners of our community.
Emergency food assistance is essential, but it isn’t enough. The Food Bank can’t solve the issue of hunger alone. We need YOU to join us in speaking out against hunger and advocating for policies to help eradicate it.
Each year the Food Bank participates in Hunger Action Day, a statewide day of organizing to raise awareness of the issue of hunger and work toward real solutions. We join hundreds of passionate Californians in calling on our elected officials to partner with us to end hunger and poverty.
This year Hunger Action Day will take place on Wednesday, May 16th. The Food Bank will rent a bus to Sacramento and fill it with Food Bank staff, volunteers, Board Members, food assistance recipients, community partners, and concerned neighbors just like you.
On a daily basis, the Food Bank provides free nutritious groceries to seniors struggling to get by on fixed incomes, college students working toward their degrees, families trying to keep up with rising rents, and individuals who have lost their housing. We work with community partners including senior centers, soup kitchens, school pantries, and churches to meet people where they are at, but we know that we still aren’t reaching everyone in need.
That’s why we gather with anti-hunger advocates on Hunger Action Day in front of the capitol for a rally in the morning where we hear from community leaders, elected officials, and food assistance recipients about the urgency of ending hunger. We will finish the day by having meetings directly with the state elected officials that represent us in Contra Costa County to ask them to use their power to pass anti-hunger policies.
Hunger Action Day on Wednesday, May 16th will be a full day of action – we typically leave the Food Bank in Concord at 7:00am and return by 5:00pm. In 2016, we brought a crowd of 15; in 2017, we doubled that to a group of 30…could you help us double in size again to reach 60 this year?
Mark the date in your calendar and RSVP this month to reserve your seat on the bus and guarantee a free lunch, snacks, and Hunger Action Day t-shirt! Please reach out to Carly Finkle, Advocacy Manager at the Food Bank, with any questions you may have or to confirm your attendance: [email protected] or 925-849-8361. See you there!
Food Bank provides assistance to communities impacted by North Bay fires
As devastating fires continue to burn throughout the North Bay, community members, local nonprofits, and government leaders have responded quickly to calls for assistance. The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano stands with all those impacted by this disaster, and we’re mobilizing our resources and community to provide support.
Parts of Solano County are on fire as well as huge swaths of the areas served by our partners at the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Sonoma, the Napa Valley Food Bank, and Yuba Sutter Food Bank. None of our food banks’ warehouses have been impacted and we’ve launched an immediate and coordinated response.
Neighborhoods within a few miles of our Food Bank’s Fairfield headquarters have received “prepare to evacuate” orders, but our warehouse is not threatened at this time. Green Valley and rural areas east of Fairfield in Solano County have already received mandatory evacuation orders. The Food Bank is coordinating with evacuation centers in Solano to provide food assistance to displaced residents.
The Food Bank was forced to temporarily suspend some Farm to Kids distributions due to school closures in Fairfield and Vacaville, but all other programs are operating normally at this time.
Seven Bay Area food banks, including ours, have a regional disaster plan in place and an agreement to come to each other’s aid in an emergency. The strength of our partnerships allowed us to immediately mobilize, providing affected food banks with truckloads of donated food, staff support, media outreach assistance, and other resources.
Affected counties and the state of California have deployed their own resources and issued requests for federal assistance, including the Disaster SNAP program and other emergency food resources. As we wait for responses,The Food Bank has been providing updates to our elected officials and preparing for the possible distribution of federal assistance.
If you are able to donate to food banks in the impacted North Bay communities, please do so today.
|Give to the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Sonoma|
|Give to the Napa Valley Food Bank|
|Give to the Yuba Sutter Food Bank|
|Give to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano|
Due to the evolving nature of the fires and our response, we will send out additional updates. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact our Communications Manager, Lisa Sherrill at [email protected].
The president released his proposed FY 2018 budget this month that calls for $193 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade. These deep cuts represent a 25 percent reduction in funding, a move that would increase hunger and deepen poverty for millions of Americans already struggling to make ends meet. About 67,000 individuals in Contra Costa County and 40,000 in Solano County relied on federally-funded SNAP benefits each month of 2016 – about half of whom were children.
In an effort to reduce federal spending on SNAP, the budget both cuts vital nutrition funding and pushes costs onto states—an historic shift that would permanently alter SNAP’s entitlement structure and abandon our nation’s long-standing bi-partisan commitment to combat hunger. The current structure of SNAP allows the program to flexibly expand and contract its caseload based on need, ensuring that benefits are available to anyone who qualifies. The proposed changes, however, would require states to pay for 25 percent of benefits that are currently fully funded by the federal government.
Restructuring SNAP’s program structure would require California to absorb $1.8 billion annually in SNAP benefit costs. Such cost-shifting measures would undermine SNAP’s efficiency, flexibility, and reach—particularly in times of economic recession.
The budget proposal also targets low-income seniors and the working poor by proposing to eliminate the minimum monthly SNAP benefit of $16. This would result in 110,000 individuals in California being kicked off the program, the vast majority of whom are seniors living on Social Security and low-income workers who use SNAP to supplement their earnings. Eliminating the minimum benefit would also cause the state to lose $14 million each month in SNAP benefits that currently flow into local economies and support food retailers and farmers.
The president’s budget contains a number of other harmful proposals that would increase hunger, restrict eligibility and reduce benefits for California’s low-income families. These threats including time limiting SNAP benefits for childless workers in areas of high unemployment, benefit caps for large SNAP households, and prohibiting California and other states with high costs of living from assisting families with incomes over 130 percent of the federal poverty line.
These proposed cuts to SNAP would force even more Americans to rely on emergency food assistance providers like food banks, but the president’s budget proposes $27 million in cuts to these charitable organizations. The federal Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) provides local organizations with dried and canned food items, representing more than 13% of all pounds distributed by the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano last year.
“There is no way that food banks and other charities could replace the proposed billions in cuts to SNAP benefits,” says Caitlin Sly, Program Director at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano. “Food banks are a complement, not a substitute, to the safety net.” Only 1 in 20 emergency assistance meals are provided by nonprofits, the rest flow through federal nutrition programs like SNAP.
The budget proposal also includes cuts of $627 billion from Medicaid, $21 billion from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, also known as Welfare-to-Work), and $72 billion from Social Security programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) that support low-income seniors and people with disabilities.
The president’s budget sends the message that hunger is an acceptable outcome in America. The Food Bank is urging Congress to oppose any budget proposal that goes back on our decades-long commitment to eradicate hunger and support a bi-partisan budget deal that invests in the health and nutrition of nation’s most vulnerable residents.
This month The Nation covered the impact that immigration fears have been having on hunger in California. Counties across the state have reported increasing instances of cancelled CalFresh nutrition assistance applications and food banks have been seeing decreasing numbers of immigrants at their distributions, which they attribute to fears that utilizing assistance could make families vulnerable to deportation. Read the full article from The Nation here.
The Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano has also heard these fears echoed within our own community. Parents have called to ask whether they should discontinue CalFresh benefits for their US citizen children for fear it could lead to their deportation. Individuals at our distributions have reported that they are picking up extra food for neighbors who are afraid to congregate in public – or even leave their homes. We understand the gravity of these fears, but also want to stress that at this point in time there have been no changes to eligibility for CalFresh. Furthermore, food assistance is always available from the Food Bank, regardless of immigrant status. Everyone is welcome at our food distributions. Read the Food Bank’s public letter on providing food to all here.
On Tuesday Governor Brown revealed a conservative 2016-17 Budget Proposal that maintains recession-era cuts to the vital Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Program. SSI is a very basic income available to blind, disabled, and aged individuals who have limited or no income and resources. The maximum grant for an individual is just 90% of the federal poverty line.
Despite steady economic growth and a healthy state budget reserve, the Governor’s proposal fails to make desperately-needed investments in SSI to allow seniors and people with disabilities to share in the state’s prosperity.
The maximum SSI benefit for an individual is only $895/month, which is barely enough to afford rent – let alone food – in the Bay Area. Because SSI recipients are ineligible to receive CalFresh nutrition assistance benefits, most rely heavily on food banks, sometimes as their only source of nutrition.
“There are days when I only have bread to eat,” says Toni, an SSI recipient from Concord.
Toni says she wouldn’t have even that if it weren’t for the groceries and hot meals she receives from the Food Bank distribution at her local church. She receives just $909 each month in SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance. After paying $870 in rent for her small apartment, Toni must choose whether to spend her remaining $39 on medication, transportation, or toiletries. “You have to pay all the other bills first. Food has to be last.”
After 10 years without a state-funded increase to SSI, advocates successfully negotiated a one-time cost of living adjustment through last year’s state budget process. The 2.67% increase to the state’s contribution is an important step towards restoring benefits, but it is nowhere near enough to lift California’s 1.3 million SSI recipients out of poverty.
Lisa, an SSI recipient from Bay Point, saw her income rise just $5 this year. “Five dollars means that I can maybe afford to do two loads of laundry,” she says. “I still don’t have enough money to survive. We have gone without food for days… I can’t afford even the minimum.”
The 2016-17 state budget can and must reinstate SSI benefits to their pre-recession levels and add a meaningful cost-of-living adjustment so that no one has to suffer the indignity of hunger.
“I wish there was a way for me to talk to Governor Brown myself,” says Lisa. “Do you think he knows what it’s like to worry about a bill so much it gives you a stomachache first thing when you wake up every morning?”
President Obama’s Advisory Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships released a report last week that provides recommendations to the incoming President on combatting economic inequality in America. This report, Strengthening Efforts to Increase Opportunity and End Poverty, argues that we must go beyond service provision to address past and present systems of structural racism and discrimination.
The factors have given rise to current levels of extreme inequality and financial insecurity are numerous and complex. The report’s authors assert that “efforts to substantially alleviate poverty must address underlying economic, social, and racial justice issues” if they are to be effective and sustainable. In addition to historic and present structural discrimination, the report points to a weakening of the social safety net, declining wages, concentrated poverty and wealth, mass incarceration, and a broken immigration system as underlying causes of economic inequality.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as CalFresh, was cited as a fundamental and proven tool to fight poverty and inequality. These grocery benefits lifted as many as 10 million people out of poverty in 2014, including 5 million children. Research shows that children who receive food assistance have lifelong improvements in their educational, health, and economic outcomes. The Food Bank works diligently to increase access and strengthen the CalFresh program through our policy advocacy, direct outreach, and partnerships with county CalFresh departments.
The authors’ primary anti-hunger recommendation is to expand the use of food insecurity screenings in health care settings. They call for federal guidance to health care providers on screening their patients’ access to food, integrating patient responses into their medical record, and providing referrals to nutrition-assistance programs like CalFresh. These practices could combat hunger, improve health outcomes for low-income individuals and families, and reduce health care costs. The Food Bank is very supportive of this recommendation and is currently looking at how we can partner with local health care providers to systematize food insecurity screening and referrals.
Although screening for food insecurity and prescribing programs like CalFresh are moral imperatives in the fight to end hunger, the report issues in-depth recommendations to prevent that need from arising in the first place. The authors argue that in order to fulfill our national commitment to end extreme poverty and hunger in America by 2030, we must shift our understanding of poverty away from individualized instances of “personal responsibility” to work toward economic, social, and racial justice.
To learn more about the Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships’ analysis of poverty and solutions to inequality, we encourage you to read the full report.
Last Friday, September 30th marked the Governor’s final deadline to sign off on bills approved by the state legislature in 2016. This session was full of satisfying victories and disappointing losses. After months of traveling up to Sacramento to testify in policy hearings, meeting with and educating our elected officials on the issue of hunger, and organizing community members to send letters and make phone calls in support of these bills, here’s how it all shook out:
Let’s start with the good news…
- AB 1747 (Weber) Address college student hunger by expanding CalFresh outreach to students, increasing access to CalFresh restaurant meal programs, and requiring public colleges to provide surcharge-free access to EBT.
- AB 2057 (Stone) Clarify laws concerning replacement benefits for CalFresh recipients fleeing domestic violence.
- SB 1232 (Leno) Require counties that use electronic employment databases to verify earned income in a way that is both transparent and helpful to low-income CalFresh applicants.
- SB 1339 (Monning) Improve processing of inter-county transfers for CalFresh/CalWORKs/Medi-Cal recipients.
Before getting to the bad news…
- AB 1584 (Brown) Increase Supplemental Security Income (SSI/SSP) grants for food and living expenses by automatically applying an annual cost of living adjustment.
- Although this year’s state budget included a one-time cost of living adjustment that will be added SSI/SSP grants on January 1st, 2017, the Governor vetoed this bill which would have automatically added cost of living adjustments each year. In his veto message he made clear that it was not because the bill was unworthy, but because he wants these issues dealt with in the budget process.
- AB 1770 (Alejo) Update CalFresh eligibility standards to include all legally present immigrants and refugees who meet all other eligibility rules.
- The Governor vetoed this bill. In his veto message he made clear that it was not because the bill was unworthy, but because he wants these issues dealt with in the budget process.
- AB 2054 (Thurmond) Design a Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer for Children program (SEBTC) to provide nutrition assistance benefits to eligible households during the summer when kids lose access to school meals.
- This bill died in committee and never passed the legislature.
- AB 2151 (Chu) Increase CalWORKs special diet or food preparation needs allowance and allow for various health professionals to determine need.
- This bill died in committee and never passed the legislature.
- AB 2131 (Maienschein) Create a specialty John Lennon “Imagine No Hunger” license plates, the proceeds from which would fund CA Food Banks.
- This bill died in committee and never passed the legislature.
- AB 2768 (Thurmond) Provide a tax credit for prepared food donations to soup kitchens and hot food providers. Position: Support
- This bill died early in committee and never passed the legislature. Organizations can still donate certain prepared foods, but they will not get a tax credit for it.
- SB 904 (Hertzberg) Prevent counties from opting-out of federal waivers that lift CalFresh’s three-month benefit time limit for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) when unemployment is high.
- This bill died in committee and never passed the legislature. Counties will voluntarily opt-in to lifting time limits for CalFresh recipients if they qualify based on their unemployment rate.
In a number of his veto letters, the Governor indicated that he would prefer to handle these issues through the state budget process, rather than as bills. The Food Bank will continue to advocate for our top priority issues that weren’t passed this year, and we look forward to engaging with the Governor and others through the state budget process and others. To learn about the anti-hunger investments that were made in this year’s state budget, read our article published in the East Bay Times!