Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

6 posts from May 2007

The Challenge Hits Our Office

One of Bread's Regional Organizers, Elise Young, has convinced her fiancé, Mark, to take the Food Stamp Challenge with her and live on a $3 a day, the average food stamp benefit, for four days.

Elise says:

I had been preparing for the Food Stamp Challenge for over a week, gathering coupons, researching good food deals and laying out my grocery store action plan, like the obsessed Organizer that I am. I found a great deal at Safeway where if you buy 10 or more of certain qualifying products, you get back a $10 credit coupon for your next grocery trip.  Perfect!  This would be my little food safety net for the week. 

However, I made a crucial error. Mark and I spent the weekend camping, and didn’t go grocery shopping for the week until 9:30pm on Memorial Day night.  Most of the 10-for-10 products were gone by then, so I spent an hour and a half pouring through the store to find my 10 products. 

At 5 minutes before closing, I was finally ready to check out.  I explained to the incredibly sweet check-out woman that I had 11 of the 10-for-10 products and was hoping to get a $10 coupon back (which I was planning to use the next day to buy pudding, cheese, extra bread and maybe some diet soda!)  However, we finished check out and NO coupon came out of the machine.  The woman took one look at my painfully disappointed face and went to double check with her supervisor.  Long and short, I had to wait for another 10 min. to find out that in small black print on the 10-for-10 coupon that I had printed out, it actually read, “Must purchase at least $30 worth of products to be eligible for the $10 coupon.”

“OH, NO!,” I cried out.  The sweet check-out woman smiled at me, though, and handed me a coupon all the same.  “I thought that you might really need this, so I found an extra one,” she said as she winked at me.  Relief!  My hour and a half obsessed grocery journey had meaning again.  I thanked the kind woman and then lugged my groceries home to my house.  After having put away my meager supply of food, I pulled the coveted $10 coupon out of my pocket and studied it a little closer.  I noticed that in very small ink at the bottom of the couple, it read,   “Must be used by 5/29/07 with a $50 or more purchase.”  Good grief.  I couldn’t even use the coupon after all, since I would have to spend $50 more the very next day to receive the credit.  I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, at all of my research and time spent in the store.  I realized how Food Stamp Families would probably not have had the same luxury of time and research capabilities that I had had.  I also realized how losing the ability to use that $10 coupon was an annoyance for me, but would have been devastating for a hungry family who had been counting on it for extra food.

Mark says:

I think Elise and I have also been realizing the difficult choices that need to be made when living on a strict budget. When a friend calls and asks if you want to grab lunch or dinner you have to turn it down because spending this amount of money would ruin your whole budget for the week.

It has also helped us to focus on all the little items we get for free with our professional jobs.  This includes perks like free coffee, free soda, and chips from coworkers.  If everyone around us were on this budget, they would not have these little things available for consumption.  Since, we are on this budget, we must restrict ourselves from partaking of these things.

You must also focus on planning your day around eating so that you don't run into hunger pains at the wrong time.  You can't just grab a snack from the store.

This process has really made me appreciate how lucky I am and recognize some of the areas in which I over-consume.

Tim Ryan's New Diet

  • Representatives Jim McGovern (D-MA) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), co-chairs of the Hunger Caucus, recently asked their colleagues to take the Food Stamp Challenge to raise awareness about hunger and the difficulties of eating a balanced diet on $21 a week.. Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) took on this challenge and are publicizing their experience.
  • From Tim Ryan's blog today:       

    Well its day two of the Food Stamp Challenge and I’ve been absolutely astounded and heartened by the amount of press that the Challenge has received. It’s wonderful that so many people across the country are thinking about hunger and poverty, two of the most important issues we face today. It’s my hope that my colleagues will see what we’re doing here and start to think about people on food assistance as humans and not just some statistic.

     Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), right, deliberates with press secretary Brad Bauman about which items to keep in his basket as he buys $21 worth of groceries, the weekly food stamp allotment, as part of a House Hunger Caucus challenge.
    Ryan deliberates with press secretary Brad Bauman about which items to keep in his basket as he buys $21 worth of groceries, the weekly food stamp allotment, as part of a House Hunger Caucus challenge. (Photo by Kim Frey in the Washington Post)
    I’m feeling much better today. Yesterday, I didn’t eat anything at all until lunchtime, and that really took a lot out of me. So far today I’ve had some cottage cheese, a cup of coffee and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I think that now that my body has had some time to adjust, it’s a little easier, but my energy level is still noticeably lower than normal. I have some serious challenges ahead of me today. I’m expected to make an appearance at a reception on Capitol Hill and I need to pass by a dinner meeting at one of my favorite restaurants afterwards. I know I’ll be fine.
    My biggest concern today is running out of food before the end of the week. One loaf of bread doesn’t make as many sandwiches as you’d think, and I’m running through my cottage cheese pretty fast as well. The budgeting was hard enough, rationing what I do have will present another challenge. 

    I want to take a moment to thank you all for your kind comments and support! For those of you who also responded asking about “John Amdor”, well he’s one of my intrepid interns who has been an integral part of my participation in the Food Stamp Challenge. He has my eternal gratitude for the $7.98 cents in savings that his Safeway Club Card gave me.

Words to Live By

For nearly a decade now, I've been obsessed with quotes. As a high school freshman, I started filling a notebook with my favorite sayings because I knew I'd want really good ones to accompany my senior yearbook photo. ("It is our choices, Harry, far more than our abilities, that show us who we truly are," from Albus Dumbledore, was one of my first entries.) Today, my bedroom door is plastered with bumper stickers that have great political quotes. (Even if I did have a car, I doubt I'd expose these treasures to the elements.) When I began working at Bread, one of my first cubicle decorations was a large poster with my favorite version of Amos:5 - "Let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream."

I realized yesterday that poverty has been around since the beginning of civilization, and that many people have had some interesting takes on the subject. The sample of quotations that follows is just to get you thinking, not to endorse any one particular author or philosophy. Feel free to comment or to add your own!

"It is not easy for men to rise whose qualities are thwarted by poverty" -Juvenal (Roman poet, 55AD - 127 AD)

If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.  ~Charles Darwin (English naturalist, 1809-1882)

It would be nice if the poor were to get even half of the money that is spent in studying them.  ~Bill Vaughan (American columnist and author, 1946-1977)

Love and business and family and religion and art and patriotism are nothing but shadows of words when a man's starving.  ~O. Henry (American writer, 1862-1910)

Poverty is the mother of crime.  ~Marcus Aurelius (Roman Emperor, 121-180 AD)

"For every talent that poverty has stimulated it has blighted a hundred."
John W. Garner (American writer, 1933–1982)

In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of.
-Confucius (BC 551-BC 479) Chinese philosopher.

"Loneliness is the most terrible poverty."
Mother Teresa Roman Catholic missionary in India (1910-1997)

Stand Up for Mom and ONE this Mother's Day

Posted by Deb Ballam – StandingWomen.org volunteer and ONE member, Columbus, OH  


Mother's Day is quickly approaching. So what am I going to be doing this weekend? As an Ohio ONE members and a volunteer for StandingWomen.org, I'm going to use StandingWomen.org's Mother's Day event as an opportunity to spread the word about the fight against extreme poverty.

On May 13, led by StandingWomen.org, women will be gathering at 1 pm in local parks, school yards, and other gathering places to stand in silence for 5 minutes to think about all the children in the world you still need access to clean water, food and education.

What will you be doing? I invite you to gather with your family and the ONE members your area too. We hope that you'll wear ONE shirts and bands and talk to others in your community about what we can all do to make this a safer, healthier world for our children.

A Trip Back Home: Welfare and Work in Wisconsin

So, I went back home for a vacation a few weeks ago- home for me is Milwaukee, WI. I had a good time, got to see some old friends and (I'm a little embarassed to admit) watched almost the whole first season of Six Feet Under on DVD. What can I say, sometimes the mind just needs a little dulling.

However, in between mind-dulling sessions of the boob tube and friendly reunions, I got a chance to do something relevant to Bread's work: two interviews with people in Milwaukee who have been involved in designing and running the W-2, or welfare, program there, Julie Kerksick of the New Hope Project and Jennifer de Montmollin of the YWCA. For the last three months or so, I've been working on a chapter for the upcoming Hunger Report that is focused on the work-support system, and both Julie and Jennifer are experts at running employment and work programs.

My trip to New Hope was first. Located in a small office in North Milwaukee, New Hope has been around since 1991, when a coalition of non-profits and private funders came together to run an experiment: if they were given support in the form of child care, health care, a wage supplement, and employment services, would people who were jobless and/or poor be able to pull themselves out of poverty? For eight years, the program offered just these supports to a group of 700 people, hiring the research organization MDRC to do a detailed study on the results.   

During our interview, Julie emphasized that the philosophy of the program was to take a positive approach: they assumed that people who came to them wanted to work but were prevented from doing so because of a number of factors, most of which could be traced back to the fact that the jobs that were available to the population they were serving did not offer enough income for participants to cover their basic necessities (child care, health care, etc.).

The findings of MDRC supported this idea. Compared to a control group that was not offered the benefits of the New Hope Project, participants in the program worked longer and more often and experienced less poverty. The children of these participants were more likely to be placed in licensed childcare settings and performed better in school.

New Hope's success is part of what inspired the way that Wisconsin implemented the W-2 program after welfare reform in 1996. Because the idea of welfare reform was to incentivize employment among poor families, it seemed natural that many of the ideas tested by New Hope would resurface in the way the state restructured its social supports. Unlike some other states, support such as child care and health care in Wisconsin is virtually guaranteed to those who are working but don't hold jobs in which they make enough to get by. The W-2 program serves both to help participants find employment and to direct them to these other supports offered by the state.

My second interview, with Jennifer de Montmollin, the director of the W-2 program administered by the Milwaukee YWCA, gave me a clearer picture of how these policies played out. Coming to the YWCA, people applying for the W-2 program are offered a range of services. If they are deemed able to work, they are required to search for a job. Staff members at the YWCA will help them in this search, providing job-search resources and services such as practice interviews. In some cases, the YWCA has also helped direct people looking for W-2 support to training programs.

If a person is deemed unable to work, because of barriers such as domestic violence, substance abuse, poor literacy or a range of other reasons, they are passed through to be given cash assistance through TANF. The YWCA will then work with them to find them a community service job or help them obtain other skills and qualifications that may help them in their job search. Whether they are determined to have barriers to employment or not, participants in the W-2 program are directed to City Hall, where they can apply for Food Stamps, EITC, childcare subsidies, and health benefits offered by the state.

This system has been one of the most successful out of all of the states in helping people into the workforce. In the years since welfare reform, Wisconsin reduced its caseload of welfare recipients by 80%. Today the YWCA, one of the three organizations in Milwaukee that administers the W-2 program, has about 900 cases at any given time, and is continually developing new programs to address the needs of Milwaukee's poor.

Despite these successes, however, when talking with both Jennifer and Julie, it became clear that there is a need in Milwaukee for the W-2 program to refocus its energies towards addressing more fully the issue of people with barriers to work. New Hope, which had ceased running its program shortly after welfare reform was implemented in the state, has begun a new project in recent years that is oriented towards helping people with barriers to employment gain employment through a temporary transitional job program. Participants are monitored for three months at a job with a local organization or employer, then are assisted in finding a job after the initial three-month period. They are given cash bonuses for retaining their permanent job for a time after exiting the program.

The YWCA is able to replicate this kind of program to a certain extent; as I mentioned before, there are community service positions available for those who appear unfit for a permanent job when they first come to the W-2 program. However, some recent changes to the welfare program on the national level have made it harder for the YWCA to perform the function of helping people who might need some extra attention.

In 2005, welfare reform was reauthorized on the federal level with the stipulation that 50 percent of those on W-2 should be in the workforce. For organizations such as the YWCA, this poses a problem, because since the caseload has been reduced by such a large margin, the population making use of the W-2 program today is much more disadvantaged than it was ten years ago. In other words, those who could easily find work are now off of welfare and in the worforce. Those who are on W-2 are likely to have problems that prevent them from gaining and keeping employment.

Furthermore, welfare reauthorization put new limits on the amount of training people in W-2 can receive, restricting the kinds of training they are eligible for and amount of time they could spend taking college courses. Clearly, there is room for improvement in the way we are writing federal TANF policy. My meetings with Jennifer and Julie confirmed for me that there are advocates out there with great ideas about how we can help people become self-sufficient. Hopefully the time will come soon when our federal legislators start listening to them.

Hill Chatter: Why the Farm Bill Matters to Latinos

Despite the fact that over 80% of farm workers are Latino, there are only 3 farms owned by Latinos for every 100 farms owned by whites.

The overall hunger rate in the U.S. is 11.5%, but percentage of Latinos who experience hunger or food-insecurity is 17%, nearly one in five.

    On Wednesday, a Congressional Briefing on Latinos and the 2007 Farm Bill addressed these facts. John Salazar, the only Latino farmer in Congress, stressed the need to change our budget priorities to better help farmers and enable young people to enter the field. He also bragged about providing the “best smoked brisket in Washington” to Hill cook-outs, straight from his own farm.

  Representative Joe Baca, D-Ca, plans to introduce a bill in the next few weeks that will support socially-disadvantaged farmers, help Latinos get into the farming business, and strengthen nutrition programs. Latino farmers are half as likely as white farmers to receive federal subsidies, which Baca blames on a lack of access to information on these programs. The next Farm Bill will promote better respect and treatment for Latinos. “Our day in the sun has come,” Baca said.

  From the National Council of La Raza, Jennifer Ng’andu addressed the Food Stamp Program, which is funded in the Farm Bill. The current allotment of about a dollar a meal for each food stamp participant is not enough for a nutritious diet, she said. Instead, many Latinos buy cheap, calorie-laden foods instead. “They are forced to compromise their health and well-being to fill their stomachs,” she told the audience.

  Certainly, the statistics indicate that Latinos are facing an epidemic of obesity. Nearly half of Hispanic three-year-olds are overweight or obese. A host of factors contribute to this, but research indicates that high food-insecurity leads to overeating when food is available and a quick walk through any supermarket will show you that purchasing fruits and vegetables is more expensive than loading up on Ramen.

  Congress is expected to begin writing the Farm Bill legislation this month. Debates and revisions will likely last the summer. If you want to contact your member of Congress as they draft this important bill, do so now!

Visit this page for Bread’s sample letter and key facts about the Farm Bill:













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