Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger
 

438 posts categorized "U.S. Hunger"

Living on the Poverty Cliff: Tianna Gaines-Turner Tells Her Story

Tianna Gaines-Turner
Tianna Gaines-Turner. (Laura Elizabeth Pohl/Bread for the World)

"It’s easier to build a fence at the top of a cliff than drive an ambulance to the bottom." - Art Simon in Writing Hunger into History.

By Robin Stephenson

Tianna Gaines-Turner knows something about cliffs. The working mother of three children has been climbing and falling off the poverty cliff for years.

Gaines-Turner told her story to the House Budget Committee on July 9, during the fifth War on Poverty hearing – a series of hearings exploring how to better address poverty in America. Gaines-Turner, a member of Witness to Hunger, has been the first expert witness invited to testify who lives in poverty.

“We are always trying to climb up. There is a constant climb,” Gaines-Turner said of her and her husband’s struggle to make ends meet with a combined income of roughly $14,000 a year. Federal benefits, such as housing assistance, medical aid, and food stamps, fill in the income gaps so that the Gaines-Turners can care for their children. All three of their kids require daily doses of asthma medicine and their twins suffer from epilepsy. 

Budgeting each month in the Gaines-Turner household is a balancing act. When circumstances change, she feels the “cliff effect.” A small increase in income can decrease the amount of food stamp benefits the family can receive. As she improves her circumstances, with each additional dollar earned she loses needed federal assistance. Yet, she cannot build assets and save for the future in case of hardship.  “If you have savings,” she says, “your caseworker says you are not eligible for programs.” So when a crisis hits, like a reduction in working hours, the Gaines-Turner family slides back down the cliff, never making it to stable ground.

House Budget Committee members differ on their approach to ending poverty. There are those who believe the safety net creates dependency and those who see federal anti-poverty programs as a bridge out of poverty. Asked if she thought federal programs promoted dependency, Gaines-Turner said, “I don’t think anyone ever wants to rely on federal programs. I feel like people do want to go out and get a job.”  Jobs, she noted, can be hard to come by depending on where you live. They also do not always pay a living wage. She went on to respond to notions that poverty was a condition of laziness.  “There is not a lazy bone in my body,” she said. “People put that label on us to put up a smoke screen so they don’t see have to see what is really going on.”

Bread for the World Institute outlined its own plan for ending hunger in America in its 2014 Hunger Report. Bread for the World's strategy stresses policies to reduce unemployment and improve the quality of jobs. It also urges support of a strong safety net, investments in people, and partnerships between community organizations and government programs.

Earlier this year, the House passed the fiscal year 2015 House budget proposal, which makes deep cuts to programs for hungry and poor people in the United States – including cutting food stamps by $125 billion.

The Gaines-Turner family, and millions of working-poor people, need Congress to build a fence at the top of the cliff by funding a strong safety net. At the same time, Congress must also craft policies that lead to living-wage jobs so that families can walk into a better future.

Robin Stephenson is the national lead for social media and senior regional organizer.

Why Are So Many Seniors Hungry?


Photo © Lindsay Benson Garrett/Meals on Wheels

Senior years are supposed to be "golden" years—a time when people who've worked hard their entire lives can enjoy retirement, travel, indulge in new hobbies, and play with grandchildren. Unfortunately, for many elders, senior years are hungry years.

A new Bread analysis, "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," shows that from 2001 to 2011, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger increased by an astonishing 88 percent. In 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, 2.8 million households with seniors experienced food insecurity. That same year, 3.9 million adults age 65 and older lived below the poverty line.

Why? In part, the Great Recession. Most people in this country felt the pinch of the U.S. economic downturn, but vulnerable populations, including seniors, have been especially affected. Also, seniors are less likely to ask for help than other groups—either because they don't know they're eligible for assistance, or because of the stigma around asking for it, they may not access feeding programs, such as Meals on Wheels, or federal nutrition programs, such as food stamps (SNAP). 

In one of the stories in the Washington Post's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on food stamps in America—"In Florida, a food-stamp recruiter deals with wrenching choices, focused on SNAP outreach to hungry seniors"— food stamp outreach worker Dillie Nerios bumps up against these issues in her work. The piece details one especially heartbreaking interaction between Nerios and a senior couple who lost their home and savings during the recession and are struggling to keep their heads above water, but still are hesitant to sign up for SNAP. Nerios tells them they've worked hard their entire lives, paid taxes that help fund safety net programs, and that there is no shame in asking for just a small amount of help so that they're able to afford food that will help keep them healthy and vibrant. Still, they hesitate. “It’s hard to accept,” the husband says.

While help may indeed be hard to accept, at a time when 30 percent of seniors who have worked their entire lives and contributed greatly to society now have to choose between feeding themselves or purchasing medication, something must change. We must work to strengthen programs that offer seniors assistance, and also erase the stigma that prevents them for asking for a helping hand, so that they can enjoy their golden years and not have to worry about putting food on the table.

Read more in Bread for the World's analysis "Keeping the Dream Alive: Hunger by the Numbers among Older Americans," and view the infographic "Food Insecurity: A Harsh Reality for Many Seniors."

Salvaging Food: Restaurants and Food Waste

[This is the first in a four-part series on salvaging food, reprinted with permission from the Bread New Mexico blog.]

360px-Dumpster-a-plentyBy Carlos Navarro

The issue of household food waste has grabbed a lot of headlines in recent months, but restaurant food waste is a problem not talked about as frequently. I started putting together this blog post to highlight how the City of Santa Fe and anti-waste nonprofit Reunity Resources developed a pilot progam to convert food scraps to compost.  As I was conducting research on how restaurants deal with leftover food, I came across a very interesting and comprehensive guide, put together by the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture), for restaurants to donate their leftover meals to food-salvage operations.

So, I decided to look at the issue in a four-part series. Part 1 offers excerpts from the guide; part 2 will provide excerpts from a memorial passed by the New Mexico state legislature to encourage the state's public schools to donate excess food; part 3 describes how food salvage got its start in Santa Fe; and part 4 looks at the operation that turns food scraps into compost.

Here are a few excerpts from the report "Food Donation: A Restauranteur's Guide."

Food Donation
Of the many methods employed to fight the problem of hunger in America, food recovery may be one of the best because it makes use of wholesome food that would otherwise be discarded. A June 1997 study by the US. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that more than one-quarter of all food produced in the nation is wasted. The study, conducted by the USDA Economic Research Service, is the first of its kind in 20 years to examine and quantify food loss. The study found that, in 1995, about 96 billion pounds of food-or 27 percent of the 356 billion pounds of food available for human consumption in the United States-were lost at retail, consumer and foodservice levels... With little effort, [restauranteurs] can make a huge difference in the lives of children, the elderly, the home- less and even the working poor in their communities by doing something that is already second nature to most restaurant professionals-feeding people.

Rescuing Fresh Produce
Restaurateurs should begin their search for donation items by looking at the food they have in storage, such as fresh produce that will spoil before it can be used. While no one would want to eat anything that is moldy, there are many occasions when perfectly edible fruits and vegetables are thrown out because they have passed the point of restaurant quality or freshness or are discovered to have bruises or to be soft so that the produce cannot be served to customers.

Protection from Liability
One of the biggest obstacles to donating food to hunger programs has always been the prospective donor’s fear of liability. However, everyone involved in the fight against hunger is now breathing easier since the passage of the Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act in October 1996. The coverage provided by this law-in combination with proper food-safety practices and thorough documentation-will go a long way toward protecting restaurants from liability in the unlikely case of a lawsuit involving donated food.

Carlos Navarro has been a Bread member for over 20 years and has led Bread’s presence in New Mexico for the last decade. He maintains the Bread for the World New Mexico website and blog, and serves on the Bread for the World board of directors.

Photo: A trash bag full of vegetables in a dumpster. (Flickr user Gabriel Amadeus)

Bread for the World Letter to U.S. Senate on Smarter Sentencing Act

Nate_work
Photo: Nate, a returning citizen in Ohio, who has been able to overcome the employment barrier, and now works to feed his family. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

Today, Bread for the World President David Beckmann sent the following letter to U.S. senators, asking them to support the Smart Sentencing Act, which would alleviate costly prison overcrowding, reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses, and those resentence cases subjected to mandatory minimum sentencing.

As stated in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, we cannot end hunger without confronting knottier social issues—and hunger and poverty often result from social exclusion and discrimination. Men and women who have spent time in prison often face difficulty finding jobs and feeding their families—and they are less likely to have access to social safety net programs. For example, most states restrict or ban certain returning citizens from using food stamps (SNAP).

Read the full text of the letter below.

April 24, 2014

 

Dear Senator:

 

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act (SSA), sponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Richard Durbin (D-IL).  This bipartisan legislation, which will soon see a vote in the Senate, alleviates the costly overcrowding crisis in our prisons. It would reduce excessive sentences for low-level drug offenses and authorize judicial review for possible resentencing of cases sentenced under the old 100 to 1 crack cocaine sentencing disparity. Bread for the World calls on you to vote in favor of the bill and asks you to consider co-sponsoring the SSA. Additionally, we hope you will oppose any additional amendments that harm the bill’s integrity, such ascreating mandatory sentences for other offenses.

As a Christian anti-hunger advocacy organization, we view federal policy through the lens of its impact on hunger and poverty.  Hunger is often a byproduct of social exclusion and discrimination. People who have spent time in prison are more likely to face barriers to work and thus less likely to have the resources to put food on the table. The toll on families and their economic security is significant. Furthermore, outdated, overly punitive, and unnecessarily restrictive drug sentencing disproportionately and unfairly incarcerates people of color for low-level and nonviolent offenses.

Passage of the Smarter Sentencing Act would help restore fairness in our justice system. Since 1980, the federal prison population has increased by an astounding 800 percent even though crime rates are lower. Half of the people in prison are there for a drug offense. Fewer people incarcerated for nonviolent, low-level drug cases would have a marked improvement on hunger in America.

I urge you to support S. 1410, the Smarter Sentencing Act, protect it from additional harmful amendments, and consider co-sponsoring the legislation.

 

Sincerely,

 

David Beckmann

President

What Does Food Insecurity Look Like in Your Community?


A woman serves dinner at a soup kitchen. (Screen shot from A Place at the Table, courtesy of Participant Media)

“I just want my kids to be fed," Jaime Grimes of Lincoln, Neb., recently told NBC News. The former teacher and mother of four visits food pantries, grows food in a community garden, and receives food stamps (SNAP); her children participate in a variety of nutrition programs, from school lunches to a backpack program that sends them home with food once a week. Still, it's not enough. 

Although the effects of the Great Recession are fading for some, many families are still struggling to put food on the table. Feeding America's 2014 Map the Meal Gap report, released earlier this week, shows that food insecurity continues to touch every county in the nation, and that children are at especially great risk of experiencing hunger.

According to the report, even in the most food-secure state—which is Nebraska, where Grimes and her children live—more than 1 in 10 children struggles with hunger.

(View the map, and see the food insecurity rate in your state and county.)

“We haven’t really seen increases in food insecurity [since the recession], which is a good thing. The downside of that is there are still way too many food insecure people," said Bread for the World policy analyst Christine Melendez Ashley, in the same NBC News piece.

The Map the Meal Gap report does note that federal nutrition programs and the emergency food system "weave a comprehensive nutrition safety net, reaching food-insecure individuals at different levels of poverty," Still, there is a need to "strengthen anti-hunger programs and policies to ensure food-insecure individuals are eligible and have access to adequate levels of assistance." 

Some key finding from Map the Meal Gap include:

  • 324 counties in the United States are high food-insecurity counties; minorities are disproportionately affected
  • In every state, children are at a higher risk of food insecurity compared to the overall population.
  • Of the counties with food insecurity rates in the highest 10 percent, 51.5 percent were rural, even though rural counties represent only 42.5 percent of all counties in the United States.

What does hunger look like in your community? How many people live below the SNAP threshold? What is the average cost of a meal? Whether you live in Nebraska, with its low rate of food insecurity, or Mississippi—the state with the highest number of people struggling with hunger—viewing the map reminds us of the need to advocate to strengthen our country's safety net and ensure that all are fed.

UConn Player: "We Do Have Hungry Nights"

On Monday night, the University of Connecticut won its fourth national men's basketball title—the UConn Huskies beat the Kentucky Wildcats 60-54. "You're looking at the hungry Huskies," UConn player Shabazz Napier said after the win, a reference to the team's unstoppable determination to bring home the title.

But last week, Napier used his platform as a star college basketball player to bring attention to a different kind of hunger. "Sometimes there's hungry nights when I'm not able to eat, but I still gotta play up to my capabilities," he told news reporters. "[Student athletes] are definitely blessed to get a scholarship to our universities, but, at the end of the day, that doesn't cover everything. We do have hungry nights....there are hungry nights that I go to bed and I’m starving."

Napier made the remarks after being asked his opinion of college athletes unionizing, the latest development in the ongoing debate over whether college sports players should be considered employees and receive some of the profits they help pull in for their schools.  A few outlets (and a lot of their commenters and social media followers) are discussing whether it's possible for Napier to be hungry. Some have pointed out that he has a meal plan as part of his scholarship package, and that most colleges go to great lengths to ensure their top-tier athletes are well-fueled. Others countered that student athletes who burn thousands of calories each day may require extra sustenance, and long practices and frequent road trips may mean grabbing dinner at a campus dining hall before a 7 p.m. closing time isn't always feasible.

Although Napier's story has sparked some heated debate, everyone seems to agree that no college student should ever have to worry about having enough to eat.

We've written about college hunger before. As the economy limps toward recovery, and the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, students are increasingly seeking out food stamps (SNAP), food banks, and other community resources in order to feed themselves. While college isn't a particularly flush time for most, there's a difference between being a "broke" student subsisting on ramen noodles and iced coffee, and being a student dealing with chronic food insecurity and even homelessness

Unfortunately, most students don't qualify for SNAP benefits, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, notes that there are quite a few exceptions. And while it's heartbreaking to think of college students needing them, food pantries that cater to students are becoming more common on campuses.  Still, the fact that university students, young people seen by so many as having "made it," are facing hunger and food insecurity shows just how pervasive the problem of hunger is in this country. It also underscores the need to strengthen and expand safety net programs, so that students can focus on acing their midterms, and winning championship titles, instead of wondering where they'll find their next meal.

New Fact Sheet: Hunger in the African-American Community

Nadine
Nadine Blackwell of Philadelphia tells her story in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

“Dr. [Martin Luther] King gave his life fighting for economic opportunity—a fight that is still important today, as too many African-Americans continue to suffer from hunger and poverty. Ending hunger in America is possible, but in order to effectively address this issue we must honor Dr. King’s legacy by achieving economic opportunity and equality.”

 —Bishop Don DiXon Williams, associate for African American Church Relations at Bread for the World, in a press release today.

Bread for the World has released a new fact sheet, Hunger by the Numbers in the African-American Community: Employment, Wages, and Fairness, in commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s work on issues of economic equality. Dr. King was assassinated 46 years ago today.

The fact sheet looks at hunger in the aftermath of the Great Recession, noting that food insecurity has disproportionately increased among African-Americans, as compared to other groups, due to higher unemployment rates and other injustices.  Among the findings:

  • The unemployment rate for the African-American community is 12 percent, higher than the national average of 6.7 percent, and higher than any other major group.
  • In 2012, 5.4 percent of African-American workers earned below the minimum wage, while 13.3 percent earned below the median wage, compared to 4 and 8.7 percent of white workers, respectively.

  • Only 2 percent of African-American women work in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (or STEM) industries, while white women make up 24 percent of the STEM workforce.

"The anniversary of Dr. King’s death reminds us that we still have a long way to go in ensuring freedom from hunger and poverty for African-Americans," said Bishop Williams. 

Bread for the World proposes a four-pronged approach to ending hunger in America; it is outlined in the 2014 Hunger Report.

Working to End Maternal and Child Hunger Year-round

Mother_daughterBy Kristen Youngblood Archer

“I fall, I stand still… I trudge on. I gain a little… I get more eager and climb higher and begin to see the widening horizon. Every struggle is a victory.” – Helen Keller

Today is March 31, the official end to National Women’s History Month. Like so many other months that have been assigned an issue of national or international importance, this month was dedicated in the late 1970s, around International Women’s Day, for the purpose of celebrating the achievements and contributions women have made to society, science, government, and our world at large.

The trouble with these months is that, well, they end. Once they’re over, we’re on to the next month or issue, and have forgotten all of the great things we learned, celebrated, and promised to do in the month prior.

At Bread for the World, we like to look at these important months as a time not only to celebrate, but to reflect on what has been done among specific communities of people to end hunger, and what more there is to accomplish. While these designated months (African-American History Month, Older Americans Month, Hispanic Heritage Month) serve as official rallying cries, we must pursue relevant issues and challenges throughout the year if we are to effect lasting change.

While Women’s History Month ends today, poverty, malnutrition, and hunger among women and children around the world continues. There’s still work to do.

With this in mind, Bread for the World has just completed two new “Hunger by the Numbers’ analyses on women and children.

The international analysis takes a look at the important role women play in development and ending hunger worldwide, particularly with regards to nutrition in the first 1,000 days from a woman’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday. The domestic analysis highlights some key issues brought to light in the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America. From wages to childcare, this document evaluates some of the main factors that contribute to the hardships of workers in the United States.

We hope these analyses will not only provide valuable information, but that they will encourage us to keep working to end hunger among women and children all year long.

Kristen Youngblood Archer is Bread for the World's media relations manager.

Photo: A mother and daughter in Nicaragua shell peas from their garden. (Margaret W. Nea)

The Value of Work

Janitorial 2
Janitors and food workers in government buildings received a wage boost to $10.10 by presidential order recently.  Income from work is the primary buffer against hunger for the vast majority of U.S. families, yet too many jobs pay poverty-level wages. (Joseph Molieri/Bread for the World)

By Robin Stephenson

Having been a certified nurse's aide (CNA), I can tell you it is backbreaking work—rewarding certainly, but challenging. After graduating high school in a small town, I worked in a nursing home for a short time. At the end of the day, my paycheck didn’t feel like it matched the job.

Many of the other assistants, who were primarily women, were married, and their wages supplemented their husbands' incomes. Although things were beginning to change then, the bulk of blue-collar jobs held by women in my small town in the 1980s rarely offered health insurance or retirement plans. 

I made my way to college eventually, and as my job opportunities increased, so did my wages. As a CNA, I had the privilege to care for my elders, and the work felt useful. God’s command to care for the widow really resonates in a nursing home. But today, I’m thankful that I have a job where I don't need to choose between a new tire or adequate food. I’m thankful that I no longer fear a bank balance in double digits with a week before my next paycheck.

So, when I came across an article in The Baxter Bulletin that told the story of 38-year-old Heather Prichard, who is making ends meet as a CNA earning $7.25 an hour, I’m ashamed to say I was relieved my life took a different turn. Not because I think Heather’s work is less valuable than mine; I admire what she does and know how hard she works. In the video segment that accompanies the story, the worry and frustration in Prichard’s voice is clear, and that is what I’m glad I left that work behind. Living month to month and barely getting by means dealing with a constant and nagging worry about what could go wrong. Prichard is frustrated, and with good reason—working a full-time job should allow one to live above the poverty line.

“When you are the kind of parent that is willing to get up every day and work as many hours as you can, and your still just not making it…it’s frustrating,” Prichard says in the video.

A shocking, but not surprising, fact I learned while reading the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, (a fact also is captured in this infographic): if the minimum wage were tied to productivity growth on par with the 1950 wage, Heather Pritchard would be paid over $18.67 for the work she does caring for others. This year, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) are expected to introduce bills in the House and Senate to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 over a period of three years — a step in the right direction. Media reports have painted this as a partisan issue.  To me, raising the wage is a moral issue — it’s about valuing humanity.

Some day I may need the assistance of a CNA. When the time comes that I need to be cared for with the dignity God intended, I hope society provides my caregiver with a wage that values his or her dignity.

Robin Stephenson is Bread for the World's national lead for social media and senior organizer, Western hub.

Hunger and Health: Making Connections on Capitol Hill

Medical check upDuring a typical hospital visit, health care professionals will check a patient for a range of health issues—hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol, among others. Last year, Toledo-based healthcare system ProMedica began screening visitors to its hospitals for something new: food insecurity. Recognizing that hunger can have as much of an impact on health as any disease, they even helped some patients at risk of hunger apply for food stamps, and sent others home with emergency groceries. 

"There is nothing more fundamental to population health than food and other social determinants of health," Randy Oostra, ProMedica’s president and CEO, told USA Today earlier this month.

While the implications of hunger are often discussed, the connection between hunger and health isn't a topic that is frequently raised. But hunger impacts health—and it's time people started talking about it.

Bread for the World Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report, "Ending Hunger in America," details the ways in which ProMedica has set out to recast hunger as a healthcare priority, similar to fighting heart disease or cancer. Fighting hunger is now an important part of the preventative and wellness methods that keeping people healthy and reduce healthcare costs.

Tomorrow, the Alliance to End Hunger and ProMedica will host “Come to the Table,” a summit to address hunger as a health issue, on Capitol Hill. The purpose of the event is to persuade more lawmakers and healthcare industry leaders to champion anti-hunger initiatives by making connections among reducing hunger, improving health outcomes, and lowering healthcare costs. The event will also serve as a platform to form creative, effective collaborations and encourage federal legislation to protect anti-hunger programs.

Bread for the World President Rev. David Beckmann will join other experts, including U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, to discuss how we can combat hunger in our nation, and improve our nation’s collective health. 

Photo: A doctor examines a patient at Family and Medical Counseling Service in Washington D.C., on June 11, 2009. (Rick Reinhard)

Stay Connected

Bread for the World