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Enjoyment of food is such a social activity and it has a great way of bringing people together. Ironically, I first started enjoying cooking when I lived alone a few years after college. I kept myself on a pretty strict food budget, giving me appreciation for what those with lesser means have. I’ve seen first hand what people who can’t afford food go
through. I’ve been delivering Thanksgiving meals to those less fortunate for more than 25 years. It is such a humbling experience and is something I want to share with my kids someday. Being able to share my love of food with others is something I do every day of my life and I feel grateful to be a chef. That is the reason I chose to be a part of Hunger Solutions efforts to end hunger in Minnesota. – Chef Ryan Hoffman
Veterans face losing SNAP benefits
Politico – 4/30/15
by Bill Tomson
With unemployment lower than it has been in seven years, federal lawmakers are looking forward to the end of a waiver that gave single adults long-term access to food stamps even if they weren’t working.
When the waiver expires at the end of 2015, an estimated 1 million people – able-bodied adults without dependents, or ABAWDs – will once again be limited to three months of assistance. The rollback could mean a savings of hundreds of millions of dollars in a program that has long been a target of conservatives.
But 60,000 of those people are believed to be military veterans, many of whom struggle to find work even in a better job market, and that concerns veterans advocates and some members of Congress.
“The idea that we would say to a veteran, ‘Thank you for your service to our country, but we don’t give a damn if you lose your SNAP benefit and can’t put food on the table’ … is unconscionable,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and a longtime and vocal supporter of the SNAP program.
“Congress likes to get up and give patriotic speeches … but at this moment tens of thousands of veterans may lose their food [assistance], and there are a lot of members of Congress missing in action.”
The three-month limit is especially difficult for veterans, who often face more hurdles in transitioning into civilian life than non-veterans looking for employment.
Veterans aren’t always aware of what’s facing them when they come out, said Jeffrey Cathey, a retired Navy captain and head of Bank of America’s Military Affairs team, which focuses on hiring veterans and supporting military personnel. The bank recently hired two veteran snipers, and the transition to corporate life was more complicated than just finding them cubicles, Cathey said.
“It’s a whole new world for them,” he said. “Veterans themselves often don’t realize they have skills that can be very valuable,” he said. “It’s worth it to us to take the time to help them transition.”
And a lot of the veterans, especially the younger ones returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, are in particular need of help, McGovern added.
But the food stamp program has been a favorite target for some lawmakers in recent years. They point to the growing cost of the program, which now serves about 47 million Americans, as an example of federal spending run amok. Federal spending on SNAP rose from $17 billion 2000 to $74 billion in 2014, according to USDA data.
During negotiations over the 2014 farm bill, efforts were made to cut as much as $40 billion out of SNAP over a 10-year period. Half of the reduction would have come from eliminating state waivers for ABAWDs. Lawmakers pushed back on the cut and got it reduced significantly, fearing it would result in the collapse of the entire farm bill and its billions of dollars in subsidies, crop insurance and conservation programs for farmers.
But the focus on SNAP has not relented. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway has called for a two-year “full-scale review” of the program, simultaneously drawing attention to “a new group of healthy, working age recipients” who previously did not rely on SNAP.
In one of the first hearings called by Conaway’s committee in the 114th Congress, Rep. David Rouzer, a freshman Republican from North Carolina, expressed frustrations with the food stamp program. He recounted how one of his constituents was angry that he had to work for his groceries while “those who have not contributed quite as much to society … they’re getting everything.”
The majority of food stamp recipients are employed, however. Fifty-eight percent of all households on food stamps with at least one working-age non-disabled adult were home to at least one person with a job during the prior month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal nonprofit, and 87 percent were employed during the prior year. The percentages were higher if the households had children.
Seven years ago, millions of Americans were losing their jobs and staying unemployed while hiring had virtually frozen at the height of the last recession. Congress acted by approving legislation to extend unemployment insurance.
It was USDA that interpreted the Unemployment Compensation Act of 2008 to allow states to lift the three-month SNAP limit for unemployed ABAWDs. According to USDA, states could get a waiver for the restriction by showing unemployment rates of more than 6 percent. Previously, states would have to reach a much higher bar by showing unemployment rates were 20 percent higher than the national average in order to allow ABAWDs to receive SNAP.
As a result 28 states and Washington, D.C., qualified to waive the employment condition for childless adults to get SNAP. Before the law was in place, only five states – Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon and South Carolina – and D.C. qualified, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which often advises state governments on SNAP issues.
Now the reverse is expected to happen on Dec. 31, when the waivers are no longer easy for states to get. The number of states with full waivers is expected to drop to just four or five, causing about 1 million people to lose their SNAP benefits.
Meanwhile, some states have started paring down their SNAP rolls in advance of the Dec. 31 expiration date.
Scott Walker, Wisconsin’s governor and an expected Republican presidential hopeful, elected to begin the process of reimposing the three-month limit on food stamp benefits as a trial run for three counties more than a year ago. Walker expanded his effort to remove ABAWDs off FoodShare – what Wisconsin calls its SNAP program – statewide on April 1.
State FoodShare officials confirmed that although 700 people in the three-county pilot program did lose their SNAP benefits, 259 also gained employment and either kept the food stamps or no longer needed them as a result of a new employment and training program.
Laurel Patrick, a spokeswoman for Walker, stressed that Wisconsin residents aren’t simply being kicked out of SNAP without some assistance. Rather, the state will spend $37 million from 2015 through 2017 on employment training programs.
“No one will be kicked off the FoodShare program if they are actively participating in the FoodShare Employment and Training program or meeting the work requirement,” Patrick said.
“Gov. Walker is committed to helping Wisconsin residents move from dependence on government programs to the independence and dignity that comes with working hard to build a prosperous future of their own choosing,” Claire Yunker, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, explained further.
“The Governor’s FoodShare Employment and Training program reforms help FoodShare members, especially adults ages 19-49 with no minor children living in their home, to transition to the workforce by increasing opportunities for education, vocational training and active engagement in the workforce.”
The governor also laid out a plan during his 2014 reelection bid to begin drug-testing ABAWDs as a prerequisite to getting the benefits. Following up on Walker’s plan, 17 members of the Wisconsin State Assembly introduced a bill last week that would require drug testing for ABAWDs that participate in employment training programs that allow them to continue collecting SNAP benefits in lieu of a job.
Wisconsin is not alone. Indiana will also begin requiring, on July 1, that ABAWDs find employment or enter a job training program to keep their food stamps for more than three months. Ohio cut its waiver for all but 16 of its 88 counties in 2013, and Maine ended its waiver statewide in October 2014.
Conaway said he is taking an active interest in what happens in the states that have elected to kick ABAWDs out of SNAP early.
“We’ll watch and see what happens in those states where they let those waivers expire,” the Texas Republican told POLITICO. “If [states] no longer qualify, they shouldn’t get the waiver and we’ll see what impact that has on folks that had previously been on [SNAP] under the waiver. Once they get past the three months, do they then go to work?”
But reentering the labor force can be daunting, especially for some military veterans returning from years of service, sometimes in violent and bloody combat situations.
It’s why Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota Democrat, believes that, while ABAWD waivers should be abolished, an exception should be made for veterans. Conaway said he is similarly concerned about how the expiration of SNAP waivers will hit veterans.
The coming cut to SNAP will hit veterans hard, said retired Army Col. Ben Margolius, who runs the Southern Tier Veterans Support Group in upstate New York.
“It ain’t much,” Margolius said, referring to the average $127.73 received by SNAP beneficiaries on a monthly basis, “but it’s something. “We’re getting calls every day from veterans for help getting a job or getting food, some just returning from Afghanistan or Iraq.”
About 21 million veterans in America make up roughly 9 percent of the adult population, according to Labor Department data. While unemployment for veterans of all ages – estimated in 2014 to be 5.3 percent – is below the overall U.S. level, the rate shoots up to 7.2 percent for those who served on active duty after September 2011.
About 25 percent of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan report problems being able to feed themselves or their families, according to a 2015 study published in Public Health Nutrition. An average of 900,000 veterans use SNAP in any given month, nationwide, according to a separate study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Every time SNAP benefits are squeezed in the United States, Rich Synek said he sees more veterans line up at the two New York food pantries he runs. It was particularly bad after SNAP benefits were cut across America on Nov. 1, 2013, said the founder of the group Feed Our Vets, also a retired postmaster-general. Congress had boosted the benefits when it passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, but the bill expired four years later.
“If it wasn’t for SNAP, I wouldn’t make it,” said Rodney Yearby, a retired staff sergeant in New York.
Yearby, who served in the Air Force for 12 years and suffered a head injury after leaving in 1996, said he gets $165 per month in SNAP benefits. Feed our Vets helped him sign up for SNAP, find a place to live and apply for assistance from the federal Supplemental Security Income program.
It can be easy to overlook veterans, said Bank of America’s Cathey.
“They’re not really that well known in the communities,” he said. “People say ‘support the vets’ and ‘thank the troops’ and stuff like that, but the touch points aren’t there like they used to be and so people don’t really know.”
In 2014, there were 3.34 million visits to 300 food shelves across the state. That is 9,000 people a day seeking food assistance. This represents a 4% increase over 2013.
There’s a new normal in Minnesota and it is making an impact on hunger and bringing unprecedented demand to our main street response to hunger, our network of food shelves.
In a recent Gallup Healthways survey, 11% of Minnesotans reported having a food hardship, or not having enough money to buy food in the last year. In the post great recession economy, many of the families that visit food shelves have jobs. These jobs don’t pay enough to cover expenses.
Another factor contributing to hunger is policy changes to SNAP. SNAP, the program formerly known as Food Stamps, is the largest response to hunger in the US. In the fall of 2013 a policy change caused 89,000 adults to lose their benefits. This was twice as many as forecasted.
We invite you to download the complete 2014 Food Shelf Report that reviews all of the food shelf numbers, current hunger relief environment and recommended policies.
Please also review an interactive infographic to learn even more about who is hungry in Minnesota.
Hunger Solutions Minnesota is opposed to the plan to convert SNAP to a block grant. SNAP is the most effective response to hunger and it is designed to respond to the economy. Even with our improved economy, many Minnesotans still work at jobs that keep them at poverty levels. 500,000 Minnesotans rely upon SNAP to put food on the table.
SNAP works in Minnesota and we do not accept the House proposal that will damage an excellent and responsive program that helps our most vulnerable citizens: seniors, children and low income families.
Block granted programs mean that states would receive lump sum funding from the federal government. States could choose to use the funds for programs other than nutrition support. That approach makes it easier to cut these programs without saying how many people would be dropped or how their benefits would be cut. Funding would also be limited and not sufficient in recessions.
Next week, Congress is poised to begin consideration of its FY2016 Budget Resolution – and SNAP (formerly food stamps) is being targeted. SNAP has extraordinary strengths, yet some would make disastrous changes to a program that serves millions of children, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, jobless adults seeking work, and those working – often at multiple jobs – just to make ends meet. We need your voice – and the voices of thousands of others – to say that Congress should support SNAP.
Our goal is to show the wide support for SNAP from people across the country, but we can only do this with your help! Sign the petition today and share it widely with your family and friends. Join us and tell Congress you want an end to hunger in America, not ill-considered budget proposals that would increase it.
Please sign and share the “Support SNAP” petition before March 24th.
Sample Tweet for Sharing: Join me and @fractweets in urging Congress to support #SNAP. Sign this petition today. bit.ly/1FUaioE
The annual national school breakfast report released today by the Food Research and Action Center(FRAC) finds that, on an average school day in 2013-2014, 136,113 low-income children in Minnesota participated in school breakfast, an
increase of 2.4% from the previous year. This finding illustrates the value of Minnesota’s efforts to provide students with a healthy breakfast each day, says Hunger Solutions Minnesota.
The School Breakfast Scorecard measures the success of the School Breakfast Program at the national and state levels. The FRAC report finds that 48 low-income children in Minnesota ate school breakfast for every 100 that received free or reduced-price lunch during the 2013 – 2014 school year, a slight increase over the 2012 – 2013 school year. That compares to the national average of 53 low-income children who ate school breakfast for every 100 who also ate school lunch.
HUNGER DAY ON THE HILL
Hunger Solutions Minnesota is hosting a celebration and rally for their statewide network of advocates. This grassroots network works to minimize the burden of hunger from local seniors and families by motivating decision-makers to take supportive action on fair and robust hunger policies.
Their 2015 Legislative Agenda includes expansion of school breakfast, SNAP incentives at farmer’s markets, and funding for mobile food shelves. Minnesotans continue to struggle to put food on the table.
Currently, 1 in 5 families are food insecure. Minnesota food shelves are visited by 8,500 people each day. The coalition will visit with their representatives after the rally and ask that all families will be ensured access to high quality food.
WHERE: Best Western Plus Capitol Ridge, 161 St. Anthony Avenue, St. Paul MN
WHEN: Wednesday, February 4, 2015—10:00 am to Noon
Welcome by Colleen Moriarty, Executive Director, Hunger Solutions Minnesota
10:35 Child Hunger Advocate and Chef, Seth Bixby Daugherty
10:40 “Sioux Chef” Sean Sherman
10:45 Minnesota Commissioner of Health, Dr. Edward Ehlinger
10:50 Minnesota Assistant Commissioner of Health and Human Services, Jim Koppel
10:55 Minnesota Assistant Commissioner of Education, Daron Korte
11:20 Personal Testimony by Isaac Russell
11:30 Advocacy Training
Noon March to the Capitol
About Hunger Solutions Minnesota
Hunger Solutions Minnesota works to end hunger via the Minnesota Food HelpLine and by advancing fair public nutrition policies on behalf of hungry Minnesotans. We connect Minnesota’s food shelves with funding, technical assistance and logistical support to reach the one in five families in need. Our work is made possible through the generous support of donors across the country, each sharing our commitment to ensuring no Minnesotan will struggle with food insecurity alone. Recognized as the most efficient civic non profit for two years running by the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal.
For more information visit: Hungersolutions.org