The State of Inequality
This February the news website Capital and Main began a month long, multimedia exposé: State of Inequality: California’s Vanishing Middle Class and How to Rebuild It. The series kicked-off with an animated introduction featuring former U.S Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.
“This month-long series will feature dozens of original stories, videos, podcasts, editorial cartoons and infographics from top national journalists and media artists. As the most populous state in the country and the eighth-largest economy in the world, California has an outsized influence on our economic, political and social stability. It is imperative that the public, business leaders and lawmakers understand, and confront, the growing crisis of economic inequality in California. We believe this series will make a significant contribution to that important goal.”
In its first week the series introduced readers to seniors who fell from middle class to a retirement in Palm Springs, a single mother struggling to support her special needs children, a teenager on food stamps living among ultra-wealthy peers, an underpaid adjunct professor, a man who went from being a successful business owner to living in a shelter, and a chef who created a revolutionary restaurant model in hopes of improving food access in his community.
More Kids Need SNAP Post-Recession
Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s Family and Living Situations study revealed that in 2014, 16 million American children, or 1 in 5, are receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, CalFresh in California, and formerly known as Food Stamps). That number is up significantly from 2007, at the beginning of the Great Recession, when 9 million children were utilizing the program.
Thankfully, despite Congressional efforts to reduce access to SNAP benefits in the 2014 Farm Bill, Governors in eight states utilized a loophole to protect their low income residents from increased food insecurity that the cuts would have caused. Sadly, the Census Bureau data is further evidence that our economic recovery from the recession has not reached middle and lower income families.
As stated in this report form the Children’s Defense Fund, "Many countries with fewer resources have lower poverty rates, including the U.K., New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Hungary, a clear indication the U.S. could do much more to reduce child poverty."
Also of note, corresponding with the rise of children utilizing the SNAP program from 2007-2013, was a distinct rise in suburban poverty, “In fact, in 2013, suburban poverty levels exceeded those of urban areas: 56 percent of people living in poverty in major metro areas lived in the suburbs.”
SNAP Boosts Entrepreneurship
The benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, CalFresh in California, and formerly known as Food Stamps) are numerous. SNAP is the best line of defense against hunger that actually lifts Americans out of poverty when counted as income. In response to economic disasters, like the Great Recession, SNAP is designed to expand as the need for nutrition assistance grows.
The Great Recession is officially over and many who lost their jobs during that period have found work again. Unfortunately, these are not the same types of jobs that were lost and many continue to need SNAP to supplement low wages and underemployment. This situation may inspire many to pursue entrepreneurial dreams in order to increase their income and be able to afford their basic needs.
Gareth Olds is an assistant Professor at Harvard Business School whose 2014 doctoral dissertation correlates the growth of new businesses with receipt of the Children's Health Insurance Plan, “Entrepreneurship and Public Health Insurance”. His subsequent study of “Food Stamp Entrepreneurs” provides further evidence that “Social insurance programs can promote entrepreneurship by reducing the risks of business ownership and relaxing credit constraints,”. In other words, the social safety net provides security that encourages action for those who are ready to start their own business in order to improve their circumstances and pursue their dreams.
Your Photos Welcome
Last year, PBS News Hour launched Hunger Through My Lens in partnership with Hunger Free Colorado. The program’s mission to empower people struggling with food insecurity and educate the public about the daily struggle of hunger was achieved through the photo documentations of 15 Colorado women who use the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) to put food on their tables. The photovoice project documents how surprisingly hunger can creep into American lives, and how stubbornly it can remain, through a diversity of backgrounds and relatable experiences. In addition to the coverage by PBS, Hunger Through My Lens inspired a series in Yes! Magazine and a featured blog post by one of its participants.
State Poised to Regulate Medications for Foster Youth
Drugging Our Kids, a year long investigation by the Bay Area News Group, found that nearly a quarter of all adolescents in California's foster care system are prescribed psychotropic medications that are untested, and often not approved for children. The authors say that "psychotropic drugs range from ADD medications to powerful anti-psychotics. 60% of these children are being prescribed anti psychotics."
Specifically, the investigation found that nearly 25% of the children in California'a foster care system have been prescribed psychiatric drugs, including:
• Mood stabilizers
The series includes interviews with former foster youth who offer testimony of how the medications they received as foster youth affected them then and now, among them is Rochelle Trochtenberg, a foster youth survivor and advocate who lives in Humboldt County.
The death of a Contra Costa County foster youth in December of 2014 may have been caused by the psychotropic medication he was taking. The series states that "no one doubts that foster children generally have greater mental health needs because of the trauma they have suffered, and the temptation for caregivers to fulfill those needs with drugs can be strong. In the short term, psychotropics can calm volatile moods and make aggressive children more docile. But there is substantial evidence of many of the drugs’ dramatic side effects: rapid-onset obesity, diabetes and a lethargy so profound that foster kids describe dozing through school and much of their young lives. Long-term effects, particularly on children, have received little study, but for some psychotropics there is evidence of persistent tics, increased risk of suicide, even brain shrinkage."
During a February 24, 2015 hearing in Sacramento, former foster youth and advocates testified before the Senate Human Services Committee. Committee chair, Mike McGuire, commented that "past failures to act are now "simply unacceptable," resulting in thousands of California foster youth who "have fallen victim to inaction, and at times politics."" California lawmakers are now working to introduce legislation to regulate how and why foster children are prescribed these medications. Senator McGuire's noting of "past failures" refers to previous attempts by the legislature to further regulate the dispersion of these medications to foster children. Once introduced these new bills will need public support; contact your state legislator.
Taking a Stand for Seniors and the Disabled in California
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a Social Security Administration program that provides critical financial support to disabled, blind, and elderly Americans; most of whom cannot work. For seniors whose social security benefits are low because of low wages during their employment history, being an immigrant who came later in life to the U.S., or receiving survivor's benefits, SSI works to supplement that income. In California, the 1.3 million recipients (around 6,000 in Humboldt County) of SSI also receive a State Supplemental Payment (SSP) that is intended to cover the costs of food in lieu of recipients being eligible to receive CalFresh (formerly known as Food Stamps).
Beginning in 2009 California lawmakers responded to a large budget deficit and the Great Recession with cuts to the SSP grants and eliminations of the annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) that raise benefits to reflect the increased costs of living. Despite the end of the recession and a budget surplus, these cuts have not been restored. SSI benefits are at 90% of the 2014 Federal Poverty Level.
Sadly, Governor Brown's proposal for the 2015-2016 budget does not recognize the needs of our state's most vulnerable citizens. According to the California Budget Project, "The Governor proposes to spend $2.5 billion on SSI/SSP grants in 2015-16, more than one-third below the 2007-08 level. In other words, after taking into account the cost of living, the state is providing $1.4 billion less for SSI/SSP grants than it spent on the eve of the Great Recession — and this despite the fact that the number of Californians enrolled in SSI/SSP has risen by more than 5 percent since 2007-08."
In all 58 California counties, over half of the maximum benefit from SSI/SSP goes towards housing costs alone. Here at Food for People, 34% of the people we serve monthly are living on SSI/SSP; a statistic mirrored by food banks across the state. Our clients and friends who rely on SSI/SSP tell us constantly about the choices they have to make every month because of their limited income: choosing between food and medicine, eating or paying rent, not being able to afford the foods they need to support their health, and having to live in substandard housing. While we can offer the hope for better nutrition and freeing up of one's budget for other needs through CalFresh (SNAP) application assistance at the food bank; many of our clients on SSI/SSP are all too aware that they cannot access that assistance. (Household members of an SSI/SSP recipient are still potentially eligible for CalFresh).
Anti-poverty advocates and advocates for the elderly and disabled have joined forces to form an alliance to inform our legislators that this situation is unacceptable; CA4SSI.. The first goal for the alliance is to raise the SSI/SSP benefit amount to at least 100% of the poverty line by pressing our legislators to restore the cuts that have been made since 2009 through the budget process.
However we will not stop there; CA4SSI will continue to advocate for disabled and elderly Californians until the idea of having to choose between the most basic needs every month is a distant memory.
Join us in our efforts to lift disabled and senior Californians out of poverty: please sign this petition.
CalFresh on the Farm!
This spring Humboldt County CalFresh shoppers will have a new option to purchase locally grown produce directly with the farmers! Redwood Roots Farm, Organic Matters Ranch, and DeepSeeded Community Farm will now accept EBT cards directly at their farms.
All three farms are accepting CalFresh EBT payments for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) or "farm shares". Additionally, Redwood Root's farm stand will accept CalFresh during hours of operation: June-October, Tuesdays & Thursdays 12-6 p.m. Organic Matters Ranch will accept CalFresh for traditional farm shares, the new "Market Share", and at their farm stand.
CalFresh can also be used at farmers' markets in Arcata, Eureka, McKinleyville, Fortuna and Garberville. Humboldt County is full of fresh choices!
Food for People's Monthly Cooking Class
Each month, Food for People organizes a free cooking class for low-income households in Humboldt County. Taught by volunteer chef and College of the Redwoods instructor, Anne Harris, this class teaches basic culinary skills, food and kitchen safety, and how to make nutritious and delicious dishes using commodity foods and fresh produce.
For more information, please contact Cassandra Culps at Food for People (contact information below).
For more information on Food for People, to refer someone for assistance with CalFresh, to schedule a CalFresh training or application clinic, Hunger 101 presentation, or nutrition education activity for your organization, please contact:
Community Education & Outreach Coordinator
(707) 445-3166 ext. 308 / firstname.lastname@example.org
CalFresh Application Assistor
Nutrition Education Coordinator
ext. 305 / email@example.com
*Images in this issue are provided by: Food for People, Chris Wisner, the USDA, Stuart Miles, Paul, Danilo Rizzuti, Ambro, healingdream, Master isolated images, Salvatore Vuono, stuffflypeoplelike.com, www.freegraphics.org, Michelle Meiklejohn, and chawalitpix of FreeDigitalPhotos.net., Participant Media