In this issue:
● Ag Appropriations Poised to Pass
● Poverty Took a Big Leap in 2008
● New Survey Finds Food Banks Stretched to Meet Burgeoning Need
● Senate Committee Change May Impact Nutrition
● FEEDBAG: A Compendium of News on Nutrition Assistance Programs
● Farmers’ Market Matters
● Reports from the Field – Los Angeles, CA
● Small Bites
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Ag Appropriations Poised to Pass
The Agriculture spending bill for fiscal year 2010 passed the House back in early July and sailed through the Senate on August 4 by an 80 to 17 vote. Congressional staff met in conference throughout August to iron out differences between House and Senate bill provisions.
However, final passage is being delayed while Members deliberate whether or not to amend the spending bill by adding a provision to extend current law for child nutrition programs until those programs are reauthorized. It is also possible that Agriculture appropriations will be lumped into a government-wide continuing resolution (CR) through October 31, 2009, along with other appropriations measures that do not pass before the end of the month. By whichever method agriculture appropriations are enacted, however, they should be completed before the October 1, 2009 start of the 2010 fiscal year or shortly thereafter.
Program changes coming out of conference deliberations may include: adding yogurt as a dairy option in the WIC food package; increasing the cash value of the fruit and vegetable vouchers for WIC participants; expanding the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Afterschool Meal Program to more states; funding and expanding the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP); and supporting the new Food Bank Infrastructure Grant Program.
Poverty Took a Big Leap in 2008
The nation’s official poverty rate grew to 13.2 percent in 2008, up from 12.5 percent in 2007, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau released on September 10, 2009. That percentage, the highest rate since 1997, translates into 39.8 million people living in poverty in this country, the largest number since 1960.
The Census Bureau also reported that the number of Americans without health insurance rose by 682,000 last year to a total of 46.3 million. A decrease in the coverage of children by employer-provided health insurance was more than offset, however, by increases in Medicaid and Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage.
Increases in poverty affected all races and ethnicities. The poverty rate for Hispanics jumped from 21.6 percent to 23.2 percent. Among Asians, it increased to 11.8 percent from 10.1 percent in 2007. For non-Hispanic whites, the poverty rate climbed from 8.1 percent to 8.6 percent. The poverty rate for blacks remained statistically unchanged at 24.7 percent, but continued to be the highest of all ethnic groups.
Among the nation’s poor were 14.1 million children or 19 percent of all children under age 18. That figure was up from 18 percent in 2007. Poverty among elderly Americans age 65 and over held steady at 9.7 percent.
Government action earlier this year – implementation of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) or economic stimulus bill – prevented a steeper increase in poverty. According to an analysis of the ARRA by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Washington, D.C., some 6.2 million Americans – including 2.4 million children – were kept from falling into poverty by the ARRA, and that the bill moderated the severity of poverty for 33 million others, with actions like increased Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamp benefits.
But future poverty numbers are almost certain to grow. The 2008 data “include only the early months of the recession,” noted CBPP. “The figures from 2009, a year in which the economy has weakened further and unemployment has climbed substantially, will look considerably worse, and the figures will likely worsen again in 2010 if, as many economic forecasters expect, unemployment continues to rise in that year.”
For additional information, review the Census Bureau site at: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/poverty08.html.
New Survey Finds Food Banks Stretched to Meet Burgeoning Need
As a result of the worsening recession and growing unemployment, food banks nationwide reported “a significant surge in demand for emergency food assistance over the past year,” according to the findings of a new “Economic Impact Survey” released by Feeding America on September 14, 2009. The huge increase in demand is “having a profound effect on [food banks’] ability to feed millions of Americans living at risk of hunger,” the national food bank organization said.
Collectively, the 205 food banks in the Feeding America network distributed 2.63 billion pounds of food between July 2008 and June 2009, which was a 21.4 percent increase over the previous year. But it was not enough. Demand grew an average of 30 percent nationwide and more than half (55 percent) of food banks said they or their recipient agencies had to turn people away unserved last year.
The ballooning demand is being fueled by first-time users of food assistance and by people who have recently lost their jobs. “We frequently hear stories from around the country that people who once donated to food banks are now waiting in line as clients,’ said Feeding America president Vicki Escarra. “More and more families are waiting in lines overnight, coming out in high heat, or traveling long distances in rural America just to get a meal or a box of food,” Escarra added. “The humbling reality for many of these Americans is that they have never had to rely on emergency food assistance before, and they never dreamed they would find themselves in this situation,” she said. In addition, the survey found that existing food bank clients are needing help more frequently.
Federal government efforts have ameliorated the problem somewhat. Among food banks that distribute commodities under The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), 92 percent claimed that increased TEFAP food has been very important to their capacity to meet the growing need. Nonetheless, “Even in areas where food banks have reported more support in food and funds,” noted Escarra, “they almost universally report that the need is outpacing the availability of resources.”
To view the Feeding America survey results, go to: http://feedingamerica.org/newsroom/press-release-archive/local-imapct-2009.aspx.
Senate Committee Change May Impact Nutrition
The recent death of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) will not only change the tenor of the congressional debate on health care, it will also reverberate in the area of food and nutrition. Kennedy’s death left open the chairmanship of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, a spot that is being filled by Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat. Harkin’s ascension to the HELP Committee chair required him to relinquish his leadership of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, a position that has now been assumed by Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).
Senator Lincoln has become the first Arkansan and first woman to serve as chair in the Agriculture Committee’s 184-year history. When she won her Senate post in 1998, Senator Lincoln was 38 years old; the youngest woman ever to be elected to the upper chamber of Congress.
Senator Lincoln was a founder of and currently chairs the bipartisan Senate Hunger Caucus. A rice farmer’s daughter, she bills herself as “a strong voice on issues important to rural America.” But political observers have noted that Lincoln has also been a vocal advocate for Southern growers and meat processors; not surprising, since her home state includes the headquarters of Tyson Foods, the nation’s largest meatpacker.
Together with the Agriculture Committee’s ranking Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lincoln comprises the first all-South Agriculture leadership team in 30 years. The Lincoln-Chambliss combination, strongly representing rice and cotton interests that have resisted any limits on farm subsidies, will likely present a challenge for the Obama Administration, which has sought to reduce subsidy payments to help fund the expansion of child nutrition programs.
Meanwhile, Senator Harkin, who steered the Committee during the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills and has been a strong proponent of more fruits and vegetables in school meal programs, will retain a seat on the Agriculture Committee.
FEEDBAG: A Compendium of News on Nutrition Assistance Programs
Community Food Projects awards announced: Twenty-one non-profit organizations in 14 states have received grants totaling nearly $4.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Community Food Projects (CFP) program in fiscal year 2008. The September 16, 2009 announcement comes as part of USDA's “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, a Department-wide collaboration that will connect people more closely with the farmers who supply their food. The CFP provides resources to low-income communities to increase the production, marketing, and consumption of fresh, nutritious food is grown locally in a sustainable manner.
The CFP projects will fund food policy council training, urban agriculture, new farmers on Indian reservation farmland, and the promotion of native food sovereignty, as well as youth, urban and rural food production projects and community food assessments. For additional information, visit: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.retrievecontent/.c/6_2_1UH/.ce/7_2_5JM/.p/5_2_4TQ/.d/0/_th/J_2_9D/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?PC_7_2_5JM_contentid=2009%2F09%2F0447.xml&PC_7_2_5JM_parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&PC_7_2_5JM_navid=NEWS_RELEASE#7_2_5JM.
SNAP grants target underserved: USDA has issued six grants totaling $3 million to fund pilot efforts to reach traditionally underserved elderly and working poor households to inform them about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
"President Obama has made it a top priority to ensure that all Americans facing economic hardship have access to nutritious food," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Historically, seniors and the working poor participate in SNAP at lower levels than the general population, and these important outreach efforts can help close that gap." He noted that only three in ten seniors potentially eligible for SNAP receive its benefits.
State agencies and the respective target populations the grants will address are: MA Department of Transitional Assistance (Latino working poor); MI Department of Human Services (elderly); OH Department of Job and Family Services (elderly); PA Department of Public Welfare (elderly); WI Department of Health Services (working poor); and WA Department of Social and Health Services (working poor). For more details, go to: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.retrievecontent/.c/6_2_1UH/.ce/7_2_5JM/.p/5_2_4TQ/.d/0/_th/J_2_9D/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?PC_7_2_5JM_contentid=2009%2F09%2F0448.xml&PC_7_2_5JM_parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&PC_7_2_5JM_navid=NEWS_RELEASE#7_2_5JM.
Assistance with local food sourcing offered: As one element of its broad “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, USDA is making special efforts to connect schoolchildren with farmers. USDA recently announced that intra-Departmental “Farm to School Tactical Teams” will assist school administrators in the transition to purchasing more locally grown foods.
“It is important that our children have access to healthy, nutritious food and our focus on enabling schools to purchase local produce will provide opportunities for local producers,” emphasized USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “This will enable greater wealth creation in communities by allowing producers to build their capacity by serving local institutional customers like schools,” she added. Read more at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.retrievecontent/.c/6_2_1UH/.ce/7_2_5JM/.p/5_2_4TQ/.d/2/_th/J_2_9D/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?PC_7_2_5JM_contentid=2009%2F09%2F0441.xml&PC_7_2_5JM_parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&PC_7_2_5JM_navid=NEWS_RELEASE#7_2_5JM.
Census income potentially excluded from SNAP: USDA has offered states the opportunity to participate in a demonstration project to exclude earned income from temporary employment in the 2010 Census. Up to 1.4 million people will have temporary positions associated with the 2010 Census as enumerators. Many people who take on these positions will reside and work in their own communities, and many will be low-income.
Excluding the earned income of temporary census employees assists the Census Bureau with staff recruitment and retention while allowing individuals with limited or no employment history to gain valuable work experience without a reduction in SNAP benefits. Similar demonstration projects were conducted for the 1990 and 2000 decennial censuses. Learn more at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/whats_new.htm and click on number 56.
Farmers’ Market Matters
Final rules out for WIC farmers’ market program: Final regulations for the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), implementing legislative changes enacted in 2004 were issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the September 1, 2008 Federal Register. The rules give states and Tribal organizations the option of authorizing roadside stands, reduces state matching requirements, and increases the maximum federal benefit level. For more details, see: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/regspublished/FMNPnondiscretionaryprovisions-finalrule.htm.
Senior farmers’ market program gets new rules, too: USDA published final regulations for the Senior FMNP in the September 23, 2009 Federal Register to implement program changes under the 2008 Farm Bill. The rules allow honey as an eligible food, prohibit the value of SFMNP benefits from eligibility considerations in other programs, and prohibit the imposition of state or local taxes on SFMNP food purchases. For particulars, see: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-22861.htm.
Promotion program expansion noted: A total of 86 organizations in 37 states will undertake intensified farmers’ market activities next year, thanks to $4.563 million in new funds under an expanded Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP). The grants were recently announced by USDA in conjunction with the Department’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative.
"Farmers markets have an important role in local and regional food systems by helping consumers have access to healthy, nutritious foods," said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. "These grants will help continue the recent expansion of farmers’ markets across the country to increase access to locally grown foods for consumers, and increase incomes for farmers." Funds will be used to establish, expand and promote farmers’ markets and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunities.
Thirty of the 86 grants – totaling more than $833,000 – will promote new electronic benefits transfer (EBT) projects. These projects will help increase access to locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers using funds provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). To learn more, go to: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.retrievecontent/.c/6_2_1UH/.ce/7_2_5JM/.p/5_2_4TQ/.d/0/_th/J_2_9D/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?PC_7_2_5JM_contentid=2009%2F09%2F0451.xml&PC_7_2_5JM_parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&PC_7_2_5JM_navid=NEWS_RELEASE#7_2_5JM.
Fresher food for all: First Lady Michelle Obama continued her personal promotion of fresh fruits and vegetables when she visited Washington, D.C.’s newest farmers’ market on Vermont Avenue between H and Eye Streets, just a few locks from the White House, on September 11, 2009.
“I have to say, I have never seen so many people so excited about fruits and vegetables,” said Ms. Obama. “This is good.” The First Lady selected a bounty of kale, eggs, cherry tomatoes, hot peppers, pears, fingerling potatoes, and cheese to take back to the White House kitchen.
Aiding more public venues: Over the past few years, USDA has opened farmers’ markets throughout the Washington, D.C. area, including one at its headquarters building on Independence Avenue. To help other public officials use their space effectively, USDA is promoting a revised guide, Opening a Farmers’ Market on Federal Property, published in collaboration with the General Services Administration, the government agency that administers most public buildings. Find out more at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB/.cmd/ad/.ar/sa.retrievecontent/.c/6_2_1UH/.ce/7_2_5JM/.p/5_2_4TQ/.d/0/_th/J_2_9D/_s.7_0_A/7_0_1OB?PC_7_2_5JM_contentid=2009%2F09%2F0453.xml&PC_7_2_5JM_parentnav=LATEST_RELEASES&PC_7_2_5JM_navid=NEWS_RELEASE#7_2_5JM.
Reports from the Field – Los Angeles, CA
Los Angeles, California has over 120 farmers’ markets, more, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa claims, than any other county in the country. Citizens and politicians celebrate the markets, which bring additional income to farmers and fresh produce directly to shoppers in their own neighborhoods. In fact, people in L.A. want more markets, as the following article from the Los Angeles Times of September 3, 2009 describes:
When Lorraine Tenerelli tried to get her husband to bring their peaches to sell at Los Angeles County’s first farmers’ market 30 years ago he didn’t want to be bothered. But he tagged along with her to a church parking lot in Gardena.
“When he saw the mob of customers, he said, 'We’ve got to plant more,' ” Tenerelli said Thursday at the weekly farmers’ market outside City Hall, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials joined with farmers, market organizers and some of the city’s best-known chefs to celebrate the anniversary and the growth of farmers’ markets to a total of 121 today – more than any county in the country, the mayor said.
The celebration ranged from serious to fun, including a salsa contest – the eating kind, not the dancing kind – plus chef demonstrations and plenty of food vendors, naturally. Villaraigosa also announced a food policy task force that will “help turn L.A. into the farmers’ market capital of the world.” “When you think of it, what is more important than the food we put on our table?” he said.
Every week, 1,000 farmers and food producers sell their wares to about 250,000 shoppers in L.A. County markets, he said, adding later that he shops at the Sunday market in the Larchmont neighborhood.
The work and membership of the task force, in which the city is partnering with Occidental College and the L.A. Conservation Corps, have yet to be decided, Deputy Mayor Larry Frank said. But among the issues it will consider are school food, access by the poor to fresh, nutritious food, the environment and a permanent market hub, he said.
“Everyone should have access to good food,” said Evan Kleiman, chef-owner of Angeli Caffe, host of the radio show "Good Food" and emcee of Thursday’s event. “We may have moved to the city, but we still want to eat like we live on the farm.”
On June 23, 1979, just four farmers showed up at that church parking lot in Gardena, six fewer than organizer Vance Corum had hoped to get. But more soon followed. Take Jim Tamai, who grew strawberries in Oxnard – some of the best in the country, according to Corum. Tamai's farm was in trouble and he had already started laying off workers. Then he heard that the farmers at the Gardena market were making a brisk profit: “‘You’ve got to get in here. The customers just love us,’” his brother, also a farmer, told him, as related by Corum.
The money from the first weeks enabled Tamai to keep his farm, which later diversified to other produce. Today, his son, Steve, and grandsons sell produce at 40 markets a week, from San Jose south to Seal Beach, Steve Tamai said.
The early markets were “an extremely elegant solution,” at a time when farmers were feeling squeezed out by regulations and economics, said Jim Churchill, who grows and sells pixie tangerines in Ojai. When the Tenerellis brought their peaches to a wholesale market, they were told the price per box that the buyers would pay. At farmers’ markets, they set the price, Lorraine Tenerelli said. “It’s been a godsend for all the farmers,” she said. Her husband, Peter, died seven years ago but their son, John, sells stone fruit at 22 markets.
The first five markets in Southern California were sponsored by the Interfaith Hunger Coalition, with the goal of helping small farmers sell their produce and poor people buy it, said Corum. Today, some markets accept food stamps and WIC coupons, but Corum said much more work is needed to provide good, affordable food to everyone.
Also part of the anniversary celebration was a competition for ideas and designs to make farm food easily available to urban dwellers. The winning entry, from Mia Lehrer & Associates in Los Angeles, called for a hub market where farmers could sell their produce and a fleet of electric trucks to take it to neighborhoods and sell it. Astrid Diehl, one of the designers, said the idea takes advantage of that “culture of taco trucks and mobile libraries.”
Moving less: Fifteen percent of Americans changed residences in 2008, down from a high of 16 percent two years earlier.
On their own: Nearly a third (31 percent) of Americans over age 15 have never married, up from 27 percent in 2000.
Going ga-ga for gadgets: The average U.S. household today has 25 consumer electronic products compared to just three in 1980.
And the juice to power them: Consumer electronic gadgets require 15 percent of current household power demand worldwide; a figure that could triple by 2030.
Powering down: Mandatory efficiency rules may be needed for large power users like flat-screen TVs and video game consoles.
Mandates cut power use: Required energy efficiency standards have reduced washing machine power needs by 70 percent since 1990 and refrigerator juice use by 45 percent.