Saturday, May 27, 2017


Increasingly, doctors and nurses are realizing that they need to ask directly about food stress. Starting in fall 2015, clinicians at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston, Texas began to ask patients at four medical sites, including its physician practice, emergency rooms, and 10 school-based clinics in high-poverty areas if they had run out of food in the prior month or thought they would. Depending upon the location, 11 to 30% said they did. This summer, Memorial Hermann will expand its effort across the 15-hospital system, routinely asking hospitalized patients, along with patients seeking care at roughly 225 affiliated physician practices, about their food supply. And one affiliated practice has hired a community health worker to connect patients with food banks and brainstorm how to get better nutrition on a slim wallet. It also has planted a vegetable garden, so patients can literally grab some okra or collard greens on the way home.

Source: HealthcareFinance News, 5/16/17, Doctors Address Food Insecurity

Friday, May 26, 2017

President's budget proposes big cuts to SNAP and shifts costs to states


President Trump’s 2018 budget proposes to cut SNAP by more than $193 billion over the next 10 years — a more than 25% cut. The biggest portion of the cuts--$116 billion-- comes from a new requirement for states to pay for 25% of SNAP benefits (starting at 10% in 2020 and increasing to an average state share of 25% by 2023).  Such a cost shift would have significant consequences for states’ budgets.

As a part of the cost shift to states, USDA would let states cut benefit levels as a cost management tool. This means that a state’s ability to contribute to the cost of SNAP could drive the level of benefits available to its poor households.

SNAP law already restricts benefits to three months out of every 36-month period for people not raising minor children unless they are working 20 hours per week. States can waive the time limit in areas with persistently high unemployment. The President’s budget would restrict time limit waivers to areas with at least 10% unemployment. The proposal would mean that 1 million poor unemployed individuals would lose access to food assistance in an average month.  

SNAP currently allows states to raise SNAP’s gross income eligibility cutoff of 130% of the poverty line ($2,200 per month for a family of three) to a higher level. The President’s budget would eliminate this option, which provides food assistance to an estimated 1 million households in an average month.  Eliminating the option also ends states’ ability to ease the federal asset limit of $2,250 (or $3,250 for households with an elderly or disabled member), thereby allowing households with savings above the federal limit  to participate.  

The budget proposes to terminate SNAP’s minimum monthly benefit of $16 for households of one or two people, which primarily goes to low-income seniors and people with disabilities who qualify for a benefit of $15 or less.  Almost 2 million people would lose SNAP benefits as a result of this provision.  The President’s budget would cap additional benefits based on household size at families of six, cutting benefits to many families with several children or who live with grandparents and other family members.

Trump’s proposal also completely eliminates funding for the Low Income Heating Assistance Program, a serious loss for the North Country. And, by eliminating the Social Services and Community Development Block Grants, President Trump’s budget would also severely cut federal funding for Meals on Wheels.

Sources: Source: Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, 5/23/17, SNAP Cuts; Center for American Progress, 5/23/17, More Safety Net Cuts

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Community Conversation on Poverty

If you have not heard, there is a group gathering monthly to discuss poverty in St. Lawrence County and all of the related issues.  To date, the group has mostly been educating themselves on some of the issues, but the long-term goal is to develop some action plans to address some of the challenges of poverty in the County.

At a meeting earlier this week, there was some discussion of housing and weatherization issues.  We heard that 31% of the housing in St. Lawrence County is substandard.  And a third of our population has a net worth of less than $15,000, so the resources are not there to address the housing issues.

If you would like to be part of this ongoing conversation, send an e-mail to and ask to be added to the list.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Report from the front lines at the food pantry

Heard Connie Jenkins, the director of the Church and Community Program in Canton, share the following about their food pantry:

  • Signed up 13 new households last month
  • Have already signed up 13 new households this month and there is still a week to go in the month
  • Summer is the busiest time for the food pantry and we're not even there yet!
I'm sure the situation is similar at other food pantries and free will dinners across the county.

How cam people help?  Volunteer.  Donate food or money.  Engage with organizations to find out what their greatest needs are.  And support related organizations like GardenShare.

Don't know where there's a food pantry near you.  Check this list.  (And if you find any errors, let me know, so we can update it!)


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Using Gardens to Build Community

Educational gardens serve as a natural context for connecting with others and promoting dignity and the joy of meaningful collaborative work. Through the critical lenses of social justice, equity, and inclusion, we will focus on the ways we can use gardens to promote the development of positive social skills, emotional regulation, and friendship. In addition, we will provide examples of how to use history and literature related to food and farming to demonstrate how young people can create positive change in their communities.

Learn to use your educational garden to:
  • Develop a learning community 
  • Prevent bullying and biased behavior
  • Celebrate diversity in its many forms
  • Advocate for inclusion and social justice
  • Enhance instruction in academic subjects
This program is suitable for classroom teachers, community educators, and youth workers. Join us for three days of hands-on learning!
August 15-17, 2017
8:30-4 on the first day and 9-4 on subsequent days

Poughkeepsie Farm Project
51 Vassar Farm Lane, Poughkeepsie, NY 12603

$200 (Grant funds keep the price of this training low.)
Lunch will be provided.

This 21-hour program is CTLE approved.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Some comments on federal policy issues

A couple of things heard at last week's Hunger Solutions New York conference...

"Anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen in the next six months doesn’t know what they’re talking about – we have no idea!"  -Deborah Weinstein, Coalition on Human Needs

"It's critical to stay on message - no cuts, no block grants.  The good news is that new USDA Secretary Perdue has said he does not want to split the farm bill to separate the farm programs from the nutrition programs.  He also said he would not change structure of SNAP - 'why change something that’s not broken'.  When asked about restricting SNAP food choice, he talked about education and incentives to help people eat healthier.."  Ellen Teller, Food Research and Action Center

Friday, May 19, 2017

Threats to the social safety net

Jim Weill, the President and CEO of the Food Research andAction Center (FRAC) in Washington, DC, was the keynote speaker at the Hunger Solutions New York conference in Albany on Wednesday.  Jim said that we live in complicated times, where we are uncertain what is going to happen next, but we can count on threats to the social safety net for low-income people.

Jim offered the analysis that SNAP explains a lot about what’s happening in this country.  1 of 8 people in the US receive SNAP benefits each month.  Movement in and out of poverty means that half of all children are on SNAP at some point in their childhood and half of all adults receive SNAP at some point between ages of 20 and 60.

Jim continued by noting that most low-income people and SNAP recipients are working or anxious to get back to work.  Or they are hoping for living wages or struggling in retirement.  Yet these people identify themselves as middle class, despite their struggles.

Jim looked back over the last few decades in his speech.  The economy is twice as big per capita as when Reagan took office, but despite that, the poverty rate is higher.  High food insecurity, the USDA measure of hunger, is double what it was during Clinton administration.  Median earnings have declined to about 2/3 of what they were in the 1970’s.  At same time, the rich are getting richer.  All these things explain the frustration demonstrated in the last election,

Next, Jim noted that it would be even worse if it wasn’t for government intervention – Medicaid, SNAP, etc. – which have been improved over last 30 years to reach the working poor.  These programs lift people out of poverty and food insecurity.  SNAP lifts more people out of poverty than any other program except social security for the elderly.

Government has been picking up the slack dropped by employers – wages, health insurance, etc.  Many conservatives want to dismantle these programs, but employers won’t be picking these things back up.  We can expect that the cuts will take a variety of forms – tougher work tests, time limits, drug testing, limiting options for states, and block granting programs.  We can see the results of block granting with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF, what most people refer to as “welfare”).  When TANF was turned into a block grant to the state, on average states spent only half of the money they receive for this program on services for low-income people.  Some states spend only 20% on direct services!

Many of the proposals around the social safety net carry a double whammy for low-income people as they will both lower the minimum wage and cut programs that support working poor.  FRAC’s public opinion polling indicates that 8 out of 10 people don’t want to see these programs cut.  To prevent these kinds of cuts, this year is going to be critical.  Jim urged us to keep up our advocacy at the national level, but also engage mayors and town councils to work with our Congressional delegation on these issues.