Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Most SNAP recipients are working poor households

When the President's budget director unveiled the administration's blueprint for significant cuts to SNAP, he noted that the aim was to get people working. "If you're on food stamps and you're able-bodied, we need you to go to work….," Mick Mulvaney said. But the reality is, many people (44%) who rely on SNAP live in a family where at least one person is working, according to the latest USDA figures. And when it comes to families on SNAP with kids, a majority — 55% — are bringing home wages, according to USDA. The problem is, those wages aren't enough to actually live on. As it turns out, many of the working poor who rely on SNAP benefits are employed in the food industry; 52% of fast-food workers are enrolled in, or have their families enrolled in, one or more public assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program.

Source: NPR, 5/24/17, On SNAP & Working

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


The President’s call for SNAP cuts is based on the claim that SNAP caseloads and spending are higher than expected. In reality, SNAP caseloads and spending have fallen for more than four years at almost exactly the pace at which the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected. SNAP grew significantly between 2007 and 2012 as the recession and lagging recovery led more low-income households to qualify and apply for help. Caseloads peaked in December 2012. The annual decline in SNAP participants since then has closely tracked CBO’s 2012 projections. For each year, CBO’s projections have been within 1 to 2 percentage points of the actual figures. SNAP spending has also fallen for four straight years. Spending was 4.5% lower in the first seven months of FY 2017 than over the same period last year and 15% lower than over the same period in 2013, when spending peaked. To be sure, SNAP caseloads and spending remain higher than before the recession hit, but that’s not because SNAP eligibility expanded. Instead, the main reason is that a higher share of eligible people are participating, especially working households and seniors.

Source: Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, 5/22/17, SNAP Caseloads

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.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Composting Workshop on Saturday

The Local Living Venture is running a workshop, "Composting Made Simple for Garden and Home" on Saturday, May 20 from 3:00 to 5:00 in Potsdam.

More information and registration details on the LLV website.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017


President Trump is proposing to eliminate nearly 10% of the more than $145 billion in the discretionary federal grants provided in fiscal year 2016. These include the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Community Development Block Grants, Weatherization Assistance, HOME Investment Partnerships, and Senior Community Service Employment. The effect of eliminating these grants would be especially severe in New England and the upper Midwest, where the states between Maine and Minnesota would all lose over 10% of their total federal grants.  In contrast, Southern and Western states would lose between 3.5 and 8.5% of their funding.

Source: Pew Charitable Trusts, 5/8/17, Grant Cuts

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


Holding children publicly accountable for unpaid school lunch bills — by throwing away their food, providing a less desirable alternative lunch, or branding them with markers — is often referred to as “lunch shaming.” The practice is widespread — a 2014 USDA report found that nearly half of all school districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45% withheld the hot meal and gave a cold sandwich, while 3% denied food entirely.) The problem of meal debt is not new, but the issue has received more attention recently because the Agriculture Department, which oversees school meal programs, imposed a July 1 deadline for states to establish policies on how to treat children whose parents cannot pay for food. In 2016, the School Nutrition Association published a review of almost 1,000 school lunch programs, finding that nearly 75% of districts had unpaid meal debt.  A Department guidance document suggests that districts ask their community for help, for example through “random acts of kindness” funding and school fundraisers.

Source: NYT, 4/30/17, Lunch Shaming

Monday, May 15, 2017


SNAP, the nation’s largest anti-hunger program provides millions of workers with income to help feed their families.  The share of all households with earnings in an average month while participating in SNAP rose from 19% in 1990 to 32% in 2015.  Among households with children and a non-elderly, non-disabled adult, about 60% have earnings while participating in SNAP. Most workers who participate in SNAP are in service occupations (e.g., home health aides or cooks), administrative support occupations (e.g., customer service representatives), and sales occupations (e.g., cashiers). These occupations pay wages close to or below the poverty threshold for a family of three. Low-paying jobs often have scheduling practices that contribute to workers’ low and volatile incomes, plus create barriers to retaining employment and career advancement  by making it harder to arrange child care, search for a new job, or attend school or training. And most low-wage jobs lack benefits such as paid sick leave and health insurance.

Source: Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 5/10/17, Workers in SNAP

Sunday, May 14, 2017


  • In 2014, 43.5 million American women between the ages of 15 and 50 were mothers. All together they had 95.8 million children.
  • 3.9 million women between the ages of 15 and 50 gave birth in 2015, 64.3% of them were married, 35.7% were not.
  • 9.8 million single mothers lived with children younger than age 18 in 2016, up from 7.7 million in 1985. There were 5 million stay-at-home moms in married-couple family groups in 2016.
  • 62.4% of women ages 16 to 50 who gave birth in 2015 were working.
  • 888,357 people were employed at one of the 74,589, child day care services across the country in 2015. In addition, there were 670,887 child day care services without paid employees in 2014.
  • Noah and Emma were the most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively, in 2015.
  • Since 2005, the number of florist establishments decreased from 21,135 to 13,419, a decline of 36.5%. The number of employees in floral shops also declined, from 101,861 to 60,076 employees in 2015, a decline of 41%.

Source: Census Bureau, 5/1/17, Mother's Day

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Online Community Food Systems class starts soon

UMass ONLINE summer class, STOCKSCH 385 - Community Food Systems, will start on May 22.  This 6-week class examines the movement of food from seed to table.  

For more information, see:
Participants in the course explore local and global food systems, and specific food related issues that impact health of communities. Among the topics we’ll cover are: 
  • examining the economic and political decisions that frame our food chain, 
  • direct marketing, 
  • commercial agriculture, 
  • processing, 
  • food justice, 
  • hunger, 
  • health, 
  • food security, 
  • school food systems and school gardens, 
  • Community Supported Agriculture, 
  • farmers’ markets, 
  • small scale farming and homesteading.  
At the center of this course is the examination of the opportunities and challenges required in making community food projects that create real lasting systems change.

All UMass Sustainable Food and Farming classes cost $482/credit and transfer to other colleges and universities

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Farm-to-school programs serve locally or regionally produced foods (two common definitions being foods produced within 50 miles or within the State) in school meals in many school districts. According to the USDA’S Farm to School Census, 35% of U.S. school districts reported serving local food in school meals during the 2011-12 school year. About 19% of school districts, containing 30% of American school children, served at least one locally sourced food item daily. Milk, fruit, and vegetables were the most frequently served locally produced foods. USDA’s analysis revealed that districts in the Northeast were 28 percentage points more likely to serve local foods daily than those in the Southwest; districts in cities were 11 percentage points more likely than those in rural areas to do so; and districts with 5,000 or more students were 9 percentage points more likely to do so compared to districts with under 5,000 students.  Serving local foods daily in school cafeterias was also more common in states with more legislated policies supporting farm-to-school programs.

Source: USDA, 5/1/17, Farm-to-School

Monday, May 8, 2017

May is "Older Americans Month," so it seemed a good time to think about hunger and food insecurity among our seniors.

Nationally, 15.8 million households are food insecure, including 2.9 million households with at least one adult aged 65 or older. Millions more households with seniors face marginal food security.

1.2 million seniors who lived alone were food insecure in 2015, and approximately 548,000 of these seniors were experiencing very low food insecurity.

Ten percent, or 4.6 million, of seniors age 65 and over lived at or below the poverty level in 2014.

Source: Food Research & Action Council, 5/1/17, Senior Hunger

Friday, May 5, 2017

One more time... Hunger 101

It's been a busy couple of weeks for our Hunger 101 program and we presented it again last evening for the SUNY Potsdam Sociology Club.

Fifteen participants were very engaged and kept talking as a group for a good half hour longer than usual for this program.

Here are a few of their comments on the evaluation forms...

  • I learned that college student hunger is a bigger issue than I thought.
  • This presentation was hands on and opened the eyes of the participants
  • This program made clear what SNAP is, who can qualify for it, and what the program is about
  • I knew about SNAP but never realized how hard it really was to get them
  • This was an eye-opening experience - itneractive and you really get to feel what it's like

If you would like to know more about Hunger 101 or schedule a presentation for a group, please get in touch, 315-261-8054

Thursday, May 4, 2017


The Oklahoma legislature recently approved the Healthy Food Financing Act, which will establish a fund called the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. The fund would help construct grocery stores, expand local farmers’ markets, and help corner store owners buy refrigerators if they want to offer fresh foods — anything that would help expand healthy choices in Oklahoma’s food deserts. The money would be available as loans or grants. Liz Waggoner, the Oklahoma government relations director for the American Heart Association, says there are several private businesses and nonprofits ready contribute to the fund. And there’s federal money available for the program, too, because of the former first lady’s Let’s Move campaign.  

Source: KGOU, 4/21/17, Healthy Food Financing

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Hunger 101 at SUNY Potsdam

Last evening, we presented our Hunger 101 program to a class at SUNY Potsdam.  While the students in the class have been learning about various social service programs all semester, some of them were still surprised by the experiential nature of the Hunger 101 program and feeling what it might be like to be in need themselves.

Here a just a few of their comments:

  • Even though there were multiple programs to ehlp people, they ended up with very little food and or money
  • I realized before the exercise that SNAP benefits were minimal, but during the exercise I realizsed (almost) realistic frustration.
  • I like having to budget the monthly expenses because it showed how difficult it may be for someone to manage their money.
  • I learned how difficult it is to get aid and how hard it is to provide for a family on a low food budget.
  • It really simulated what people go through and actually put me in that situation.
  • I liked that Hunger 101 opened a lot of people's eyes to real life situations that families actually go through.

And from one student who has experience using SNAP benefits in real life and who played the role of a grocery store cashier:  "I didn't like having to treat people the way I was treated at grocery stores because they were using SNAP or were undocumented."

Veggie of the Month: Asparagus

Some interesting tidbits about asparagus:
  • Asparagus was so popular in ancient Egypt that there are paintings of the vegetable in tombs
  • With asparagus growing up to a rate of up to 1 inch per hour, asparagus must be harvested daily to prevent over-growth 
  • Asparagus is full of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K as well as antioxidants and carcinogenic fighting compounds 
  • The Roman emperor, Caesar Augustus, used to yell in Latin, “Faster than cooking asparagus” to his troops which translates to “get going already!” Romans were so obsessed with asparagus that there were even Asparagus fleets where fast runners would bring the asparagus back as quickly as possible to the cities 

Asparagus Pesto: Although typically thought of as a basil dish, pesto simply means paste in Italian and asparaguses offer a healthy alternative to an Italian favorite. Serve this NY Times recipe over fish, chicken, or pasta.

     1 lb asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
     1 clove garlic, or more to taste
     ¼ cup pine nuts
     ¼ cup olive oil
     ¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
     Freshly ground black pepper
     Juice of 1/2 lemon

     Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the asparagus and cook until fully tender but not mushy, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain well, reserving some of the cooking liquid, and let the asparagus cool slightly.

     Transfer the asparagus to a food processor and add the garlic, pine nuts, 2 tablespoons of the oil, Parmesan, a pinch of salt and a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Process the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary, and gradually add the remaining oil and a bit more of the reserved cooking liquid to moisten if necessary. Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste, pulse one last time, and serve over pasta, fish or chicken

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


Every day students come to school without a way to pay for lunch. In most places it's up to the school to decide what happens next. Some schools will provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich; others will sometimes provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped, or wear a wristband showing they owe money; and some will deny students lunch altogether. But a new Hunger-Free Students' Bill of Rights Act in New Mexico requires that all students have access to the same lunch and ends practices like trashing lunches that have been served to students who can't pay, or making students do chores to work off debt. Texas and California are already working on similar legislation. With policies to handle unpaid meals all over the map, the USDA will soon require that all school districts have a policy on what to do when kids can't pay. By July 1, those policies must be in writing and communicated to staff, parents and the community.

Source: NPR, 4/17/17, School Meal Shaming

Monday, May 1, 2017


The majority of Americans support increasing the amount of money SNAP recipients get each month, and they also very much support limiting what people can buy with those benefits, according to a new survey. The national survey included more than 7,000 voters and was part of a broader effort to gauge public opinion on a variety of anti-poverty programs. Participants were told that SNAP recipients who live alone earn on average $542 a month in income and get $140 a month in benefits. Overall, 81% of respondents said they favored raising the monthly benefit for such recipients. Among Republicans, 66% supported raising benefits. Among Democrats, it was 93%.  Those surveyed also expressed strong support for prohibiting soda and candy purchases using SNAP benefits. More than two-thirds favored banning such candy purchases (among Republicans, 85% supported, among Democrats 68%); 73% of respondents wanted to ban soda purchases (Republicans, 82%, Democrats, 67%).

Source: Voice of the People, 4/26/17, SNAP Survey