Governor’s Budget For Anti-Hunger Programs Helpful, But Disappointing In Record-Surplus Year
On Friday May 14, the Governor released his proposed budget (the “May Revise”) for the state of California. This is the annual revision of what the Governor proposes in January, and then it’s updated after the Governor gets reports on revenue for the state. For this year, revenue is higher than anticipated, by billions of dollars, and so the state is in a “spending” mood. Anti-hunger advocates thought this would bode well for ambitious proposals that would make huge strides toward reducing hunger and poverty for the state’s children, for seniors and people with disabilities, and for many immigrants including those who risked their lives or health doing essential work during the pandemic.
The Governor’s new proposal (which is not final as there are still negotiations with the legislature to follow) does include some spending in the anti-hunger vein: however it’s nearly all insufficient, and surprisingly so as there is a vast new surplus to work with.
The Governor included $150 million “ ongoing Proposition 98 General Fund to encourage local educational agencies to participate in one of the federal universal meal provisions. Participation in a universal meal provision allows schools to serve breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students and greatly reduces the administrative burden associated with collecting school meal applications. “While this provision will allow a significant number of schools to carry on universal free meals, it is not the same thing as the sweeping reform proposed in SB 364 to change all California schools to universal free meals; the funding is insufficient for that.
It's also a concern that while improving SSI/SSP grants for seniors, blind and disabled persons a little, the key words are “a little.” The May Revision includes $131.5 million General Fund in 2021-22 and ongoing to restore SSP, Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants, and California Veterans Cash Benefit recipients COLA for individuals back to 2011 payment levels.
This represents an increase per month of only about $10, for a group of 1.1 million people who already struggle to afford housing and other expenses. It does not account for the approximate 24% increase in the California Price Index between 2011-2021, and may leave SSI individuals worse off compared to the Federal Poverty Level than in 2011.
Moreover, the May Revision does not propose any increase for grants to couples receiving SSI/SSP, who have faced the same cost increases in housing, food and other essentials, let alone more recent costs due to COVID-19.
The largest gap is in proposals to assist categories of immigrants who do not qualify for CalFresh with $600 one time grocery cards (AB 221 proposed by Assemblymember Santiago) or with state funded CalFresh benefits (SB 464 authored by Senator Hurtado.) There is no mention in the Governor’s revised budget for either of these items, a slap in the face to immigrants who risked their health to provide essential services during the worst times of the pandemic. It leaves in place a caste system in which two people may do equally dangerous work but only one can be assured of food assistance if their wages are so low they qualify for CalFresh. (See also the article at the end of this update.)
Finally there is good news in that the Governor did propose $15 million (short of a requested $20 million) to provide resources for the Market Match program and other SNAP incentive programs that allow families to receive bonus dollars for fruits and vegetables when using CalFresh, thereby making healthy food more affordable.
However, the Governor’s budget makes no mention of the relatively small yet mighty Farm to Family Tax Credit, a 15% credit that costs about $250,000 a year yet allows farmers to grow up to $8 million worth of more food to provide California food banks. Like Market Match, this provision allows California to fight hunger while keeping the resources to do so within the state. We can only hope that the legislature will remember this program and correct the oversight.
Highlights:Food Justice News November 24, 2020:
THANKSGIVING AND BEYOND
- A Quick Look At Community Fridges
- Cooked Foods Return To LA Farmers Markets
- Advocacy Begins To Help Small LA Food Businesses
- Andy Fisher: How One Organization Can Shorten Food Bank Lines Across the United States"
- Food Chain Workers Fight For Better Safety During Pandemic
- Updates on CalFresh: Rules Made Simpler for Seniors: Court Rules Stolen Benefits Must Be Restored
- Save the Month: May 2021
- A Quick Look At Community Fridges
By now many of you are familiar with the phenomenon of community fridges. Said to have originated in New York, these fridges have popped up in different parts of LA County since June of this year, supplied by grassroots volunteers with the pandemic being a major impetus. They are a low tech and simple solution to at least part of the food waste/hunger dilemma: People with extra food can drop off food into one of the unlocked community refrigerators; those who need food can take whatever they want.
An article by Kat Hong in The Infatuation from July explains more:
No good idea ever goes unpunished and it wasn’t long before at least one LA County municipality decided that a fridge had to be shut down. The City of Whittier used the vague reason that the fridge “wasn’t in the city code” and therefore apparently, could not be allowed to exist, a rationale that would certainly prevent any new inventions from ever being legal in the city. No flying cars in the year 2050 for Whittier, I suppose; they aren’t “in the city code.”
To locate a fridge near you, check out this
Christy Moser and her daughter Giuliana, 6, add to the community refrigerator at Frank’s Auto Upholstery on Greenleaf Avenue in Whittier on Friday October 23, 2020. The community refrigerator allows people to donate food or get food 24 hours a day. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Contributing Photographer Whittier Daily News)
2. Cooked Foods Return To LA Farmers Markets
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Allows Prepared Food Vendors to Return to Certified Farmers' Markets
Small Food Businesses and Market Operators Celebrate Decision
Prepared food vendors will begin returning to certified farmers' markets across Los Angeles County after the Department of Public Health issued an order permitting their return. The decision is being celebrated by hundreds of small food businesses throughout Los Angeles, many of which have been out of work for nearly eight months.
The order was advocated by LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who championed the cause of temporary food facilities. “Prepared food vendors are part of the fabric of Los Angeles County," said Supervisor Solis. "Yet these small businesses, often owned by residents of color, have endured profound suffering stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, because they have been prohibited from serving prepared food at farmers markets. This is a matter of equity and I am pleased that, at my direction, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health now permits prepared food vendors to return to our farmers markets in LA County.”
SEE-LA and Farmer Mark were among many who petitioned for the return of the cooked food vendors, including also Hunger Action LA and the Studio City Farmers Market, who launched a change.org petition. Prepared food vendors were forced to leave farmers' markets on March 11th, when Governor Gavin Newsom called for the cancelation of community events. Across the state, departments of public health were left to interpret and grant exceptions to this ruling as they saw fit. In Orange and San Francisco Counties, markets were back to business as usual within a matter of weeks. In Los Angeles, however, packaged foods were permitted to return, while prepared foods were deemed too great a risk, even as restaurants reopened and sit-down dining resumed.. Most vendors saw their businesses wither, and went overnight from self-employed to unemployed.
This order puts hundreds of prepared food booths back in businesses. Farmers' markets and foodies across the city are celebrating.
Prepared food, allowed at restaurants during the pandemic, was banned from farmers markets in LA County from March until this past week, even though farmers markets would easily have been able to comply with distancing and other requirements
3. Advocacy Begins To Help Small LA Food Businesses
From our friends at the LA Food Policy Council, a campaign you can join to help implement LA’s Good Food Zones:
Join the Los Angeles Food Policy Council's Good Food Economy Working Group over the next month to TAKE ACTION in support of healthy food businesses. We are urging our local city officials to fund and implement the Good Food Zone Policy. The Good Food Zone is a policy adopted at the beginning of March of this year, and its purpose is to support small healthy food businesses to get the tools they need to thrive. This policy is a critical tool to help food businesses recover from the pandemic, especially in low-income communities that lack access to healthy foods. To read more about the Good Food Zone, you can read this policy brief written by the LA Food Policy Council.
We need your help taking this policy to the next level. Since the city council passed the Good Food Zone, a pandemic has ensued. Food businesses across the City have taken a hard economic hit, meaning the communities have cut to needed services. We need to pressure our elected officials to get this program funded and provide an exact timeline implemented to assist the communities impacted the most by the pandemic!
The way we have structured this, we want people to TAKE ACTION on social media or through phone calls (Call-In Google Form Sign Up) and letter writing, one day a week for the next month. Below you will find all information needed to support healthy food businesses. Please access the Tool-Kit that has been prepared by the Los Angeles Food Policy Council's Good Food Economy Working Group.
After today we will send weekly reminders. Please let us know if you have any questions.
4. Andy Fisher: How One Organization Can Shorten Food Bank Lines Across the United States"
Andrew Fisher has worked in the anti-hunger field for 25 years, as the executive director of national and local food groups, and as a researcher, organizer, policy advocate, and coalition builder. He is the author of “Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti-Hunger Groups.” In his new article, Andy states that “The nation’s largest food charity, Feeding America, has failed to embrace the progressive values needed to make a real impact.” and offers a 10 point plan to change that, focusing on advocacy to change the structures and policies that lead people to be unable to afford food in the USA in the first place. Read the article here.
Likewise, Senator Bernie Sanders has commissioned a report that found that Taxpayers Subsidize Poverty Wages at Walmart, McDonald’s, Other Large Corporations. These corporations, listed at the linked article, employ people at wages so low they must rely on SNAP (food stamps to survive. “At a time when huge corporations like Walmart and McDonald’s are making billions in profits and giving their CEOs tens of millions of dollars a year, they’re relying on corporate welfare from the federal government by paying their workers starvation wages. That is morally obscene. U.S. taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize some of the largest and most profitable corporations in America. It is time for the owners of Walmart, McDonald’s and other large corporations to get off of welfare and pay their workers a living wage,” said Sanders. “…It is long past time to increase the federal minimum wage from a starvation wage of $7.25 an hour to $15, and guarantee health care to all Americans as a human right.”
5. Food Chain Workers Fight For Better Safety During Pandemic
From Food Chain Workers Alliance: “As COVID-19 cases spike and employees brace for holiday crowds, Food 4 Less workers in Los Angeles rallied Tuesday (November 17) to demand reinstatement of Hazard Pay and increased safety protections for workers and customers. Despite a huge increase in sales, Kroger, Food 4 Less’ parent company, eliminated hazard pay and has failed to enforce basic workplace protections to keep workers and customers safe.”
“Workers are concerned that the holiday season and increased COVID infections will put them, their families, and customers at greater risk. Find out more about the #Fight4More / #Lucha4Más campaign at https://foodchainworkers.org/ .”
Grocery workers and union members protest outside a North Long Beach Food 4 Less for increased safety measures and hazard pay. Photo by Brandon Richardson for Long Beach Business Journal.
6. Updates on CalFresh: Rules Made Simpler for Seniors: Court Rules Stolen Benefits Must Be Restored
From a press release by Western Center on Law and Poverty and Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles: The California Court of Appeal has ruled that the Department of Social Services must replace CalFresh benefits (formerly "food stamps") when they are electronically stolen from recipients. Attorneys with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and Western Center on Law & Poverty represented plaintiffs Esther Ortega and Joe Soza, both of whom are recipients of CalFresh benefits who experienced electronic theft. Hunger Action Los Angeles, an organization working to end hunger and promote healthy eating through advocacy, direct service, and organizing, was also an organizational plaintiff in the case.
“This decision makes it clear that people don’t have to go hungry if through no fault of their own, their CalFresh benefits are stolen,” said Frank Tamborello, Executive Director of Hunger Action LA. “It’s especially critical during this pandemic, with hunger at an all-time high and electronic theft increasing.”
The Court of Appeal decision in Esther Ortega et al., v. Kimberley Johnson, et al. reverses a trial court decision that said the state is not responsible for replacing stolen benefits, and requires reversal of the California Department of Social Services’ previous denial of the plaintiffs’ requests for replacement benefits.
As electronic theft becomes more technologically sophisticated, more low-income Californians are left without essential anti-hunger food benefits, even when they protect their EBT cards and personal information. The result in this case will ensure that CalFresh recipients have their benefits replaced when they are stolen by electronic thieves, and that they don't go hungry when they are victims of high-tech theft.
The point of food assistance is to make sure people can eat. With California and the country both experiencing record levels of hunger, it’s vitally important for government to safeguard necessary food assistance for eligible recipients. This ruling is an important step for Californians who rely on CalFresh benefits to prevent hunger.
CalFresh Will Now Be Simpler for Seniors: The federal government has approved California’s request for waivers in the SNAP program that will eliminate the quarterly reporting normally required for households, if all members of the household are seniors or disabled and have no “earned” income (wages from working rather than pensions, Social Security and similar resources.) This waiver will be implemented as soon as March 1, 2022 and joins other waivers that have made it easier for California seniors and people with disabilities, including up to 1.3 million SSI recipients, to receive food benefits.
7. Save the Month: May 2021 for Hunger Action
“Hunger Action Day”, an event going on 25 years in California bringing together low income people and advocates around the state to the capitol in Sacramento to push for legislative policies that end hunger, became a virtual event “Hunger Action Week” this past May due to the pandemic, and in fact activities were conducted over a period of several weeks (so it’s more like Hunger Action Month now.) Hunger Action Day is conducted by the California Hunger Action Coalition (CHAC), consisting of groups from all over the state including Hunger Action LA, LA CAN, California Association of Food Banks, Nourish CA, the San Diego Hunger Coalition, Fresno Metro Ministries, Alameda County Community Food Bank, Community Action Partnership of Orange County and a host of others.
Among the achievements of CHAC and its member groups over the years have been the removal of the racist ban on people with past drug felonies from receiving CalFresh benefits, rules simplifying the CalFresh program, state funds to provide more fruits and vegetables both to food banks and to CalFresh recipients, and the restoration of food benefit access to 1.3 million seniors and people with disabilities in the state who receive SSI.
Thousands of people have participated in CHAC events including Hunger Action Day (Week) (Month), whether they are recipients of public benefits, staff of nonprofit organizations, students, private sector workers or any other concerned residents. You can participate too! Email [email protected] and mark your calendar for May; it will be here quicker than you think!
Hunger Action LA at the Capitol in Sacramento, from the days when group travel was less risky