On Inflation, Sanctions, War , and The Local Food Economy
Gas prices are “coming down” they say in Los Angeles---now under $6 per gallon brings a sigh of relief, whereas it was once unimaginable. I remember in 2008 when gas first hit $5 per gallon, and hunger resulted in the Antelope Valley as seniors were unable to afford the drive into Lancaster to get groceries: more than one was found passed out in their trailer home as reported by medical authorities, due to insufficient food. And now gas prices are just one facet of the inflation that’s hit food prices all over the U.S.
Certainly the sanctions on Russia are hurting the world economy, and the invasion of Ukraine has resulted not only in the immediate suffering of refugees from that conflict, but the loss of food exports to countries around the world that rely on Ukrainian grain to feed their own populations.
President Biden has warned of the reality of food shortages :
All of which makes it more important that we develop our own local food sources rather than depend so much on global trade, and California is rich in those. We too are threatened by climate change; witness the ongoing drought situation. But supporting our local farmer not only helps them to survive, it can make healthy food more accessible to low income Californians, thanks to programs like Market Match. The County of Los Angeles will be using some of the pandemic rescue funding to expand programs that make access to fruits and vegetables more affordable, at farmers markets and neighborhood stores, addressing a pre-existing crisis that was made worse by the pandemic. And state legislation like AB 2153 (Arambula) will speed up the day when all CalFresh users in California will be able to get rebates on their benefit cards for purchasing fresh California grown produce whether sold at the farmers market or in the grocery store.
Finally, President Biden signed an extension of $6 billion of funds to WIC to allow the fruit and vegetable benefits in that program to continue at the current amounts. The WIC “ benefit bump” has resulted in more than triple the amount of fruit and vegetable purchases, a greater variety of produce redeemed by WIC families, and increased fruit and vegetable consumption for young children. And while it’s not limited to locally grown produce, the benefits can be used on fruits and vegetables grown right here in the paradise of California (unless climate change….but that’s for another story.)
Politics That Wound and Kill
But while the media focus is on Ukraine and high prices in the U.S., and our own focus in L.A. is on the unhoused and on hunger impacting families, seniors and people with disabilities, further afield war has contributed to some of the most horrific scenes of famine---specifically in Yemen where U.S. supported Saudi Arabia has been battling Houthi rebels, ostensibly supported by Iran as the regional clash between those two giants has wrought misery with hardly any coverage by the U.S. press.
Political violence doesn’t just mean war. Brutal attacks on people of targeted ethnic groups or people of certain gender orientation is politically motivated. And with that in mind, then the U.S. becomes a country where hunger is occurring due to violence motivated by racism and xenophobia, against Asian-Americans . This article from Bloomberg relates the suffering of seniors in New York who are of Asian descent, but cannot leave their homes to get food due to the very real risk of being beaten or killed. “In New York City alone, hate incidents against Asians surged 361% in 2021 to 129, according to police department data through early December. And that number is likely underreported because of language and cultural barriers.”
And, politics can cause hunger without resorting to violence. That’s true obviously, of insufficient anti-hunger policy, or deliberate attempts to destroy hunger programs, but it’s also manifest in political stunts, theater that has become all too common, as Governor Greg Abbot in Texas is causing food waste and spoilage by having state troopers perform inspections already done by the federal government, in an effort
“The bridge connecting Pharr and Reynosa is the busiest trade crossing in the Rio Grande Valley and handles the majority of the produce that crosses into the U.S. from Mexico, including avocados, broccoli, peppers, strawberries and tomatoes. On Monday, with trucks backed up for miles in Reynosa for the fifth day in a row, some produce importers in Texas said they have waited days for their goods to arrive and already had buyers cancel orders.
“One of our customers canceled the order because we didn’t deliver on time,” said Modesto Guerra, sales manager for Sterling Fresh Inc., which imports broccoli from Central Mexico”
“While many companies cross perishable foods in refrigerated trucks, Guerra said the bottlenecks could lead to equipment failures that cause produce and other products to spoil in the heat. “Those refrigerated units are powered by diesel,” Guerra said. “These trucks are in line and when the diesel runs out they have no way of refueling.”
“Oh can you see their world is crashing
Crashing down around their feet
And angry people in the street,
Are telling them they've had their fill
Of politics that wound and kill”
---Mike Pinder, “Lost in a Lost World”, Moody Blues
CalFresh : Snags In the System Translate to Hunger
While the CalFresh program is an excellent system for bringing substantial food purchasing power to the hungry, the past several months have seen glitches and inadequacies that have made it frustrating and left people anxious and without food.
Although improving, the County has a low percentage of success in enrolling people who need benefits in one to three days, many of them homeless people applying for “expedited” CalFresh. If our government processes can’t get food cards to unhoused people in a timely manner, how will we expect them to provide housing, which is a far more complicated process than applying for CalFresh benefits?
In February, farmers markets were required to obtain new EBT machines to process CalFresh cards, from a new state contract. The new machines frequently malfunctioned, could not print out reports, would die or lose connection with the network in the middle of a transaction, needed to be re-booted several times in a day, and other failures, resulting in taking so much time to process a single transaction that many people walked away without making a purchase, or could not use their benefits due to the machine not working at all. While service updates have been made that have mitigated some of the problem, no one has been held accountable for the lost time and the hunger.
Even worse, over the last few weeks the state of California issued new EBT cards to thousands of participants in the program. These new cards were sent to replace cards issued before 2018 that did not have an additional security feature to guard against theft. Many people had their old cards cancelled before the new one had arrived, and when they called the service number to find out what was going on were met with an impenetrable wall of recordings that left them with no way to follow up.
On the policy side, when the public emergency from the pandemic is declared to be over, SNAP users all over the United States will face a significant drop (morbidly nicknamed the “Food Cliff” ) in the amount of their monthly benefit. For the details see this website from US Department of Agriculture:
There is good news to be sure aside from all of this, and better news if the state legislative agenda is passed. And, the Public Health Emergency has been extended so the “cliff” mentioned above won’t happen for a few more months. But we need to avoid the trap of thinking that the SNAP program----CalFresh here---solves everything by itself, without constant monitoring, troubleshooting, and policy improvement.