In this Article:
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.
April 4 Update: Support Flexibility in School Meals: Study of CalFresh Recipients Shows Why Many People Don't Get Benefits
In this Article:
Food Justice News April 4, 2022
What We’re Supporting in the State Legislature This Year:
- An acceleration of the planned increase in monthly payments to SSI recipients in California, who are by definition senior or disabled. This is a budget item for which we are advocating.
- Expansion of the CalFresh program to include all in California who need food, regardless of their immigration status. (Food 4 All)
- An expansion of the pilot program to add supplemental benefits for fruits and vegetables onto every CalFresh participants’ ebt card, allowing people to fight inflation and increase their nutrition intake. (AB 2153)
- A program to provide technical assistance to farmers markets and allow them to become hubs of healthy food for all the above mentioned groups (SB 907)
For more information on any of these bills and to become involved in Hunger Action Week---or legislative visits even before then---contact [email protected] .
Passing along notices from some of our friends at food justice organizations:
- Support Child Nutrition Around the U.S.: Alert from CA Association of Food Banks
- New Report: Fresh Ideas for CalFresh Details Reasons Why Angelenos Who Qualify for Public Assistance Don’t Apply (LA Food Policy Council)
Support Child Nutrition Around the U.S.: Alert from CA Association of Food Banks
From our colleagues at California Association of Food Banks: “Last week the Senate released the bipartisan Support Kids Not Red Tape Act of 2022 to extend school and summer meal flexibilities for another year. Both Senators Feinstein and Padilla are cosponsors! You can learn more about the bill here. Now is the ideal time to do another round of outreach for the House version H.R.6613, the Keeping School Meals Flexible Act.
Please reach out to your members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor H.R.6613:
- You can check our bill cosponsor tracker to see if your members have cosponsored (column H).
- Here's an email template you can use to make the request.
- If your member of Congress is a sponsor, please reach out and thank them!
Help support on social media –
Here's a social media toolkit you can use. Tag @CAFoodBanks and we'll amplify your posts!
New Report: Fresh Ideas for CalFresh Details Reasons Why Angelenos Who Qualify for Public Assistance Don’t Apply
Los Angeles, California - March 22, 2022 - The Los Angeles Food Policy Council (LAFPC) released its “Fresh Ideas for CalFresh” report, a nearly three-year project (2019-2022) documenting the experiences of over 400 food insecure Angelenos across the county navigating public benefit programs like CalFresh. In fact, there are over 600,000 Los Angeles County residents who are eligible for CalFresh, but are not enrolled. Not having access to food impacts the health and well-being of families. The report finds the top reasons preventing Angelenos from applying to CalFresh include: misinformation, linguistic barriers, complex application process, lack of psychological safety, and not having access to quality grocery stores.
From project leaders to funders, this report is the first of its kind conducted and shaped by those with lived CalFresh experiences. “Community voice is power,” said Natasha Moise, Program Officer at First 5 LA. “What better way to inform policies and programs than from those who are directly impacted?” Given that one in three Los Angeles County households experienced food insecurity during the pandemic, this report informs how safety net programs can be improved and optimized for those who need them.
“CalFresh can be a lifeline for many,” said Christine Tran, Executive Director of LAFPC. “I grew up in a CalFresh household. My refugee parents worked very hard in sweatshops and on construction sites, yet their low-wage jobs were not enough to make ends meet. Programs like CalFresh eased the burden on my parents to not have to choose between feeding ourselves, affording gas, and paying rent.”
The project highlights the importance of listening deeply to communities and reframing CalFresh culture. One Angeleno in the report said, “I feel like the message [about CalFresh is that it’s] ‘for poor people’ and ‘leeches.’” This is a popular assumption that requires us to shift our collective thinking as a society. The report also uplifts lesser known facts like CalFresh is an economic stimulus. If all eligible Angelenos participated in CalFresh at 100%, Los Angeles County would receive federal funding that would annually circulate an additional $833 million in the local economy, paying for jobs while putting food on the table.
In response to the concerns brought up by food insecure Angelenos, the report convened systems of care stakeholders that included government entities, community-serving nonprofits, and other food justice advocates to workshop the following key recommendations:
- Ensure psychological safety throughout the CalFresh experience.
- Develop a skilled workforce to better serve Hard-to-Reach populations.
- Reduce administrative and emotional burdens on CalFresh participants and program administrators.
- Invest in CalFresh vendors and the local food supply chain.
Download the report: www.goodfoodla.org/calfresh