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Food Justice News October 24, 2022
USC Study Finds Nearly A Quarter of LA County Households Food Insecure At Some Point in 2022
A study by the University of Southern California shows that rates of food insecurity, which had improved in 2021 after the initial shock of the pandemic, once again rose during 2022, due largely to inflation. According to the study, the percentage of households who experienced food insecurity —" a
disruption in regular eating because of limited money or other resources “— over the
past 12 months was:
- 16.6% in December 2021 (553,195 households)
- 24.3% in July 2022 (809,798 households)
A quote from the research brief:
“In July 2022, we asked participants in USC’s Understanding America Survey if the rise in food and grocery prices changed the foods that they bought in the past year, compared to before prices went up.
They reported the following changes:
- 42.2% bought less food
- 62.0% bought different types of foods to save money (e.g., less expensive types of foods or less expensive brands)
- 58.6% bought groceries at different stores that are less expensive
- 38.1% bought foods that were lower quality to save money”
Perfect Storm: Drought, Inflation and Merger of Major Stores
Climate change, inflation, and supply chain disruptions have all contributed to the increase in food prices. To this toxic brew we can add the likely consequences of the upcoming Albertsons-Kroger merger, and the general situation of underfunded public benefit programs. Of course, although gas prices are finally beginning to come down in Southern California, they remain at higher levels than for many years previously, and take a bigger chunk of what's available for family food money.
First a look at how the chronic drought in California is impacting the prices of tomatoes. California accounts for 95% of the country’s processed tomato production. So, the drought is causing farmers to grow far fewer tomatoes due to the inability to get enough water. This is causing price increases not just of tomatoes but anything with tomatoes in it---salsa, pasta sauce, ketchup:
At the beginning of the year California’s projected tomato crop was 12.2 million tons. That is going to end up being more like only 10.4 million tons. Inflation is not only the consequence of the tomato shortage, but inflation is hitting farmers too in the prices they pay for fuel and fertilizer among other things. The following article from CNN describes that the cost of growing a crop of tomatoes was about $3,500 per acre 5 years ago, and now stands around $5,000 per acre:
Store Mergers Foreshadow Even Higher Food Costs
Kroger and Albertsons are proposing to merge, a deal worth over $26 billion. Here in Southern California, Kroger owns Ralphs and Food 4 Less: Albertson’s owns Vons and also has stores of its own.
The merger is likely to bring closures of stores (an issue in LA which has not been dealt with over the past 30 years, the shortage of grocery stores in its lowest income areas), layoffs of employees (adding to the numbers of food insecure), and higher prices (adding even more to the numbers of food insecure, a la the USC study.)
“There is no reason to allow two of the biggest supermarket chains in the country to merge — especially with food prices already soaring,” says Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project.
“With 60% of grocery sales concentrated among just five national chains, a Kroger-Albertsons deal would squeeze consumers already struggling to afford food, crush workers fighting for fair wages, and destroy independent, community stores,” Miller says. “This merger is a cut-and-dry case of monopoly power, and enforcers should block it.”
Michael Hiltzik writes in the LA Times:
When you can get a Republican and Democrat to work together on something these days, it must be pretty huge. Houston Business Journal reports that “Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Utah Sen. Mike Lee said Oct. 18 they have “serious concerns about the proposed transaction (the Kroger-Albertson merger) ” and would hold a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to examine the acquisition, Bloomberg reported. Klobuchar and Lee are the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Judiciary antitrust panel”.
LA Times on Unhoused Seniors
There are over 14,000 unhoused seniors (55 and older) in LA County. The high housing costs here make those trying to subsist on SSI (Supplemental Security Income) vulnerable and hungry
In California we have recently passed legislation that brought the state portion of SSI up to the level where it would have been had not the devastating cuts enacted under the Brown administration taken place. Still, nationwide the program is no longer sufficient for housing and food, with a senior population that is rising as the baby boomers age into eligibility. Some lawmakers in Washington DC are proposing legislation to raise the cap on allowable savings in the program from $3,000 to $20,000, which would be a tremendous help. But the pandemic closed many Social Security offices around the country, leaving many seniors and disabled persons unable to even apply for the benefits.
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CA Hunger-Fighting Groups Optimistic after White House Conference
By Suzanne Potter, Public News Service
Groups fighting hunger in California say untold suffering could be avoided if the policies championed at the latest White House conference are put into place.
The event was the first of its kind in 50 years, bringing together government agencies, nonprofits and private companies, with the goal of wiping out hunger in the U.S. by 2030.
Itzúl Gutierrez with the California Association of Food Banks said she was glad to hear President Joe Biden voice support for strategies to reduce poverty and thus, fight hunger.
"We were very excited to see raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and also expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, in addition to the Child Tax Credit," Gutierrez outlined. "And also investments in housing and rental assistance."
The conference also promoted ideas long championed by the California Hunger Action Coalition, including expanding free school meals to all kids, and allowing college students, recent immigrants, and formerly incarcerated people to participate in CalFresh.
Gutierrez pointed out she was disappointed the conference made little mention of food insecurity in undocumented families. Many of the proposals face significant Republican opposition in Congress, based on cost concerns.