Food & Justice News Mar 12, 2020
- Coronavirus, The Economy, and Food Security
- Demand Restaurants Provide Sick Days to Workers
- Support SB 882: Make Applying for CalFresh Easy for Seniors
- Public Comment on School Meal Changes
- Farmer Suicides: The Ones Who Feed Us Are Killing Themselves All Around the World
Coronavirus, The Economy, and Food Security
Coronavirus is battering the U.S. economy; the stock market (which doesn’t affect most of us) and the real economy (which is all of us.) Mr. Trump’s general proposal to deal with the financial fallout includes a payroll tax holiday (to put money back into our paychecks which we would hopefully then spend), an additional $50 billion for the Small Business Administration Loan program, and deferring taxes for certain businesses and individuals. He is also insisting it is “not a financial crisis.”
But while tax cuts for the wealthy, the signature work of the Trump administration, have ballooned federal deficits with nary a whimper of complaint from Republican lawmakers, suggestions to help middle and low–income people impacted by the epidemic have been met with protestations that they would create high federal deficits.
This is why solutions like the payroll tax cut come from the Administration. A payroll tax cut ultimately is paid by the very people who receive the benefit. Payroll tax cuts would create a big hole in the Social Security trust fund, and would lend more ammunition in the long run to those who want to cut Social Security benefits. Essentially a payroll tax cut means they’re going to give us “our” money ahead of time, and then when time comes for us to claim it they’ll say “too bad, we spent that during the coronavirus crisis.”
One thing the Trump administration could do easily is to not proceed with the removal of the waivers for Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents in the SNAP food assistance program. This measure is scheduled to take effect on April 1 and expected to result in 700,000 needy individuals across the U.S. to lose food assistance. The rationale for the Trump cuts is that the economy is strong and everyone should be working 20 hours per week. Even under the “booming” economy millions of workers have no guarantee of a 20 hour week. With the coronavirus epidemic reducing demand, making people sick and missing work, cutting these food benefits at this time is even more idiotic than cutting them at any time, which is saying something. But according to reports, the Administration plans to proceed with the cuts in SNAP.
The Democrats in the House have created a plan that will get next to zero Republican support. It includes $1 billion for food and unemployment assistance and mandatory paid sick leave. According to the LA Times: “The House Democrats’ bill, the text of which was released Wednesday evening, would require employers to give workers up to seven days of paid sick leave based on their hours, with an additional 14 days during a public health crisis, such as the coronavirus outbreak. While all employers would have to cover the first seven days of sick pay, businesses with 50 or fewer employees could be reimbursed by the federal government for the additional 14 days.
The proposal would represent a major expansion of paid leave in the U.S. Currently, only about a dozen states mandate paid sick leave. California in 2014 became the second state in the country to do so.”
The payroll tax cut isn’t really liked by either party, the Republicans considering it too expensive and the Democrats not liking that it will cut off funds to Social Security.
Restaurant Opportunities Center has created a petition for restaurants to offer paid sick leave:
There’s another angle on this. Austin Goolsbee, an economist formerly in the Obama cabinet, pointed out that people aren’t going to spend the extra money in their wallets if the virus is still spreading and people have withdrawn from the economy due to fear. Testing for coronavirus needs to be expanded greatly so we can slow its spread. The Trump administration has been reluctant for a long time to pay for expanded testing, for fear of revealing how widespread it may actually be. A gallant viewer posted this old-school video of Goolsbee’s appearance on MSNBC last night to explain:
State Unemployment Benefits Can Be Extended: “The U.S. Labor Department on Thursday gave states flexibility to amend their laws to provide unemployment benefits in events related to the coronavirus in an effort to limit the damage on the economy from the pandemic. States can pay benefits in cases of temporary unemployment because the coronavirus is preventing employees from coming to work. Individuals quarantined with the expectation of returning to work after the quarantine is over can also receive unemployment benefits as well as those leaving employment due to a risk of exposure or infection or to care for a family member.”
“The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly fell last week as employers continued to hold on to their workers, but the coronavirus pandemic is expected to lead to an increase in layoffs as companies battle supply chain disruptions and sagging demand for some goods and services.”
Pandemic EBT Bill Introduced To Help Kids Who Will Miss Meals Due to School Closures (From press release): Reps. Bobby Scott (VA-3) and Marcia L. Fudge (OH-11), introduced the Pandemic EBT Act to provide states the option to extend Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (or “Pandemic EBT”) to households with children attending schools that are closed due to a public health emergency based on the coronavirus disease. The bill authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to approve state agency plans to provide Pandemic EBT benefits to households with children who would receive free or reduced-price school lunches if not for the closure of their school due to the pandemic emergency.
“The Department of Agriculture is prepared to implement this program; all Congress has to do reauthorize and fund it. This is a necessary, commonsense response that will help avert hunger and hardship for communities across the country. Although it may be necessary to close schools, it is also imperative that we keep in mind that school meals are often the only meals some students receive daily. No child should be at risk of going hungry as we address any public health crisis. “said Chairwoman Fudge.
The measure is similar to flexibilities provided by Congress in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 in response to the H1/N1 influenza pandemic of 2009.
Local LA Response Coronavirus among Homeless: From LA Magazine: “Often lacking ready access to hygiene facilities, relegated to close quarters like shelters and encampments, and unable to self-quarantine, homeless individuals run double the risk of contracting the highly contagious COVID-19 virus, according to healthcare experts. Unsheltered people are also far more likely to have underlying health conditions that could lead to life-threatening consequences.
San Francisco city officials announced earlier this week that they would allocate $5 million to preventing the spread of coronavirus among the city’s homeless population. They plan to spend it on operating shelters around the clock, hiring cleaning crews to scrub shelters and city-funded housing, and dispensing hand-cleaning supplies and sanitizer.
In San Jose officials have stopped conducting sweeps of homeless encampments in order to prevent people from losing access to medical equipment, losing sleep, or spreading the virus to another area if they are ill. Homeless advocates in L.A. have repeatedly called for an end to the city’s practice of sweeping encampments, citing the harm displacement causes.”
Could UK Plan Work in US: Meanwhile what about food security for the entire population, given the runs we’ve already seen on items at stores like sanitizer and toilet paper? In the UK they’re drawing up plans to ensure sufficient staple foods:
“British supermarkets have drawn up “feed the nation” contingency plans that would help the country cope with any panic-buying brought on by a sudden escalation of the coronavirus outbreak.
Under the plans, supermarkets would work with suppliers to scale back the variety of foods and groceries available, and instead focus on maintaining supplies of staple products.”
Demand Restaurants Provide Sick Days to Workers
On Monday, Darden Restaurants, Inc. (DRI), parent of the Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, Capital Grille and other restaurant chains, announced that the company will be offering up-to seven paid sick days to all their hourly workers who are not currently covered by a policy.
Restaurant Opportunities Center United has created a petition, and urge you to call on all corporate-owned restaurant chains, including Dine Brands (Applebee’s and IHOP), Bloomin’ (Outback Steakhouse), Brinker (Chili’s), Cracker Barrel, and Denny’s, to immediately implement paid sick leave. As the number of coronavirus cases has continued to rise across the country, and most likely the outbreak will not go away anytime soon, this is the time more than ever that all restaurant workers must have paid sick leave to protect themselves and their families as well as prevent the spread of the virus and possible loss of life. Together, in this time of public health crisis, let’s push for emergency paid sick days that these food chains must provide.
Support SB 882: Make Applying for CalFresh Easy for Seniors
From California Food Policy Advocates (CFPA): CFPA, AARP-CA, San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, and the CA Association of Food Banks are pleased to be partnering with Senator Scott Wiener (SD-11) to support SB 882, which makes three major improvements to increase access to CalFresh, particularly for low-income older adults and people with disabilities. This bill would shorten and simplify the CalFresh application for many older adults and people with disabilities, and eliminate burdensome, ongoing reporting requirements that cause many households to lose nutrition assistance, even though they remain eligible. It would also ensure all applicants and participants can complete the application and recertification interview processes by phone, including the required client signature.
1.) Send a letter of support: Link to a sample letter.
SB 882 is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Human Services Committee on Monday, March 23rd. To be counted, support letters must be received by March 16th!
More info at www.cfpa.net/sb882
Stay informed -- join the SB 882 email list.
Public Comment on School Meal Changes
From the Guardian: “The Trump administration took further steps on Friday towards rolling back healthier standards for school lunches in America championed by Michelle Obama, proposing rules to allow more pizza, meat and potatoes over fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The new proposals would allow schools more flexibility, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a statement, adding: “Because they know their children best.”
This rollback of healthy food standards comes at a time when record numbers of adolescents are living with prediabetes and toddlers are dealing with obesity. The public will have a chance to comment on the proposed school meal changes. See the link below:
Farmer Suicides: The Ones Who Feed Us Are Killing Themselves All Around the World
USA Today: “More than 450 farmers killed themselves across nine Midwestern states from 2014 to 2018, according to data collected by the USA TODAY Network and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. The real total is likely to be higher because not every state provided suicide data for every year and some redacted portions of the data. ….The deaths coincide with the near-doubling of calls to a crisis hotline operated by Farm Aid, a nonprofit agency whose mission is to help farmers keep their land. More than a thousand people dialed the number in 2018 alone, said spokeswoman Jennifer Fahy.”
No one economic crisis takes full blame. Instead, a cascade of events has plagued farmers in recent years:
--Key commodity prices have plummeted by about 50% since 2012.
--Farm debt jumped by about a third since 2007, to levels last seen in the 1980s.
--Bad weather prevented farmers from planting nearly 20 million acres in 2019 alone.
--U.S. soybean exports to China dropped 75 percent from 2017 to 2018 amid festering trade tensions.
What’s happening to our farmers here in the U.S. reflects a pattern going on globally:
Wikipedia on farmer suicides in India: As of 2014, in Maharashtra alone, more than 60,000 suicides had taken place, with an average of 10 suicides every day. The farmers suicide rate in India had ranged between 1.4 and 1.8 per 100,000 total population, over a 10-year period through 2005, however the figures in 2017 and 2018 showed an average of more than 10 suicides daily.
Britain, France and Spain: