January 11, 2019:
- Federal Shutdown Impact on Food Programs and People
- Analysis of Governor Newsom’s Budget---Mostly Good News
- GAO Study on Food Security
Federal Shutdown Impact on Food Programs and People
We’re now about 20 days into the federal government shutdown. The President is talking about declaring a national emergency concerning the southern border, but he has created a national emergency due to the shutdown. About 800,000 federal workers aren’t getting their paychecks.
“So far the shutdown hasn’t affected SNAP benefits but if prolonged there could be problems”
They are now undergoing poverty and hardship due to missing pay. From Maine to California and everywhere in between, food banks are assisting furloughed workers and gearing up to assist more, but are already worried about how they’ll be able to meet the demand. Government workers in one town are discussing selling blood to help make ends meet.
- Federal Shutdown Creating Instant Poverty
- Tampa Airport Begins Food Bank for Federal Workers
- US Towns with Federal Workers Brace for Impact: Washington Post
What about those who already need government assistance for food needs, during the shutdown? So far the shutdown hasn’t affected SNAP benefits but if prolonged there could be problems. US Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue earlier this week announced that USDA will be able to continue SNAP (that’s CalFresh here) benefits moving even if the shutdown extends into February. To do this, SNAP benefits for February will be released on January 20, ten days earlier than usual. If you are getting CalFresh or you know others who do, let them know this is the plan.
USDA officials said the WIC program also has sufficient funding for February, while school nutrition programs are secure through March.
Details of USDA's plan are here.
Not only SNAP, but food safety inspections are at risk from prolonged government shutdown. Politico’s Morning Ag reports: “The FDA is trying to reboot food safety inspections for high-risk products like seafood, soft cheese, fresh produce and even infant formula.” If the shutdown continues we could see bad food put out on the market and illness outbreaks as a result.
“Senate Ag ranking member Debbie Stabenow asked USDA to measure the shutdown's impact on farmers and ranchers who could be shut out from new farm bill programs, rural housing aid and USDA crop data”.
- Hundreds of thousands of hard working people thrust into poverty as a hostage-taking negotiating tactic
- Benefits for millions of low income Americans put at risk
- Potentially hazardous food possibly ending up on the shelves due to insufficient safety inspections.
—I would say the President has his national emergency alright. It could be solved if he wanted to.
Analysis of Governor Newsom’s Budget—Mostly Good News
Health and Human Services Network members including Hunger Action LA hold press
conference on Governor’s budget at the State Building in downtown LA, Thursday Jan 10.
California’s new Governor, Gavin Newsom, released his budget yesterday (January 10). Generally the budget has good news for safety net programs including health care, and even a 13% increase in CalWORKs grants, a program that’s been long neglected. The budget still does not contain any increase in the State Supplemental Payment portion of the SSI grant, however.
California Partnership and the Health and Human Services Network held a press conference Thursday to press the Governor for more assistance to SSI recipients. Representatives of groups and coalitions working on SSI, disability rights, immigration, prison reform, health care, and Earned Income Credit spoke to media about opportunities and shortcomings in the new budget proposal. Cynde Soto of CALIF, along with Hunger Action LA representatives Ronald Nagby and Frank Tamborello, spoke on the need to increase SSP.
“It is time for California to protect immigrants by keeping their families together, end wasteful spending on overcrowded prisons, build affordable housing and emergency housing, and make long term investments in Medi-cal, CalWORKS, CalFRESH, IHSS, Child Care, CalEITC and return the SSI/SSP supplemental.”
—Maribel Nuñez, California Partnership
Here are some highlights of the budget as reviewed by the Western Center on Law and Poverty. You can see the full analysis here:
Public Benefits and Safety Net
CalWORKs: The budget proposes to end deep poverty for families in the CalWORKs program. The proposal would increase CalWORKs grants beginning this October from $785 a month to $888 a month for a family of three, at a full year cost of $455 million.
Ending deep poverty in CalWORKs has been the number one priority for legislators and advocates for several years, and is a major achievement by Senator Holly Mitchell, who previously repealed the Maximum Family Grant in 2017.
Safety Net Reserve Increase: The budget increases the Safety Net Reserve Fund by $700 million, bringing the total amount in the fund to $900 million. These funds will be available for CalWORKs and Medi-Cal services and benefits during an economic downturn, and will prevent grant cuts and service reductions experienced in prior downturns.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI): The budget includes no increase for the State Supplemental Payment (SSP), which was reduced in the Schwarzenegger Administration to the federal minimum of $156 a month. This $77 a month reduction has never been restored and has dropped one million SSI recipients into poverty as a result. The state continues to benefit from this cut by $1 billion annually. The budget also does not provide a cost of living increase for the state payment, though the Legislature did restore the COLA beginning January 1, 2022.
SSI Cashout: The Governor proposes to make permanent the “hold harmless” programs created in the 2018-19 budget, which was previously only funded for two years. These programs were necessary when the state repealed state law that barred SSI recipients in California from receiving federal SNAP benefits. California was the only state that did not permit SSI recipients to receive SNAP. In ending the bar on SNAP, however, it is estimated that about 40,000 families would lose all or some of their current SNAP benefits when SSI income was included in determinations for their SNAP benefit amount. To prevent some low income households from becoming poorer, the Governor and the Legislature agreed to create two programs to backfill the loss of SNAP funds, but only provided two years of funding. With this budget, Governor Newsom has made that funding permanent. This was one of the highest priorities for SSI advocates in the budget in 2019.
SSI Advocacy: As part of the new Governor’s initiatives to reduce homelessness, the Governor proposed $25 million in ongoing funding for the Housing and Disability Advocacy Program (HDAP). This program provides matching funding to counties to engage in intensive SSI advocacy for disabled persons who are likely eligible for SSI. In addition to enhanced advocacy, HDAP provides housing assistance while SSI applications are pending, reducing homelessness for many people on county General Assistance.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): The budget proposes to significantly increase eligibility and benefits for the state earned income tax credit program. The current program provides about $400 million in EITC to two million households. Under the proposal released today, the size of the current program would roughly double. A new program for low-income Californians—the "Working Families Tax Credit"—includes an additional $500 credit for families with children under the age of six. The proposal also increases the maximum eligible earned income so that workers working up to full-time employment at the 2022 minimum wage of $15 per hour will be eligible for the credit.
GAO Study on Food Security Recommends Better Outreach to College Students Regarding Food Benefits
The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) is an independent agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. The GAO works for U.S. Congress and is often called the "congressional watchdog.
The GAO just released a report on the need to help college students get SNAP benefits through better education:
From the report:
“Many college students may not have enough to eat—but nobody knows exactly how many. Studies show a range of estimates, but none of the 31 we reviewed provided a national estimate. We also looked at student use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Of the 3.3 million students who were potentially eligible in 2016, less than half said they participated.
Colleges have responded to student hunger by opening food pantries and helping students understand complicated SNAP rules.
We recommended the Food and Nutrition Service clarify the rules and share information on how states help eligible students use SNAP.
As of September 2018, over 650 colleges reported having a food pantry on campus that provides free food to college students in need.”