A new explanation for the stubborn persistence of the racial wealth gap

by Christopher Ingraham in the Washington Post, 3/14/19

Few data points more clearly illustrate how decades of discrimination affected black Americans than the racial wealth gap. As of 2016, the typical black family had a net worth of $17,100, roughly one-tenth the $171,000 accumulated by a white household, federal research shows.

Economists tend to trace the staggering divide to the nation’s long history of bigotry against its black citizens, starting with slavery. But decades of discrimination after the Civil War played a role, too, from the overt racism of Jim Crow laws to the more subtle forms of biasbuilt into the New Deal, the G.I. Bill and many of the nation’s economic and criminal justicepolicies of the 20th century.

But there’s less agreement on the exact mechanisms by which these policies contributed to such disparate financial outcomes. Some economists say it comes down to inheritance, which allows families to build on the gains of preceding generations. Other researchers contend the difference can be found in the types of financial assets held by black and white families.

But in February, research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland concluded that differences in black and white wealth can almost entirely be explained by disparities in black and white incomes. If confirmed, the finding could help lawmakers better understand which policies would be most effective at closing the racial wealth gap.

“We find that the income gap is the primary driver behind the wealth gap and that it is large enough to explain the persistent difference in wealth accumulation,” the authors write. “The key policy implication of our work is that policies designed to speed the closing of the racial wealth gap would do well to focus on closing the racial income gap.”

Wealth, or net worth, is a measure of a family’s assets — such as a home, retirement accounts, and money in the bank — minus its debts, which usually include things like mortgages, credit card debt and consumer loans. If income is a flow of money into a household, wealth is the household’s stock of financial assets. Typically economists view this stock as growing over time, as households save money that they don’t need to spend.

But in order to save money, you have to be bringing in enough income to cover all your expenses. And black families tend to earn much less than white ones: In 2016, for instance, the typical black family earned $35,400, while the typical white household brought in $61,200. Those differences persist even when you control for other factors, like education, that can have a significant effect on earnings. In 2014, for instance, white college-educated families earned about $24,000 more per year than black college-educated families, according to the Pew Research Center.

The Cleveland Fed economists constructed a sophisticated economic model capable of projecting changes in household wealth over decades, factoring in things like inheritances, income and financial portfolio composition. That model suggests that, given what we know about black and white finances today, it would take approximately 260 years for the wealth of the average black family to achieve 90 percent of the wealth of the average white family.

“We find that one factor accounts for the racial wealth gap almost entirely by itself: the racial income gap," they wrote.

One vivid illustration of this: If black and white incomes had been similar starting in 1962, their model shows, the black-white wealth gap would have all but disappeared by 2007. They found that tweaking other model parameters, like inheritances and investment composition, had a much smaller overall effect.

Those findings complement research published last year by Alexandra Killewald and Brielle Bryan in the journal Social Forces, which used survey data to trace how “whites accumulate wealth more rapidly than blacks and Hispanics throughout early and middle adulthood, with the result that both groups fall further behind whites in amassed wealth with each passing year.”

They found that while inheritance played a role in shaping the racial wealth gap, “disparities in outcomes like income, marriage, and homeownership rise with age,” and that “together, these intragenerational processes explain a greater share of accumulation gaps in middle adulthood than at younger ages.”

 Taken together, the two studies suggest that policies addressing the racial income gap could help reduce both income and wealth disparities. Some Democratic presidential hopefuls, for instance, have begun discussing certain universal benefit programs, like free daycare and child allowances, that would have a larger proportionate effect on black families simply because those families make less money than their white counterparts. President Trump, for his part, prefers to focus on the decline in black unemployment that has occurred since he took office in January 2017, a trend which began under his predecessor.

Meanwhile, the question of paying reparations to black families has lately gained increased prominence in national policy discussions, with commentators on both the left and rightembracing the idea as a way to address the wrongs of the past and set black families up for more prosperous futures.


A Green New Deal Must Include Food and Farming

By Congressperson Earl Blumenauer in civileats.com. posted 1/30/19   

Our food system and environment are inexorably linked. What we grow–and how we grow it–has a tremendous impact on our land, water, and climate. And right now, our climate is in crisis. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the gold standard for climate science, implores the world to cut greenhouse gas pollution by half in the next 12 years, and eliminate them entirely by 2050, to avoid the most catastrophic effects of climate disruption on people, economies, and the natural world. We must build solid, lasting bonds between the climate justice movement and the movement to reform our food system. This starts with a Green New Deal.

The Green New Deal is an incredibly powerful social, economic, and environmental effort to invest in clean energy jobs and infrastructure. While the exact details have yet to be worked out, underlying this movement is a series of policy proposals to stop investing in fossil fuel development and redirect these resources toward decarbonizing the economy and making it more equitable.

Fueled by immense social power, it is designed to build on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sweeping New Deal that invested in natural resource conservation, built massive public works projects, and reformed financial institutions in order to pull the country out of the economic crisis of the Great Depression. Today, the Green New Deal is intended to make massive investments and reforms on the same scale in order to pull the world out of the climate crisis.

But the Green New Deal won’t have the impact we need it to without a fundamental change to the way we produce our food. As of 2016, American agriculture contributed over 9% of US greenhouse gas pollution, largely due to emissions from livestock and poor soil management. If we are to reach the climate goals set by the IPCC, the food system must play a key role in reducing these greenhouse gas emissions and even sequestering carbon—actually taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere—through regenerative agricultural practices.   

(to read the whole article, https://civileats.com/2019/01/30/a-green-new-deal-must-include-food-and-farming

Immigrant food stamp use plummeted after Trump took office

by H. Claire Brown in New Food Economy

It’s no secret that the Trump administration has long wanted to minimize the number of people who use food stamps. It ha supported that would impose strict work requirements on people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Internal emails from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in April suggested that the agency may allow states to drug-test food aid applicants. And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last month published rules that say food stamp use will be a “heavily” weighted factor when considering applications for green cards. 

That last rule hasn’t even gone into effect yet. But new research shows it might not matter. Preliminary data from a survey of more than 35,000 mothers of young children indicate a nearly 10 percent drop in SNAP enrollment among immigrant families who are eligible.

The findings, presented Monday at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting, found that immigrant mothers’ participation in SNAP steadily increased from 2007 to 2017. Then, in the first half of 2018, the numbers suddenly dropped—by a lot. In 2017, 43 percent of eligible families who had been in the country for less than five years were participating in the program. By mid-2018, that figure had plummeted to 34.8 percent. 

To read the rest of this story:  https://newfoodeconomy.org/immigrant-snap-food-stamp-use-green-card-application/

Why Living in a Poor Neighborhood Can Change Your Biology The sheer stress of an environment contributes to obesity and diabetes.

By Andrew Curry in Nautilus

It was the most ambitious social experiment ever conducted by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. And one of the most surprising.

In 1994, HUD randomly assigned 4,600 poor, mostly African-American families in Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York to one of three groups. One group received housing vouchers intended to help them move to low-poverty neighborhoods. Another group received vouchers without geographic restrictions. A final control group didn’t receive vouchers at all.

Called “Moving to Opportunity,” the study was designed to answer a question that had divided social scientists and policymakers for decades: Did getting people off of welfare and other forms of social assistance depend on changing their social context?

More than a decade later, the researchers found that a lot of things hadn’t changed. Many people offered housing vouchers didn’t move. The people who did move to better neighborhoods didn’t change their diets or daily lifestyles. Their kids showed no improvement in reading or math scores. And moving didn’t make people any more or less economically self-sufficient, the question the study was designed to answer.

But as the experiment went on, researchers began encountering anecdotal evidence that surprised them. The people who moved out of poor neighborhoods were healthier. When they went back and measured the differences between people who got vouchers and people who didn’t, the results were remarkable: The people who got vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods had significantly lower rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Robert Whitaker, a pediatrician and public-health expert at Temple University, co-authored a report on the HUD study for the New England Journal of Medicine in 2011. “By dint of the design, the cause of the difference in diabetes and obesity was the voucher and the move to a less-distressed neighborhood,” Whitaker says. “The amazing thing is that the cause of the difference in obesity and diabetes was the move.”

How could this be? Ethnic disparities in diabetes and obesity—Hispanics and blacks in the U.S. are up to 45 percent more likely to be obese than whites, and nearly twice as likely to have Type 2 diabetes—have long been blamed on diet, access to health care, and even the lack of good grocery stores in America’s poorest neighborhoods. Genes, too, have long been suspected to play a role.

But the HUD study, and subsequent research, have shown that something more than race, individual behavior, or genetics is taking a toll on the health of people who live in poor neighborhoods: stress.

When study participants moved to low-poverty neighborhoods, they reported feeling safer, less depressed, and less anxious—in other words, less stressed. “Somehow, our social environment is getting under people’s skin and causing a cascade of things to occur in the body,” says Rebecca Hasson, director of the Childhood Disparities Research Laboratory at the University of Michigan. “Ethnic minorities are exposed to a lot more stressors. Is that related to their elevated diabetes risk?”

To understand how stress affects health, it’s important to know that one hormone, cortisol, plays an outsize role. In an emergency, cortisol provides a jolt to the body’s systems that floods it with energy. “That generalized response releases energy substrates to the muscles, so you can fight or run away,” says Hasson. “Usually that’s in response to a physical stressor, like a bear chasing you.” In the effort to escape the bear, the body burns off the blood sugar that cortisol helped release, coming down tired and shaky but safe. (If you manage to escape, of course.)

If cortisol was reserved for bear attacks, we’d have no problems. But you don’t need a bear to unleash cortisol. The perception of stress alone is enough to trigger a flood of the hormone.

To read the rest of the article, link here: http://nautil.us/issue/61/coordinates/why-living-in-a-poor-neighborhood-can-change-your-biology-rp

The Economic Research Service has undercut Trump's claims about food stamps, farming, and the environment. Now, it's about to get booted from Capitol Hill. 

From The New Food Economy   August 20th, 2018
by Sam Bloch

Last Tuesday, staffers at the Economic Research Service (ERS), the research arm of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), were called to a town hall meeting, where departmental leadership gave further details on what had been announced the week prior: The office was losing its independent status in the agriculture department, and being moved under the Office of the Chief Economist. It would also be moved out of Washington, D.C., likely to a Midwest location, by the end of next year.

The announcement of the move, which is expected to lead to mass buyouts and early retirements, took many in the agency by surprise. Indeed, ERS economists I contacted said veteran staffers intend to stay in Washington and find employment elsewhere, rather than move outside the Beltway.

“We’re finding out about this just as you are,” Howard Elitzak, a food markets economist, said when I reached him by phone. He declined to comment further, calling the move a “tenuous” situation.

What does ERS do, exactly? The agency of approximately 300 employees conducts a broad range of research on the American agricultural economy, issuing monthly commodity forecasts and trend reports on global trade, rural economics, food insecurity, and the changing face of family farms, among others. The agency’s releases are fundamental for policymaking, used by members of Congress and the office of the agriculture secretary, and a go-to source for reporters like me.

In his announcement, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue described the agency move, one that also includes the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)—the agency responsible for allocating research funding at land-grant universities—as a cost-saving measure. Indeed, President Trump’s last budget called for a 50-percent slash in funding for ERS. This follows a year of significant reorganizations in the agriculture department, and a culling of thousands of employees—more than in any other federal department.

Some observers say what’s happening to ERS is no ordinary belt-tightening. Since 1994, when ERS was first separated from the Office of the Chief Economist, the agency’s research has been seen as independent, objective, and crucially non-political within the agriculture department. Returning it to the chief economist’s office could potentially dissolve the “firewall” between the scientific and political arms of the department. Joseph Glauber, a former chief economist, disputes that assessment, telling Government Executive that the office is “objective.”

Others, including current ERS economists, see the move out of D.C., and the shrinking size, as consistent with actions of an administration that has been notoriously hostile toward scientific and research findings. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that an administration led by a president who’s been known to revoke security clearances from officials who’ve been critical of him, would also be happy to move a government office that puts out research that isn’t totally aligned with White House messaging—or policymaking—a little out of its way.

 “ERS researchers cannot see a justification for the move,” says an ERS economist who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation. “ERS’s purpose is to provide research integrity, statistical analysis, and valuable information for policymakers in the capitol. Can moving to the Midwest justify our purpose, from that perspective?”

Put another way: “There are 16 agencies at USDA. Why these two? And they’re both science- and statistics-based?” Ann Bartuska, a former acting undersecretary for research, education, and economics at USDA, told Politico.

Take, for example, what ERS has found about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). Farm bill negotiations ahead of the vote, which is expected at the end of September, have been held hostage over Republican efforts to push for stricter work requirements. Leaders have publically said—as has the president—that SNAP use is out of control, and as an anti-poverty program it’s failing because the number of Americans who rely on it is higher than ever. 

Republican messaging is flatly contested by ERS. In a recent, peer-reviewed report—ERS studies are all peer-reviewed—researchers found that participation and federal spending on the program have dropped every year since 2013. Last year, those rates fell by 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. (As of early August, participation sat around 41 million—more than a million fewer participants than the program had in 2017.)

See the rest of the article Here: https://newfoodeconomy.org/usda-economic-research-service-ers-reorganization/


If Congress Changes Food Stamp Requirements, Kids Will Go Hungry

 From The New York Times, July 1, 2018                                                                                               By Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott and Annie Hardison-Moody

“What do you do when you’re hungry?” we asked Maylee, a 6-year-old girl. “I go to bed and think about eating,” she said.

We first met Maylee’s family in 2012, when we began a five-year study about food and poverty in North Carolina. Over the course of the project, we conducted multiple interviews with more than 100 poor and working-class mothers of young children, including Maylee’s mother, Ashley Taylor. We also made ethnographic observations of 12 families: accompanying them on trips to grocery stores and food pantries, tagging along during school lunches and doctor’s visits, and spending time in their homes as they cooked and ate. And in 2017, we interviewed the kids in each family.

Four months before we interviewed Maylee, her family’s food stamps had been cut off because of an administrative error. Ashley still hadn’t been able to get it straightened out. “It’s been tough,” said Ashley. She regularly went to food pantries, and Maylee and her younger sister received backpacks filled with food from their school. Ashley was always looking for sales and recipes that she could make on a budget, and she had cut back on the size of her own meals. But even with all her efforts, there just wasn’t enough. “The kids don’t eat the way that I’d like,” Ashley said.

In 2016, children in 3.1 million households experienced food insecurity at some point during the year. Whether temporary or chronic, food insecurity is devastating for kids. As a nation, we have historically tried to align our policies with the belief that we should do what we can to prevent children from being hungry. When he signed the National School Lunch Act in 1946, President Truman said, “In the long view, no nation is any healthier than its children.” Almost 20 years later, President Johnson argued that the food stamp program represented a way of “apply[ing] the power of America’s new abundance to the task of building a better life for every American.”

Our national policies have long reflected, imperfectly, the moral imperative that children deserve adequate food. Until now.

The draft of the farm bill that was passed by the House on June 21 entails an important change in the rules governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps). SNAP is the country’s most important food assistance program, serving one out of every eight Americans.

While SNAP already has work requirements for able-bodied adults without children, the House’s proposal imposes an even harsher policyand extends it to parents of school-age children. It would require that most adults provide monthly proof that they are working or enrolled in at least 20 hours of work force training per week in order to receive support. Those who can’t comply — whether it’s because they can’t find a job or their work hours drop below 20 hours a week — could be locked out of the program for three years.

The Senate’s bipartisan version of the bill, passed last Thursday, does not include those changes to SNAP. As the House and Senate now try to reconcile their differences, a major question is whether the stricter work requirements that will leave more kids hungry will become law.

Tightening SNAP’s eligibility rules is one of the Republicans’ central goals. President Trump offered his support, as did the White House, for stricter work requirements in the farm bill, and the House Agriculture Committee chairman, Michael Conaway, predicted that the new work requirements would make it into the final version of the bill.

Analysts estimate that the new rules would impose large administrative costs on states and lead to more than one million people losing their food stamps. On average, each of those people would lose $1,816 in SNAP benefits annually. And because a majority of the people at risk are in households with children, the result would be more hungry kids.

The United States has held on to a tenuous agreement over recent decades that children deserve to have enough to eat, no matter what their parents do. The House proposal puts us in jeopardy of losing even this modicum of decency. Although the new rule technically targets adults, children will suffer as a result of it.

Eleven-year-old Avery, one of the kids in our study, knew that her dad sometimes skipped meals because he wanted “to make sure us kids get full.” Avery also said that when she got hungry, she went outside and ran around, or drank “bottles and bottles of water,” until the feeling went away.

Some kids talked about going to neighbors’ houses and asking for something to eat. Eight-year-old Clayton proudly explained that he collected cans and bottles to help pay for food for his family.

“If you could tell the president something about food, what would it be?” we asked dozens of the kids we interviewed. More than one child wanted to tell the president about their favorite food. Eight-year-old Phoebe’s answer has stayed with us: “That I don’t have enough.”

Millions of children in the United States are like Phoebe. The new SNAP rules proposed by the House would drastically cut many families’ SNAP benefits, making an already harsh reality even worse for kids in food-insecure households. SNAP should not be restricted; to the contrary, it should be expanded, so that fewer families — and especially kids — are hungry.

Minimum wage doesn't cover the rent anywhere in the U.S.

by Kate Gibson, CBS Money Watch, June 14, 2018

 A minimum-wage worker would have to put in lots of overtime to be able to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country. And downsizing to a one-bedroom pad barely helps.

Even with some states hiking pay for those earning the least, there is still nowhere in the country where a person working a full-time minimum wage job can afford to rent a decent two-bedroom apartment, according to an annual report released Wednesday by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Even the $15/hr touted by labor activists would not be enough to make housing affordable in the overwhelming majority of states, the coalition found. Nationally, someone would need to make $17.90 an hour to rent a modest one-bedroom or $22.10 an hour to cover a two-bedroom place.

Renters across the country earn an average hourly rate of $16.88, the report estimated, a finding that illustrates how even folks earning more than the minimum wage scramble to pay for housing.

The findings are based on the standard budgeting concept of not spending more than 30 percent of one's income on housing.

The nation's costliest housing is in Hawaii, where one would need to earn $36.13, or roughly $75,000 a year, to be able to rent a modest two-bedroom. The state's minimum wage increased to $10.10 an hour this year.

The cheapest housing in the U.S. can be found in Arkansas, where the minimum wage is $8.50 an hour. Yet one would have to make $13.84 an hour, or roughly $29,000 a year, to afford a two-bedroom apartment. 

A one-bedroom is affordable for minimum-wage employees in all of 22 counties in just five states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Each has a higher minimum wage than the $7.25 federal minimum.

The study bases its definition of "modest" rental housing on a weighted average of fair market rent estimates developed annually by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to calculate the agency's housing assistance to poor people around the country.

The cost of housing has steadily risen along with increased demand for rentals, yet new construction has trended toward the high-end market due to lofty development expenses, the findings said.

"While the housing market may have recovered for many, we are nonetheless experiencing an affordable housing crisis, especially for very low-income families," Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote in the report's preface. "In America today, nearly 11 million families pay more than half of their limited incomes toward rent and utilities. That leaves precious little for other essentials."

As the Farm Bill is being voted on in the House, here's why we hope it doesn't pass

Emerging Challenges in Food Assistance Policy                                                                                 By Jan Poppendieck, CUNY, Urban Food Policy Institute

Ever since the Republican Party scored its electoral trifecta, gaining control of the White House and both houses of Congress, anti-hunger activists have been preparing for big fights over the nation’s food assistance safety net.  The three main arenas for this contest are: the federal budget, Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation, and the Farm Bill.

The budget proposals, released annually by the House Budget Committee and by the Presidential administration in power, have only a limited effect on the actual budget, which is crafted in a series of deals among Appropriations subcommittees and House and Senate leaders. In recent years this process has been affected by the need to raise the debt ceiling in order to prevent the government from shutting down.  Nevertheless, these budget plans are useful as windows into the thinking of prominent players.  A companion piece in this issue details the threats to SNAP [The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps] and WIC [The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children]  in President Trump’s fiscal year 2019 budget. Threats to SNAP and WIC by Trump Administration's Proposed Budget.

Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) legislation is currently on hold. It is supposed to be reauthorized every five years, although Congress often misses the deadline and gives itself an extension by means of a continuing resolution. A series of continuing resolutions has extended the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act for the time being, so the current energy of both would-be reformers and defenders of current programs is focused on the Farm Bill, which is very much in play in Washington. Looking across all three of these arenas and considering legislation introduced or passed in the past five years, the following components of the conservative agenda stand out:

  1. Cost cutting: restricting eligibility and limiting benefits
  2. Expanding work requirements: reducing “dependency”
  3. Shifting responsibility to states and localities
  4. Program integrity: eliminating fraud and erroneous payments
  5. Promoting healthy eating

The remarkable bill that passed the House Agriculture Committee on a strict party line vote on April 18 and will soon be considered by the full House embodies all of these objectives.   


Cost Cutting

Conservatives have long argued that the federal nutrition programs are too expensive, that the nation cannot afford them and that they fuel the budget deficit. The scale of the recent tax cuts accruing largely to the nation’s wealthiest households[1] weakens this as a philosophical argument, but it remains an important part of the conservative agenda. There are two fundamental strategies: reducing benefits and limiting participation. The House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill would cut benefits in the SNAP program by approximately $5.3 billion over the next 10 years by eliminating the ability of states to coordinate SNAP benefits with low-income energy assistance, what advocates call “heat and eat” provisions. It would reduce participation by restricting states’ ability to align assets tests with other state means tested programs and to screen households with incomes above the gross income test of 130% of the poverty line. The proposed elimination of “broad based categorical eligibility” would also restore the benefits cliff effect, in which a small increase in income can lead to a total loss of benefits, further restricting participation, and eliminate automatic eligibility for free school meals for children.

Expanding Work Requirements

Much of the anticipated savings in the bill are reinvested in work-related activities. Although promoted by GOP leaders as an antidote to “dependency ” and the promotion of a pathway out of poverty through work, the expansion of work requirements in the House draft Farm Bill is widely regarded by SNAP advocates as primarily another method of limiting participation.[2] The bill increases the pool of those required to complete 20 hours a week of work or job training in order to keep benefits by including parents whose youngest child is 6 or older and raising the ceiling age to 60 from 50. Further, the bill would raise this work requirement to 25 hours per week beginning in 2026. A current provision that exempts college student parents with young children from the work requirement if adequate child care is not available would be terminated. The bill requires states to offer a SNAP Employment and Training (E &T) slot to every eligible participant, and provides a substantial increase in funding for E &T, though advocates claim that the proposed grant amounts are not sufficient to provide “meaningful and robust job training programs and support services such as child care and transportation.”[3] They point out that the 2014 Farm Bill funded 10 pilot E &T programs and recommend that the creation of an expanded E&T program await the results of those pilots.

Shifting Responsibility to States and Localities

It is worth noting what is NOT in the draft Farm Bill: it does not propose block-granting the SNAP Program, long a goal of many members of the House GOP leadership. It does, however, impose extensive new requirements on states while limiting their ability to obtain waivers to enable them to adapt the program to local conditions.  Of particular concern is a requirement that states monitor recipients’ compliance with work requirements on a monthly basis, necessitating a big expansion of state administrative agencies. Although the conservative ideology promotes increased discretion for state and local entities, this legislation appears to reduce state discretion and flexibility while increasing rigid programmatic and reporting requirements.

Program Integrity

The claim that food assistance programs are riddled with “fraud and abuse” and serving many ineligible people has been another consistent theme in the conservative reform agenda. The current draft legislation allows more identifying information such as biometrics to be added to EBT cards. Further, it calls for the creation of a national enrollment database intended to prevent people from receiving SNAP in more than one jurisdiction. Such a database risks putting the privacy of all SNAP participants at risk in order to identify the small number that may be double dipping (fewer than two tenths of one percent in a smaller scale test in five states).[4]

Healthy Eating

Conservatives and liberals might find common ground on the concern that SNAP promote healthy eating.  The draft Farm Bill increases funding for the Gus Schumacher Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program and for SNAP Nutrition Education and provides additional funding for a retail incentive pilot program to provide bonuses to SNAP households based of their purchases of fluid milk, vegetables and fruit.


The future of this House bill is far from certain. Some conservative members of the House feel that the SNAP changes do not go far enough, and others, satisfied with the SNAP changes, dislike farm subsidy provisions. Rural representatives are trying to predict how the farm income support provisions will interact with the Trump administration’s trade renegotiations and its wavering position on the renewable fuel standard, a provision that affects the market for corn. Even if the bill passes the House, it is unlikely to be accepted by the Senate, where the Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition is working on a bill of its own, one that Chairman Pat Robertson has described as “bi-partisan.” It looks like another lively year in the Farm Bill cycle.[5]

[1] Estimates from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy calculate that the richest 1 percent of households, those with incomes higher than $607,090, stand to receive a total tax cut of more than $84 billion in 2019 alone, almost one and a half times the amount needed to fund the SNAP program. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/news/2018/05/01/450214/tax-cuts-top-1-percent-cost-snap/

[2] See https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/chairman-conaways-farm-bill-would-increase-food-insecurity-and-hardship

[3] Food Research and Action Center’s Analysis of H.R.2—The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. Available on line at http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/frac-analysis-hr2-agriculture-and-nutrition-act-2018.pdf

[4] https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/chairman-conaways-farm-bill-would-increase-food-insecurity-and-hardship

[5] See Jerry Hagstrom, “Farm-bill fight gets messier,” National Journal Daily, 04.25.18 and Jerry Hagstrom “The Farm Bill’s Tough Path,” National Journal Daily, 05.09.18.

Free Food for Thought: Campus Food Pantries Proliferate

April 18, 2018  Associated Press

SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Free food pantries are becoming nearly as common as the campus bookstore at a growing number of colleges.

More than 570 campus food pantries nationwide are registered with the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which formed in 2012 and helps colleges set up food pantries and other hunger programs. New York recently required that they be established at all institutions in its state university system.

"You can't concentrate when you're hungry; you're irritable, you're not focusing. I did not perform well on some exams," said 47-year-old Borough of Manhattan Community College student Melanie Aucello, who is working on a college degree in hopes of improving her family's quality of life.

A report published this month by a lab at the University of Wisconsin found 36 percent of 43,000 students attending two- and four-year colleges who were surveyed in 20 states had trouble getting enough to eat, threatening the academic success that's key to overcoming poverty.  Among community college students alone, 42 percent struggled to pay for balanced meals.

"We see food-insecure students devote as much time to school and homework as other students, but they also work longer hours and get less sleep," said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Temple University sociologist and founder of the HOPE (Harvesting Opportunities for Postsecondary Education) Lab at Wisconsin.

Studies, she said, have shown such students are likely to have lower grades and graduation rates.

Food insecurity is related to soaring college costs, stagnant family incomes, a poor labor market for part-time workers and employment requirements that make food stamps inaccessible, Goldrick-Rab said. There are also more low-income students, sometimes with children of their own, she said.

"There is no typical student who is food insecure; it can impact any type of student," said Clare Cady, a Temple University official who is co-founder of the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

Food pantries cost little to colleges because they're typically run by volunteer students and faculty and are supported by donations of food and money.

The student-run Michigan State University Student Food Bank, launched in 1993, was the first. It buys food from a regional food bank and distributes it to more than 4,000 students and their families per year.

In California, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017 signed a law allocating $7.5 million to fight campus hunger — not only for pantries, but also for other approaches, such as helping with access to public benefits programs.

In New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said an initiative launched this spring makes New York the first state to require food pantries to be established at all 64 institutions in the State University of New York system. About 70 percent already had them.

At Schenectady County Community College, any student, regardless of income, can visit up to three times a month and select three days' worth of food such as canned beans, tuna, spaghetti sauce and pasta.

"It helps immensely because it's really difficult trying to balance school and finances, and it's difficult to work to have money for groceries while in school," 22-year-old biology major Hannah Daignault said.

"We have a lot of students who are low-income working parents or single people struggling to get by," said Robyn King, a college counselor who coordinates the pantry. "Some receive food stamp benefits, but some make a little too much to qualify. We try to fill the gap."

Monroe Community College in Rochester seeks to provide a path to longer-term solutions. Its food wagon distributes free granola bars with labels directing students to the food pantry and Single Stop, an organization that helps students apply for government benefits such as food stamps, housing and childcare.

"The traditional student today is older with other obligations," Monroe president Anne Kress said. "A lot of them are living in a very narrow margin between financial security and insecurity. What's going to connect them to financial security is a college degree."

Contributing to this report were AP video journalists Michael Hill in Schenectady and Ted Shaffrey in New York.



Diapers vs Food: Impossible Choices

As diaper industry booms, 1 in 3 American families struggle to afford them

Apr 03, 2018 6:21pm EDT by Wagatwe Wanjuki

The Tampa Bay Times just released a new report proving an in-depth look at the cost of diapers and its impact on families, citing a study that found a third of American families struggle to afford them.

In the United States, the average diaper sells for about 25 cents.

The quarters add up quickly. Newborns need as many as 12 changes a day. That’s $21 per week, or $84 per month. Bigger kids need fewer, but their diapers are more expensive.

For a single mom or dad working full time at minimum wage, the cost can consume 6 percent of total annual pay. For the lowest-income parents, it’s as much as 14 percent.

New research shows a third of families in the United States struggle with the expense.

Cloth diapers aren’t always an option. They are difficult to clean without a washing machine at home or paying for a service. Some coin laundries don’t allow them in their machines.

Diapers can cost about $1,000 every year, which is a lot for many parents. There are ways to minimize the cost; buying in bulk definitely saves dollars. However, the people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck don’t exactly have that luxury. And they’re forced to buy diapers one pack at a time at the local store.

Why are diapers so expensive? The Times reached out to diaper companies, but they all either ignored requests or declined to comment.

The top manufacturers don’t publicly report profit margins on their diapers, and many insiders won’t discuss the bottom line. Consultant Carlos Richer, who ran a large diaper factory in Mexico, joked he would become “the enemy of the diaper industry” if he did.

Carl Cucuzza, a consultant based in Georgia, said Huggies and Pampers typically make about 2 cents per diaper. The profit on a generic diaper, he said, is about half that.

It’s “good money,” he added. Billions of diapers are sold annually.

Business will likely get better.

Meanwhile, assistance options for vulnerable parents—like the young mother featured in the article named Lalandria Goolsby—are limited. Thanks to the way our social assistance programs work, only cash assistance is eligible to spend on diapers. SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) and WIC cannot be used for them. In Florida, a family of three that makes more than $303 is ineligible.

Struggling to afford diapers has an impact on both parents and babies. Cheaper brands tend to more easily cause rashes, which also appear when parents try to stretch out diapers and keep them on the child for too long. Diapers are a constant need and when parents can’t sufficiently provide them, they struggle mentally and emotionally under extremely trying conditions. This effect will inevitably have an impact on the baby, too.

Some states have taken measures to address the so-called “silent crisis” of diaper access, but the federal government has pretty much dropped the ball.

In March 2016, it caught the attention of the White House.

In a blog post, an advisor to then-President Barack Obama pointed out that families can be forced to choose between buying diapers and paying for food, rent or utilities.

“That’s a choice that no family should have to make,” she wrote.

Obama urged Congress to devote $10 million to the problem. Congress did nothing.

Considering that we have an extremely anti-woman, anti-compassion administration right now, it’s unlikely to see a change any time soon, which is a pity. Meanwhile, we will continue to have families around the richest country in the world struggle to afford a basic need for their babies: diapers.