People on Food Stamps Make Healthier Grocery Decisions Than Most of Us – —By Tom Philpott | Mon Mar. 9, 2015 5:55 AM EDT

Which is why we shouldn’t tell them what to buy.


The Dollar General in Austin’s gritty northeast—the neighborhood where I grew up—is a squat, warehouselike structure about twice the size of a suburban convenience store. Amid the dull flicker of fluorescent lights and the grinding hum of a compressor struggling to power a long freezer case, I’m in search of affordable and nutritious food with Melissa Helber, social-services outreach supervisor of a local food bank. The pickings are slim: We wander past two-liter jugs of Dr Pepper at the incredible price of four for $5; value-size boxes of Chocolate Lucky Charms cereal, $3.50; a wall of bagged candy, $1 each. Helber says the prices are why many of her clients shop here: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is stingy (about $11 a day for a family of three around here), but it’s relatively open on how recipients spend their benefits. It bans alcohol and “hot food”—say, a rotisserie chicken—but almost everything you could find in Dollar General’s grocery section, from sodas to M&M’s, is fair game.

At $5, a pound of hamburger would be a solid choice—but you’d still have to get buns, condiments, and sides. By contrast, individual pepperoni pizzas are just a buck each.

If you’re wondering why SNAP would subsidize junk food, you’re not alone. Recently, the program has been in the headlines mostly because of Republican efforts to slash benefits. But even among its supporters, there has been a growing movement to rethink how the benefit is targeted. In a 2012 report, a high-profile group of nutrition researchers urged the US Department of Agriculture to run pilot programs to test the effect of banning junk food from SNAP purchases (PDF). In a June 2013 letter to Congress, a group of mayors, including Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel and Newark’s Cory Booker (now the junior senator from New Jersey), echoed that call.

The argument has undeniable appeal: Why should the already-frayed federal safety net underwrite Coca-Cola’s balance sheet? But the junk-food industry has fought hard to maintain the status quo, lobbying heavily against attempts to impose limits.

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The right’s food stamp embarrassment: A history lesson for the haters – CAITLIN RATHE MONDAY, SEP 1, 2014 7:00 PM UTC

While conservatives love to beat up on the SNAP program, there’s an awkward little fact that might horrify them

The right's food stamp embarrassment: A history lesson for the haters

Food stamps became part of American life 50 years ago this Sunday when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Food Stamp Act into law on Aug. 31, 1964. The program has been a whipping boy almost ever since, especially from conservatives who call the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, the contemporary name for food stamps) a costly and demoralizing example of government overreach.

But SNAP was not an idea first created by liberal do-gooders of the 1960s. Food stamps emerged three decades earlier with active participation of businessmen, the heroes of the exact group of people who want to see the program dissolved today.

The early Great Depression was marked by a “paradox of poverty amidst plenty.” Massive crop surpluses led to low prices for farmers. At first, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration tried paying farmers to plow under surplus crops and kill livestock. In theory, decreasing the supply would raise farm prices incentivizing farmers to get their crops to market. But the plan was met with outrage from hungry citizens who said they could have put the destroyed “surplus” food to good use.

After this failed start, Roosevelt tried another plan. Government purchased excess crops at a set price and distributed them at little or no cost to poor Americans. But this system was also met with criticism, this time from the sellers of food goods. Wholesalers and retailers were upset that government distribution bypassed “the regular commercial system,” undercutting their profits.

The Roosevelt administration started the first pilot food stamp program in 1939 to integrate businesses in getting food to the hungry. However, there were concerns about the food stamp program’s success. A newsmagazine at the time reported, “there was no difficulty in selling the idea to grocers,” but some feared that the “real beneficiaries” wouldn’t cooperate. Unlike the image conjured up today of the poor clamoring for government aid, in the time of perhaps the greatest need in the past century, businesses were more excited about the federal assistance than the hungry individuals who were to benefit.


Residents of Brooklyn’s East NewYork fight food injustice with farms – By Alia Malek Published on Saturday, August 9, 2014

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NEW YORK — At a Saturday-morning farmers’ market in the underprivileged East New York section of Brooklyn, Joanna White is buying a bundle of freshly harvested beets, even though she’s pretty sure her teenage daughter will never agree to taste them. But White says that improving her family’s diet has meant trying new things, so she’s going to follow a recipe she picked up from a New York City health-department stand.

White, an information-technology trainer at New York University’s Langone Medical Center who just moved here from the nearby Bedford-Stuyvesant section, is delighted to have found the market. “Before, I had to leave my ZIP code to get my food,” she says.

As awareness of nutrition and healthy food rises, shoppers like White increasingly want local and organic food. But unlike in wealthier communities, where once- or twice-a-week farmers’ markets supplement the fresh produce available at well-stocked and easily accessible grocery stores, the farmers’ markets in less affluent neighborhoods like this one are often the only source of fresh food.

Recognizing this, most farmers’ markets in New York City (and, increasingly, those across the country) accept food stamps, while organizations that set up the markets are bringing them to underresourced areas, where vendors from regional farms sell directly to the people. (In New York City, since 2006, the number of farmers’ markets in high- and very-high-poverty ZIP codes has increased by 71 percent, and currently, 59 percent of the markets are in such areas. In fiscal year 2013, sales with food stamps at New York City farmers’ markets totaled $1,113,891.)

Organizers of the East New York Market — now in its eighth year — aren’t holding their breath that a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s will open nearby anytime soon, and the market is not dependent on just upstate farmers to supply it. Much of the produce that is sold here is actually grown just blocks away.

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Maine residents to work for food stamps, governor says – by Massoud Hayoun July 23, 2014 9:09PM ET

Maine’s Republican governor on Wednesday launched a push to make more “able-bodied” people work for their food stamps.

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“People who are in need deserve a hand up, but we should not be giving able-bodied individuals a handout,’’ said Gov. Paul R. LePage.

LePage will reportedly stop seeking a federal waiver — issued at the height of the Great Recession — allowing some food stamp recipients to bypass requirements that they work or volunteer, according to local news channel WCSH.

About 12,000 of the state’s residents receiving $15 million annually in food stamps are considered to be able-bodied by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which administers the aid. That means that they are between the ages of 18 and 49, have no dependents and are not pregnant or disabled.

In the next three months, those who are deemed able-bodied must work or volunteer with a community organization for 20 hours a week or lose their aid.

One in seven Americans receive food stamps. Some have called movements to make people work for food stamps – and a recent congressional bid to cut the program by $800 million – a war on America’s poor. But for LePage, it’s about uplifting a developing post-recession underclass.

“We must continue to do all that we can to eliminate generational poverty and get people back to work,” LePage said. “We must protect our limited resources for those who are truly in need and who are doing all they can to be self-sufficient.”

Over the past six months, Maine’s DHHS has worked with the state’s Labor Department to help families receiving food stamps and other assistance get on a “pathway to employment,” the DHHS said in a news release. The effort connects people with employment centers and performs vocational assessments.

“We are committed to helping people use these resources, as well as providing training, to get people back to work as quickly as possible,” said DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew.

Maine’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in June, down from 6.7 a year before, according to the state’s Labor Department.

This is what happened when I drove my Mercedes to pick up food stamps – By Darlena Cunha July 8 at 12:00 PM

Darlena Cunha is a former television producer turned stay-at-home mom to twin girls. She writes for The Huffington Post and Thought Catalog.

Photo courtesy of Darlene Cunha
Photo courtesy of Darlene Cunha

Sara Bareilles played softly through the surround-sound speakers of my husband’s 2003 Mercedes Kompressor as I sat idling at a light. I’d never been to this church before, but I could see it from where I was, across from an old park, abandoned in the chilly September air. The clouds hung low as I pulled the sleek, pewter machine into the lot. But I wasn’t going to pray or attend services. I was picking up food stamps.

Even then, I couldn’t quite believe it. This wasn’t supposed to happen to people like me.

* * *

I grew up in a white, affluent suburb, where failure seemed harder than success. In college, I studied biology and journalism. I worked for good money at a local hospital, which afforded me the opportunity to network at journalism conferences. That’s how I landed my first news job as an associate producer in Hartford, Conn. I climbed the ladder quickly, free to work any hours in any location for any pay. I moved from market to market, always achieving a better title, a better salary. Succeeding.

2007 was a grand year for me. I moved back home from San Diego, where I’d produced ‘Good Morning San Diego.’ I quickly secured my next big gig, as a producer in Boston for the 6 p.m. news. The pay wasn’t great, but it was more than enough to support me. And my boyfriend was making good money, too, as a copy editor for the Hartford Courant.

When I found out I was pregnant in February 2008, it was a shock, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Two weeks later, when I discovered “it” was actually “they” (twins, as a matter of fact), I panicked a little. But not because I worried for our future. My middle-class life still seemed perfectly secure. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to do that much work.

The weeks flew by. My boyfriend proposed, and we bought a house. Then, just three weeks after we closed, the market crashed. The house we’d paid $240,000 for was suddenly worth $150,000. It was okay, though — we were still making enough money to cover the exorbitant mortgage payments. Then we weren’t.

* * *

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Paul Ryan Wants to Block-Grant Food Stamps and Medicaid. That’s a Terrible Idea. – —By Stephanie Mencimer | Wed Apr. 2, 2014 1:46 PM PDT

Tony Alter/Flickr
House budget committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has lately rebranded himself as an advocate for the poor, albeit with his own makers-versus-takers, Ayn Randian twist. He recently issued a lengthy study of federal anti-poverty programs and over the past year and a half he has embarked on a “listening tour” to hear from low-income Americans. On Tuesday, Ryan issued the House GOP’s 2015 budget proposal, which would make major changes to two of the federal government’s primary anti-poverty programs, food stamps and Medicaid. Using as his model the supposedly successful welfare reform effort of the 1990s, Ryan envisions turning these programs into block grants that are handed over to the states to administer. But his plan to “help families in need lead lives of dignity” is likely to make matters worse for America’s neediest. Here’s why.

In 1996, Congress reengineered the federal program that provided cash assistance to the poorest families. Along with imposing stiff work requirements, Congress turned the old entitlement program, whose budget rose and fell automatically with need, into a block grant with a fixed budget. The grant was then distributed to the states, with few strings attached, under the premise that they were “laboratories of innovation” that would revolutionize the way the government helped the poor.

But as welfare reform has shown, giving states this sort of flexibility in how they spend federal money can lead to a lot of abuse that Republicans are so keen on rooting out.

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Treating Hunger As a Health Issue – By Christopher J. Gearon Feb. 13, 2014


Food insecurity affects nearly one in six U.S. Households. Now, some hospitals are addressing the problem directly.

One could call Toledo, Ohio-based ProMedica hospital system a good neighbor. The non-profit is a driving force in building a new $1.5 million fresh produce-filled grocery store in one of the city’s so-called food deserts. Last year, ProMedica reclaimed tens of thousands of pounds of unserved food from a local casino; its 12hospitals in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan repacked it into some 50,000 meals for hungry individuals. Last fall, the system began screening for food insecurity at some of its hospitals, signing up at-risk patients for food stamps or sending them home with emergency stashes of groceries upon discharge.

[SPECIAL REPORT: The Hospital of Tomorrow]

ProMedica is tackling hunger as a health issue. Last year, the integrated delivery system organized its growing anti-hunger efforts—including food drives in public schools, anti-hunger fundraising events with local restaurants and ensuring poorer students have healthy food on weekends—into the “Come to the Table” initiative. Since 2011, ProMedica has helped to provide 10.5 million meals to residents who are considered food insecure—those who lack resources to provide themselves with enough food.

“There is nothing more fundamental to population health than food and other social determinants of health,” explains Randy Oostra, ProMedica’s president and CEO. Food insecurity affected nearly one in six U.S. households in 2011, according to Feeding America, a hunger-relief charity. In Ohio, the rate is higher than the national average, with more than 2 million residents who are food insecure.

[READ: How Health Care Costs Affect Small Town Living]

As it turns out, addressing issues like hunger, housing and education can have more of an impact on people’s health than the traditional medical services hospitals deliver. Studies show that behavior and environment account for about 70 percent of our health outcomes, and medical care only about 10 percent. But nearly all of the nation’s health expenditures are focused on medical care, with a pittance dedicated to prevention, according to a 2013 University of Maryland report.

Health care reform is changing how hospitals and health systems view and address a community’s, or population’s, health. Largely through payment carrots and sticks, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) attempts to turn a system that has rewarded the provision of services to treat illness into one where providers will prosper by keeping people well and preventing disease.

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Food stamp use among military rises again – By Jennifer Liberto @CNNMoney February 17, 2014: 10:18 AM ET

food stamp dollars

At military grocery stores, more food stamps have been redeemed over the years.


More military families used food stamps to buy milk, cheese, meat and bread at military grocers last year.

Food stamp redemption at military grocers has been rising steadily since the beginning of the recession in 2008. Nearly $104 million worth of food stampswas redeemed at military commissaries in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30.

“I’m amazed, but there’s a very real need,” said Thomas Greer, spokesman for Operation Homefront, a nonprofit that helps soldiers on the financial brink nationwide.

Some of the growth in soldiers’ redemption of food stamps reflects the weak economic recovery, especially for spouses looking for jobs. In 2012, there was a 30% unemployment rate among spouses off active-duty military who were 18 to 24 years old, according to the Military Officers Association of America, which released the survey last week.

Spouses who have to relocate every few years have a tough time finding work in the private sector.

Related: Senate votes to restore military pensions

During the recession, some states lowered eligibility for food stamps, making it easier to qualify. That could account for some of the growth in use by active-duty military, said Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association.

“It was easier for some of those families right on the cusp to qualify,” she said.

In 2011, about 5,000 active-duty military members were on food stamps, making up less than a tenth of 1% of the 44 million on food stamps, according to the USDA, which has yet to update its figures.

Pentagon officials say they don’t track who exactly is redeeming food stamps at military grocers, called commissaries. But they say that it’s the bottom of the ranks, often the most junior 18 to 20-somethings who already have several children.

Base pay for a new soldier with a spouse and kid is around $20,000, just above the poverty line. Although that doesn’t include housing or food allowances. The housing and food help put the income of an Army private with two years of experience a bit more than $40,000, the Pentagon says.

In 2013, Operation Homefront received 2,968 emergency requests for food help, more than any other kind of request for help. The numbers are down significantly compared to two years ago, but they’re still nearly three times what they had been in 2008.

Related: My grocery bill will skyrocket if military stores close

“When there are unexpected disruptions for a family with a junior (enlisted) member, it can become a challenge to put food on table,” Greer said. “Cost of food remains a very real challenge.”

The good news is that the growth in food-stamp redemption at military grocers has slowed.

The 2013 figure was only a 5% uptick from 2012, less the the 13% increase in growth in 2012 and the record 70% hike in growth in food stamps use in 2009, according to the Defense Commissary Agency.

Food stamps has been a hot topic in Washington for months, as enrollment in the anti-poverty program remains at record high levels. Currently, 47 million Americans depend on food stamps. Half of them are children and a quarter of them are seniors.

Enrollment in the program soared during the Great Recession, with nearly 15% of the population getting benefits, according to recent federal data. The average monthly benefit was $134 per person in October.

Congress allowed cuts in the food stamps program last November, with the average recipient losing about $11 thanks to the expiration of a recession-era boost in funding. Active-duty military families were affected by those cuts. To top of page


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First Published: February 17, 2014: 7:56 AM ET

Study: U.S. poverty rate decreased over past half-century thanks to safety-net programs – By Zachary A. Goldfarb, Published: December 9

Government programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance have made significant progress in easing the plight of the poor in the half-century since the launch of the war on poverty, according to a major new study.

But the nation’s economy has made far less progress lifting people out of poverty without the need for government services.

The findings by a group of academic researchers at Columbia University paint a mixed picture of the United States nearly 50 years after Lyndon B. Johnson announced in his January 1964 State of the Union address that he would wage a war on poverty. They also contradict the official poverty rate, which suggests there has been no decline in the percentage of Americans experiencing poverty since then.

According to the new research, the safety net helped reduce the percentage of Americans in poverty from 26 percent in 1967 to 16 percent in 2012. The results were especially striking during the most recent economic downturn, when the poverty rate barely budged despite a massive increase in unemployment.

While the government has helped keep poverty at bay, the economy by itself has failed to improve the lives of the very poor over the past 50 years. Without taking into account the role of government policy, more Americans — 29 percent — would be in poverty today, compared with 27 percent in 1967.

The research has already resonated in Washington, where there are sharp debates in Congress about whether to trim the safety net.

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Gridlock in Congress could leave millions hurting over the holidays – By Lisa Mascaro December 2, 2013, 8:14 p.m.

Congress, with few workdays left, shows no signs of settling partisan disputes over unemployment benefits, food stamps, a farm bill and the budget.

Emergency unemployment Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing to renew expiring federal emergency unemployment benefits, but his bill has not had a hearing and isn’t scheduled for a vote. (Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call / November 19, 2013)
WASHINGTON — Congress‘ unfinished business threatens to leave millions of Americans — including the unemployed, Pentagon contractors and even supermarket shoppers — in the lurch this holiday season.

With partisan dysfunction unlikely to subside in coming weeks, lawmakers appear ready to punt several issues into the new year. But many Americans could start feeling the effects of inaction as early as this month.

An estimated 1.3 million Americans will lose federal emergency unemployment benefits after Christmas if the program is not renewed. Federal aid kicks in after state benefits run out, typically after six months of unemployment.

On Monday, Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan stood in a nearly empty House chamber with a poster of a countdown clock ticking away the days until the emergency jobless aid expires.

“Twenty-five days and 10 hours,” said the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. “Who are they? They are Americans laid off through no fault of their own, struggling to find jobs and recover from the worst economic crisis in 70 years.”

With days left before Congress adjourns for the year, his bill to extend the benefits has not even had a hearing and is not scheduled to get a vote.

Congress’ failure to renew a multiyear farm bill — considered crucial to the agricultural industry — poses a two-pronged problem.

Without action, milk prices are set to skyrocket in the new year because the legislation plays a role in how some commodities are priced. It could drive the price of a gallon of milk above $8, from about $3.50 today, according to some estimates.

But if Congress does reach agreement, it would almost certainly result in cuts to food stamps, kicking up to 4 million Americans off the program under the House Republicans’ version of the bill.

That’s because Republicans insist on slashing food stamps, which skyrocketed during the economic downturn. Democrats are offering only modest trims to food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.,0,4671551.story#ixzz2mPDZM5Vv