All around the country food pantries are seeing more customers. This is probably due to the rising cost of food and other goods. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the price of food has increased 13% in grocery stores - the largest increase since 1979. The cost of eggs has increased 38% and everything from fresh produce to meats to basics such as flour and coffee have risen 9% or more, making it difficult for families and seniors to buy the food they need. But these high prices are not only making it difficult for people at supermarkets - the increased costs are making it harder for food pantries to buy the food they know their customers need. The White House is having the first conference in over 50 years on Hunger, Nutrition and Health and we look forward to hearing practical solutions to this very real and painful issue.
Have you ever paid your rent, your light bill, and your monthly metro card and realized that you had very little left over for anything else? And that you had to wait until your next check came in or use your charge card (if you have one)? Now suppose it was even worse, and there was not even enough money to buy enough food for the month, and you had no charge card. And that you would have to miss a meal or a couple of meals. That is basically what food insecurity is. There are 1.5 million people in New York City who are currently food insecure, and 1 out of every 4 is a child.
You may have seen an odd refrigerator standing outside a bodega, alone, either gaily painted or with just a simple sign: Free Fridge. You might have even opened it to see it filled with red apples and green beans and purple eggplants. Or you opened it and it was almost empty and you wondered if someone had just taken food out or about to put more food in.
There are over 100 free fridges in the five boroughs. https://nycfridge.com (The idea started in Europe and can also be found in many cities across the country). Depending on the group that is supporting the fridge, you may see anything from vegetables from the local farmers market to meals left over from a local restaurant. All fridges stand outside. And all are welcome to donate food if they can or take food if they need it.
These community fridges are a wonderous result of ‘mutual aid’ response to an increase in food insecurity due to COVID. It takes the proverbial village to hunt for unused food from farmers markets, supermarkets, restaurants and local pantries or to make connections with companies for USDA food boxes and to raise money to buy fresh produce and dairy. Mutual Aid groups donate used fridges, and others raise funds to buy new fridges. Each fridge has its own markers, its own community spirit. And each group supports the fridge not only with finding food, but also with cleaning and clearing the fridges. It’s a big job.
So let me give kudos to a whole lot of people: the bodega and other store owners who donate their electricity to hook up the fridge; the community of people who decide to take on this project and constantly clean it and fill it and mine the neighborhood for food; the restaurants and farmers markets that give weekly; the mutual aid groups that find these fridges; the truckers that deliver them – all of this is done by people who have other jobs but are concerned for their neighbors who don’t have enough.
So next time you see a free fridge, applaud the spirit with which it exists, and add to the contents if you can.
Poverty in the U.S. is an annual $12,880 or below for a single person, $17,420 for two people, $21,960 for three, and $26,500 for a family of four. These are 2021 figures. So when you ‘lift someone out of poverty’ what does that actually mean?
I understand that researchers need to have some bar from which they measure under/over in order to define success. And I also understand that the United States needs some sort of figure to assess how much financial aid someone may need (although why it has to be the same all over the United States I will never understand).
But you can’t tell me that if you live in New York City for example, that you can live on even 200% of the poverty level and pay for rent, food, transportation, utilities, healthcare and anything else you or your family might need.
So I worry when we say $15/hour will ‘lift 60 million people out of poverty’. No. Not really. Certainly not people living in the big cities. I am pro increasing the minimum wage, don’t get me wrong. I’d like to increase it more than $15/hour. And sure, $15/hour will make things better. But no, it won’t lift everyone out of real poverty. It will only lift them above the poverty line – an arbitrary and very low measure. Depending on where someone lives, they might be able to live on it. But the average person living in NYC and other expensive cities will still require some government benefits to help them out. But will they receive that help if they are ‘lifted out of poverty”?
Did you ever wonder what it would be like to live in NYC on $15/hour if you were a single parent with one school-aged child? The Self-Sufficiency Standard for New York City 2018 defines the amount of income necessary to meet the basic needs of New York City families, differentiated by family type and where they live.
So let’s go there: You made $15/hr and you worked 40 hours per week which equals $31,200 per year before taxes. The self-sufficiency standard varies, depending on where you live. Anyone who has lived in NYC knows that living in the Bronx is less expensive than living in mid-Manhattan. So the swing for this single parent with one child ranges from $51,180 - $85,877 depending on where they live. This includes food, transporatation, childcare, healthcare. Anyway you look at it, $15 does not meet the needs of this family.
The hourly wage would have to be at least $25 per hour for that parent and child to live in NYC or they would have to move in with another family to share the costs.
This is not to say that the federally hourly wage shouldn’t be raised to $15. It should. But it’s important to note that not all states, towns and cities have the same costs and this hourly wage of $15/hour is the minimum! So let’s not pat ourselves on the backs quite yet. If people deserve a living wage, we have to consider an hourly wage that is not just minimum - it has to be livable
There is a special role that restaurants play that few people have discussed: restaurants give back to their communities. Imagine the toll their absence takes on neighborhoods in which they are situated. Restaurants help feed those who are food insecure during holidays, donate leftover food to local churches; support school fundraisers; hire from the community; promote from within their own staffs, and participate in community causes like fundraising to beautify local parks, teaching a cooking class to local school children or hanging local artwork on their restaurant walls.
I do not own a restaurant, although I have a non-profit that had been supported by restaurants until COVID-19; together we bought fresh produce from local farmers for nearby food pantries. None of these restaurants are famous, none of them are chains. They are home-grown and independent. The proverbial ‘mom-and-pop’ type. But in partnering with them to buy produce, I learned how much else they do, and this has not been discussed when we talk about bailouts for the ‘little guy’.
What we lose when restaurants close down is not just good food and social engagement but community.
Restaurants bring people into neighborhoods. They are a huge source of jobs, skilled and unskilled, and employ more minority managers than any other industry. Before COVID-19, the National Restaurant Association counted over 15 million restaurant employees in the United States. Seven in ten of these restaurants are single-unit operations – those that frequently hire from the community and tend to promote from within: nine in ten restaurant managers started in entry-level positions. Many restaurant owners live in the same neighborhood where they work. (This makes even more sense when you think of the long days, from early morning orders and deliveries to late night closings).
So – we are talking about a terrible domino effect: a small restaurant closes, the workers become unemployed, the landlord loses a lease, the community loses a supporter.
I have lived in Harlem for over 20 years, seen it grow and gentrify, and seen businesses close and others blossom. But the restaurants have always maintained a foothold in the community – organizing free musical events, buying local ingredients, providing meeting spaces for fundraising groups at no cost, helping local schools fundraise by donating dinners for two, donating turkey dinners at Thanksgiving, supporting the local soup kitchen with food, and, of course, hiring and promoting within their own communities. You get the picture. Each restaurant has a story. Each one loves their community. Each one that closes is a loss, not only for the food and the ambiance, but for its deep commitment to the neighborhood.
And in that vein, restaurants have once again stepped up to help during the COVID-19 pandemic: those that stayed open for deliveries are now also feeding healthcare workers, fire fighters, NYPD, other essential workers as well local food insecure families. – and now, many of them are also feeding their own out-of-work employees. But it’s winter in much of the Country, and more restaurants are closing because they cannot seat people outdoors in the cold safely, without pouring more money into heating and light. If they are not closing, they are ‘hibernating’ – closing from January through March in order to save costs on food and labor, etc so their only cost is rent.
Meals For Good is committed to helping distribute groceries to newly unemployed restaurant workers in Harlem, and will continue to do so once per month at least until spring when ‘hibernating’ restaurants will hopefully open again.
Yes government has to do better by them – Congress must create a special bailout to help these mom-and-pops survive, so they can, in turn, continue to breathe life into our neighborhoods and jobs for our residents. But we can do better too – if you can afford it, please order take out from your neighborhood restaurants as often as possible.
It is not surprising that food insecurity has increased since COVID-19, although I can’t help being surprised about the extreme nature of it. The World Health Organization stated in November 2020, that there was an 82% increase in food insecurity around the world. And in the United States, we see this poignant issue increasing as well, particularly for families with children. Let’s be clear - when you have been laid off, when rent is due and they are threatening to turn off your lights if you don’t pay the bill, when schools are closed and healthcare is at it’s most necessary, people will do with less and less food - particularly healthy, fresh food which tends to be more expensive - to pay for other things. And parents will miss meals in order for their children to have enough.
By Jason de Parle in NY Times
The news about the needy in recent weeks has at times seemed at odds with itself. As surveys find more people are going hungry, evidence suggests that increased federal aid, in response to the pandemic-driven rise in unemployment, has prevented a surge in poverty.
How could hunger soar if poverty does not? The possible explanations shed light on how people are faring in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And they bear on the deadlocked policy debate between Congress and the Trump administration over whether to continue expanded jobless benefits, which expire in several days.
Here’s a guide to understanding hunger and poverty.
POVERTY IS MEASURED ANNUALLY; PEOPLE EAT DAILY.
To read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/28/us/politics/coronavirus-hunger-poverty.html?referringSource=articleShare
by Campbell Robertson, NY Times, January 2020
MILTON, W.Va. — In the early mornings, Chastity and Paul Peyton walk from their small and barely heated apartment to Taco Bell to clean fryers and take orders for as many work hours as they can get. It rarely adds up to a full-time week’s worth, often not even close. With this income and whatever cash Mr. Peyton can scrape up doing odd jobs — which are hard to come by in a small town in winter, for someone without a car — the couple pays rent, utilities and his child support payments.
Then there is the matter of food.
“We can barely eat,” Ms. Peyton said. She was told she would be getting food stamps again soon — a little over two dollars’ worth a day — but the couple was without them for months. Sometimes they made too much money to qualify; sometimes it was a matter of working too little. There is nothing reliable but the local food pantry.
Four years ago, thousands of poor people here in Cabell County and eight other counties in West Virginia that were affected by a state policy change found themselves having to prove that they were working or training for at least 20 hours a week in order to keep receiving food stamps consistently. In April, under a rule change by the Trump administration, people all over the country who are “able-bodied adults without dependents” will have to do the same.
The policy seems straightforward, but there is nothing straightforward about the reality of the working poor, a daily life of unreliable transportation, erratic work hours and capricious living arrangements.
to read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/13/us/food-stamps-work-west-virginia.html?searchResultPosition=1
By Christopher Klein
The U.S. food stamp program was launched at a time when the nation was facing a tragic paradox: As millions of Americans suffered from hunger during the Great Depression, the country’s farmers agonized under a crushing bounty. The economic collapse of the 1930s had sapped food consumers of their purchasing power, so farmers found themselves with a glut of crops and livestock. That glut, in turn, sent agricultural prices plummeting.
In order to create artificial scarcity and boost prices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt initially paid farmers to plow under their fields and slaughter their pigs. The destruction of food at a time when so many stomachs rumbled sparked an outcry that prompted the Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation (FSCC), a New Deal agency established in 1933, to instead purchase excess food and distribute it directly to the needy at little or no cost. This initiative, however, dampened business for grocers and food wholesalers, who complained of government interference and unfair competition in the marketplace.
Facing the triple problems of farm surpluses, weak sales for grocers and hungry citizens at a time of 17 percent unemployment, the FSCC hoped tiny paper squares could solve its trilemma. Rochester, New York, then became the petri dish for a new government-run economic experiment.
On the morning of May 16, 1939, FSCC officials watched anxiously as they opened their doors inside Rochester’s old post office to launch the country’s latest relief measure. As newspaper reporters and photographers jockeyed for position to document history in the making, the first person in line approached a cashier window. Ralston Thayer, a 35-year-old machinist who had been out of work for nearly a year, handed a clerk $4 from his latest unemployment check and received $4 of orange stamps in return as well as $2 of blue stamps for free.
The orange “food stamps” could be redeemed at any of the 1,200 participating Rochester groceries for any goods on the shelves, while blue stamps could only be used to buy surplus agricultural items such as butter, eggs, prunes, flour, oranges, cornmeal and beans. Grocers could exchange the food stamps for money at commercial banks and FSCC offices.
Throughout the day, approximately 2,000 Rochester residents followed in Thayer’s footsteps. For every $1 of orange stamps bought, they received 50 cents worth of blue stamps for free, thereby expanding their purchasing power by 50 percent. That afternoon, waves of customers poured into Rochester’s grocery stores with their crisp new booklets of orange and blue stamps in hand.
Rochester grocers benefited as well as recipients channeled $50,000 into their coffers during the program’s first four days. “I was cleaned out of flour when the stamp rush started,” grocer Joseph Mutolo told FSCC officials when he became the first retailer to redeem the stamps. “That certainly is different from the old days when you gave food away at the big food depot. Then, when you gave away flour or butter, I sold none. Now it seems I can’t keep stocked up.”
Building on the initial success, the food stamp program was rolled out to additional pilot cities and expanded to half the counties in the United States. Eligible Americans could buy between $1 and $1.50 in orange stamps weekly for each family member. The program fed 20 million Americans until it was discontinued in 1943 when the economic stimulus provided by World War II eased unemployment and crop surpluses.
President John F. Kennedy, who had been struck by the poverty he had witnessed in West Virginia during the 1960 Democratic primary campaign, revived food stamps as a pilot program as one of his first actions upon taking office in 1961.
While recipients were still required to pay for their food stamps, the special stamps for surplus goods were eliminated. The Food Stamp Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on August 31, 1964, codified and expanded the program. “The food stamp plan will be one of our most valuable weapons for the war on poverty,” Johnson proclaimed at the signing ceremony.
Although launched by Democratic presidents, the food stamp program saw its largest expansion under the stewardship of a Republican president, Richard Nixon, in the wake of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s highly publicized trips to the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia, the Poor People’s Campaign of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.and the 1968 CBS documentary “Hunger in America,” which shocked viewers with images of starving children with sunken features and bloated bellies.
During the course of Nixon’s presidency, the food stamp program grew fivefold from 3 million recipients in 1969 to 15 million by 1974.
Beginning in 1990, electronic benefit transfer cards, similar to debit cards tied to benefits accounts, replaced paper food stamps. With the elimination of paper food stamps came a 2008 change in the program’s name to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The SNAP program served nearly 40 million Americans in 2018, with each participant receiving an average monthly benefit of $127. Food producers and retailers also continued to benefit. For example, UBS Analyst Michael Lasser estimated that Walmart derived about 4 percent of its U.S. sales from food stamp purchases in 2018. To read the entire story: https://www.history.com/news/food-stamps-great-depression