Veterans and Food Insecurity

Veterans and Food Insecurity

How some heroes need our help.

By Mary Beringer, Grant Writer

Veterans Day is almost here, a time to pay tribute to those who put their lives on the line to defend our country. As of 2017, there were 774,935 veterans in Ohio, and 19,998,799 nationally. They make up a significant portion of our communities, and almost half of all veterans are over 65. While some veterans thrive once they return to civilian life, many feel the negative impact of their military experiences for years or even decades afterward. Because of this, a shocking number of America’s veterans experience food insecurity.

Pinpointing the reason so many veterans struggle with food insecurity is difficult, though the contrast is certain; working-age veterans are 7.4% more likely to be food insecure than non-veterans of the same age.

Another factor at play is disability status. 43% of veterans who served post-9/11 have a service-connected disability, and veterans with disabilities are 22.5% more likely to be food insecure than the general population. Both physical and mental disabilities can make it difficult to obtain food. Disabled veterans might have to worry about how easy it is for them to leave the house to get groceries. A mobility issue could make driving difficult, while PTSD might make it hard to go to crowded places, and depression or other executive function-related conditions can make it hard to even step out your front door. Disabled people can also have difficulty finding a job that will accommodate all their needs, which might put a strain on their food budget.

We have also talked before on this blog about how the shift from the draft to an all-volunteer force means that many people who choose to enlist are already coming from a socio-economic background associated with poverty, higher rates of mental health problems, and lower educational attainment. This may be why veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have especially high rates of food insecurity, even compared to their older peers, though of course seniors have unique struggles with food insecurity.

The food insecurity that veterans experience can also extend to military families. As of 2020, one-fifth of families served by foodbanks have a veteran member. Feeding America theorizes that this high rate may be for multiple reasons, including low salaries for lower ranks, the high unemployment rate for military spouses, or the high cost of living near military bases.

Other factors that can contribute to veteran food insecurity include homelessness and a lack of affordable health care options. Though many people assume that all veterans automatically get healthcare coverage through the Department of Veteran Affairs, the truth is that most veterans are dependent on private health insurance. As of 2014, there were tens of thousands of veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system who hadn’t seen a doctor in at least ten years. Similarly, though there are programs in place to help veterans find housing, veterans still make up 8% of all people experiencing what is called “sheltered homelessness”, meaning they have recently used an emergency shelter, transitional housing, or a similar service. The number of people experiencing “unsheltered” homelessness is difficult to track, but it seems reasonable to assume that a similar percentage of that population also holds veteran status.

Of the nearly 20 million veterans in the country, 4 million of them live in poverty or live paycheck-to-paycheck. 1.2 million of those veterans use SNAP according to the latest census data. More veterans are eligible for SNAP, but may not know that they qualify, or they may feel insecure about needing help. Veterans are often proud of their self-sufficiency and can sometimes have a hard time asking for help, even when it is readily available. This Veterans Day, in addition to thanking the veterans in your life for their service, make sure they have everything that they need, and let them know they are supported. Even the strongest and bravest among us need help sometimes.

 

Resources:

“Active Military and Veteran Food Insecurity.” Feeding America, Feeding America, https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/food-insecurity-in-veterans.

“Census Bureau Releases New Report on Veterans.” Census.gov, United States Census Bureau, 2 June 2020, https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2020/veterans-report.html.

“HUD Releases 2021 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.” HUD.gov, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 4 Feb. 2022, https://www.hud.gov/press/press_releases_media_advisories/HUD_No_22_022.

Lutz, Jamie, and Caitlin Welsh. “Food Insecurity among Veterans: Who Is at Risk and How to Respond.” Food Insecurity among Veterans: Who Is at Risk and How to Respond | Center for Strategic and International Studies, Center for Strategic & International Studies, 10 Nov. 2021, https://www.csis.org/analysis/food-insecurity-among-veterans-who-risk-and-how-respond.

McIntosh, Caitlyn. “Federal Assistance Programs Are Especially Critical for the Disabled Community.” The Dayton Foodbank, The Foodbank, Inc., 29 July 2021, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/ada/.

McIntosh, Caitlyn. “For Older Adults, Hunger Hides in Plain Sight.” The Dayton Foodbank, The Foodbank, Inc., 16 July 2020, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/seniorhunger/.

McIntosh, Caitlyn. “One in Five Families Served by Food Banks Has a Veteran Member.” The Dayton Foodbank, The Foodbank, Inc., 11 Nov. 2020, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/veterans/.

McIntosh, Caitlyn. “SNAP Is Critical to Our Hunger Relief Work – Here’s Why.” The Dayton Foodbank, The Foodbank, Inc., 24 Sept. 2020, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/snap/.

Ohio State Summary. United States Department of Veteran Affairs, https://www.va.gov/vetdata/docs/SpecialReports/State_Summaries_Ohio.pdf.

“Why Are so Many Veterans Food Insecure?” Move For Hunger, Move For Hunger, https://moveforhunger.org/why-are-so-many-veterans-food-insecure.


Keener Farm Charitable Organization

Community Action Against Hunger

Keener Farm Charitable Organization Joins Hunger-Relief Efforts

By Lauren Tappel, Development and Marketing Manager, and Kelsi Steinkamp from Keener Farm Charitable Organization

 

You know what weighs the same as two tractor tires and is heavier than 17 bushels of apples?

The 850 pounds of beef donated last week to The Foodbank, Inc. in Dayton!

In June, the nearly two-century-old family-owned Keener Farm launched a charity initiative to fight hunger in the community while supporting local farm economies across Ohio: Keener Farm Charitable Organization. KFCO purchases cattle from local farmers, processes the cattle into ground beef, and then donates the meat directly to Ohio food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and faith-based organizations.

 
Matthew Keener (Keener Farm Charitable Organization) and
Michelle L. Riley (CEO of The Foodbank, Inc.)
standing next to the first donation of ground beef

This is a welcomed operation during the current period of economic instability with supply shortages, inflation, and increasing numbers of people in need of support.

The Foodbank works to supply a network of more than 100 local nonprofits with the nutritious foods needed to alleviate hunger across the Miami Valley each day. While most food is sourced through food drives, state and federal food programs, and retail donations, The Foodbank also purchases wholesale food items needed to fill gaps on the shelves. Inflation has affected everyone’s grocery budget, and it has also impacted The Foodbank’s wholesale food purchasing budget as purchases doubled from $0.55/pound in fiscal year 2021 to $1.07/pound in fiscal year 2022.

The idea for KFCO began one year ago around the Thanksgiving table as Matthew Keener, founder of KFCO, discussed with family the challenging financial times this country was descending into. Matthew is a strong believer that, especially in tough times, those who are able to give have a responsibility to do so. As conversation progressed on that Thanksgiving Day, a path to help began to unfold. Many people have donated their time and expertise to design and implement this charitable model, and now it’s a tried-and-true process, with cattle purchases, processing and donation having occurred!

Montgomery County Commissioners Judy Dodge and Carolyn Rice
stand with Matthew Keener in front of The Foodbank, Inc.

“At The Foodbank, we pride ourselves on being good stewards of donated funds. When we need to mitigate gaps on our shelves, a lot of effort is put into purchasing food in a fiscally responsible manner. Even when inflation is low, purchasing fresh protein can be a challenge” Lauren Tappel, Development and Marketing Manager for The Foodbank explains, “In particular, it can be difficult to justify the purchase of beef when The Foodbank could purchase a more affordable option, such as chicken, at a lower price. Support from Keener Farm Charitable Organization provides our food bank with local, high-quality beef not often seen in the charitable food system.”

“When an individual is food insecure, they often skip meals or buy less groceries to pay for other expenses such as rent, utilities, gas, medications, and so on,” Tappel continues, “Keeping this in mind, KFCO’s donation makes a significant impact as the retail price for ground beef is often above what our neighbors experiencing food insecurity can afford. We are so grateful for their partnership and for providing the opportunity to offer such a fresh, healthy protein option to families in need.”

The Foodbank was a grateful recipient of this donation, which will benefit 98 partner agencies across Montgomery, Greene and Preble counties. Having the product delivered directly from the farm to The Foodbank’s location will not only ensure freshness, but also grant a longer time frame for distribution into the community.

To join the fight against hunger, you can learn more and support the Keener Farms Charitable Organization by visiting keenerfarmcharity.org. Follow KFCO along on this journey on Instagram and Facebook @keenerfarmcharity.

###

About KFCO

The for-profit, parent-company Keener Farm has historically supported sustainable, local food systems. As a Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, it has worked to better connect producers and consumers ultimately to strengthen our local food system. The Keener Farm Charitable Organization is taking this work a step further by addressing increasing food insecurity in the community. The mission is to fight hunger and support American farmers.


Exercise Your Right to Vote

Exercise Your Right to Vote

A Voting Guide for the November 8th Election

By Amber Wright, Marketing Coordinator

 

The November 8th election is just around the corner. Are you prepared to use your voice at the ballot box?

The Foodbank, Inc. is a bipartisan organization that encourages all citizens to exercise their right to vote. Here is a quick voter’s guide for Ohio residents preparing for the upcoming election:

 

 

Check Your Registration at VoteOhio.gov

October 11th is the deadline to register to vote. You can apply by mail or in person at a local election office, but the quickest way is to register online. If you have already registered, make sure that your current address is listed.

At VoteOhio.gov you can check your registration, update your address, or complete your registration in a matter of minutes. This website also allows you to locate the nearest polling place, identify your voting districts, and much more.
Choose Your Voting Method

Voting can be done in person at the polls on election day or by absentee ballot.

If you choose to vote in person, you must locate your polling place. Polls open at 6:30 am and close at 7:30 pm. A current and valid photo ID is required in the state of Ohio. Identification cards past their expiration date will not be accepted. More details about the requirements can be found here.

If you choose to vote by absentee ballot, you must submit a request form, postmarked before November 5th. This form may be filled out online, but a hard copy must be printed and mailed to your county board of elections for submission. Board mailing addresses can be found here. Once you receive a paper ballot, it must be filled out and postmarked no later than November 7th. More information about absentee voting can be found here.

Accessible absentee voting for disabled voters is available as well. More information can be found here or by calling (877) 767-6446.

 

Do Your Research

One way to learn about issues or candidates for an upcoming local election is by watching the local news channels and reading local newspapers. However, more extensive, and focused research can be done online.

Here are a few helpful resources to get you started on your independent research:

 

It is best to consult multiple sources when doing this kind of research. You can further investigate by visiting the candidates’ websites and social media pages.

Your voice matters and you can use it to vote against hunger. No matter your political preferences, we encourage everyone to get out and exercise their constitutional right of participating in the selection process. Change begins at the ballot box. We hope to see you there!

 

 


Opportunities For Change

Opportunities For Change

Labor Day, The White House Conference, and What We Can Do About Hunger

By Mary Beringer, Grant Writer

In December of 1969, President Richard Nixon and his staff convened the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health, the first meeting of its kind. The event was a reaction to many Americans discovering the full extent of hunger in their country in stark contrast to the perception of widespread prosperity since WWII.

In the months before the Conference, “dozens of committees and individuals representing major federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, and voluntary organizations ranging from professional societies to churches and advocacy groups met to formulate recommendations” for how to end hunger in America. In December, the Conference came together, chaired by Dr. Jean Mayer, who was a professor from the Harvard School of Public Health. The members of the Conference then met to discuss and debate the recommendations, creating new suggestions from them. While these discussions were taking place in a D.C. hotel, Vietnam War demonstrations were happening down the street.

The Conference resulted in expansions to the Food Stamp Program (what we now know as SNAP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), as well as the creation of the Supplemental Feeding Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC). Food labels were also improved in the wake of the Conference, and guidelines for healthy eating were formulated. These programs have had a lasting impact for years to come, such as WIC, SNAP, and the NSLP, which are still in use by millions of Americans today.

In September 2022, the Biden Administration will host the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. It will be the first conference of its kind since 1969. The conference lists its goal as “End hunger and increase healthy eating and physical activity by 2030, so that fewer Americans experience diet-related diseases like diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.” The event is centered around five pillars of focus:

White House Conference Pillars

  1. Improve food access and affordability: End hunger by making it easier for everyone — including urban, suburban, rural, and Tribal communities — to access and afford food. For example, expand eligibility for and increase participation in food assistance programs and improve transportation to places where food is available.
  2. Integrate nutrition and health: Prioritize the role of nutrition and food security in overall health, including disease prevention and management, and ensure that our health care system addresses the nutrition needs of all people.
  3. Empower all consumers to make and have access to healthy choices: Foster environments that enable all people to easily make informed healthy choices, increase access to healthy food, encourage healthy workplace and school policies, and invest in public messaging and education campaigns that are culturally appropriate and resonate with specific communities.
  4. Support physical activity for all: Make it easier for people to be more physically active (in part by ensuring that everyone has access to safe places to be active), increase awareness of the benefits of physical activity, and conduct research on and measure physical activity.
  5. Enhance nutrition and food security research: Improve nutrition metrics, data collection, and research to inform nutrition and food security policy, particularly on issues of equity, access, and disparities.

(Source)

The Foodbank, Inc. is excited to participate in these discussions, and we have several concerns we are prepared to bring to the table to help address food insecurity in America. One of those concerns ties directly with another September event, Labor Day.

Labor Day may not initially appear to have anything to do with hunger, but the fair compensation of labor is critical for the elimination of food insecurity. Food makes up 13.7 to 15.5 percent of a household budget for families making less than $40,000 a year, according to some calculations. When unexpected costs occur, like car trouble or medical emergencies, many families choose to make cuts to the most flexible part of their budget: food. September is also Hunger Action Month, and organizers this year are putting an emphasis on how food shouldn’t be an impossible choice. One of the factors that can force people to choose between food and other vital resources is income.

When jobs do not pay enough for a person to feed and support their family, that family often ends up turning to food assistance programs like SNAP, WIC, and food pantries. These costs end up impacting everyone in the country, since “health-related costs of food insecurity for just one year (2014) were estimated at $160.7 billion”. It is a vicious cycle that leads to more poverty, poor health, and food insecurity. The federal government has spent more than 23 trillion dollars on poverty relief programs since the 1960’s, to little effect.

Some Americans worry that raising the minimum wage would force employers to reduce the number of staff or increase prices. Though it is possible that increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour would result in job losses, experts cannot seem to agree exactly how many jobs would be lost. Researchers say cost increases would likely be negligible when spread across all consumers and could be alleviated by large corporations cutting back on profit margins at the highest levels.

On the other hand, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour across the country would lift nearly a million people over the poverty line. States like California, where the minimum wage is already $15 and the cost of living is high, would be less affected than states like Kentucky or Alabama, but the whole country would benefit from an increase in the population of people who are able to take care of their families and live full lives.

In Ohio, the current minimum wage is $9.30 per hour, with plans to increase that to $13 per hour by 2025. On a federal level, there are initiatives to take the national minimum wage up to $15 per hour, though these proposals have met considerable resistance. This is despite the fact that the $4.03 minimum wage from 1973 would have the same buying power as more than $25 today, in 2022.

The Foodbank is passionate, not just about helping everyone in line, but shortening the line. We are committed to equity and try to set an example, with things like a living wage for all our employees. Other businesses can do the same, especially big corporations. The White House Conference is in a prime position to initiate large-scale change. It happened before in 1969, and it can happen now in 2022. All we need are advocates with strong voices who are willing to demand change, and leaders who are brave and compassionate enough to put it into action.

 

References

References

“1969 White House Conference – 50Th Anniversary Of The White House Conference On Food, Nutrition, And Health”. Tufts.Edu, https://sites.tufts.edu/foodnutritionandhealth2019/1969-white-house-conference/.

“Conference Details”. Health.Gov, 2022, https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/white-house-conference-hunger-nutrition-and-health/conference-details.

“White House Conference On Hunger, Nutrition, And Health”. Health.Gov, 2022, https://health.gov/our-work/nutrition-physical-activity/white-house-conference-hunger-nutrition-and-health.

Brannan, Isabel et al. Minimum Wage & Hunger. 2022, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/654cc7d56e654485930a5faa44da2bbe.

Kennedy, Eileen, and Johanna Dwyer. “The 1969 White House Conference On Food, Nutrition And Health: 50 Years Later”. Pubmed Central, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7279882/.

Mishel, Lawrence et al. “Wage Stagnation In Nine Charts”. Economic Policy Institute, 2015, https://www.epi.org/publication/charting-wage-stagnation/.

Smith, Kelly. “What You Need To Know About The Minimum Wage Debate”. Forbes Advisor, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/minimum-wage-debate/.


Sustainable Food Systems

Sustainable Food Systems

What They Are and How the Foodbank Contributes

By Amber Wright, Marketing Coordinator

 

When you sit down to enjoy a meal do you ever think about the steps it took for your food to reach your plate? Even before it is cooked in your kitchen, each of the ingredients undergoes a long journey of being grown, harvested, packaged, transported, stored, and sold. This process, known as a food system, is connected to many areas of life, affecting much more than just our waistlines.

sustainable food system is a process of providing food security and adequate nutrition for all people in a manner that allows the cycle to continue for future generations. To determine whether or not a food system is sustainable there must be analysis in three main areas: economic, social and environmental impacts.

 

Economic Factors

For a food system to be economically sustainable it must provide benefits to participants at every stage of production.

Farmers must be able to make a living by growing food and raising animals or they might stop producing these basic staples. They must provide their workers a livable wage to harvest, package, prepare and ship their goods. After that, retailers need to make money from distributing the products throughout the community at affordable prices for consumers.

Ensuring profitability at all stages not only provides employment, but it also provides incentive for food to be distributed farther than the immediate area where it originated. Taxes generate revenue for local governments, while the food supply can reach even isolated communities.

National and international trade has allowed for a wider range of food options for countless people, but the system is not perfect in the United States or globally. Supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war are a perfect example of how easily the current food system can be disrupted when there is an overreliance on imported goods and less utilization of locally sourced items.

Arguments surrounding the current minimum wage and tax systems vary in definition of what it means for workers to earn a sustainable living and how much companies are obligated to contribute to social welfare. Many researchers crunching the numbers have shown it is impossible for many minimum-wage workers to support themselves without government aid, while companies making record profits are accused of profiteering at the expense of consumers and employees alike.

 

Social Factors

For a food system to be socially sustainable it must have equitable distribution of all value produced in every stage of production. This covers many areas of human rights, such as regular access to healthy and nutritious food for consumers, labor rights for workers, and distribution of both food and employment to all demographics.

Enough food is produced globally to feed everyone in the world, but hunger persists because it is not distributed efficiently or equitably. An unreasonable amount of food goes to waste while people in all parts of the world struggle with food insecurity, malnutrition, or outright starvation.

Despite being among the wealthiest nations, countries like the US often contain numerous pockets of food deserts. These are areas with limited or no access to affordable and nutritious food. High crime rates, low-income averages and geographic isolation are a few of the factors that may deter grocery stores from setting up shop in certain neighborhoods because it is not seen as profitable. However, the effects on residents in these areas can be devastating.

Without a grocery store in the area people are often limited to the highly processed, low-nutritional foods commonly found at gas stations and dollar stores. Poor diets lacking essential vitamins and minerals are shown to lead to health problems. Sometimes a store might open in one of these areas, but inflated prices make it hard for people to get enough food for every meal. This further marginalizes a community in terms of poverty and health inequity, especially in low-income communities where barriers to transportation prevent travel to outside markets.

Food deserts are not the only element affecting public health. Streamlined, commercial production has greatly increased the presence of pesticides, antibiotics, and preservatives in food. All these things have negative health impacts when overconsumed. Mounting evidence also suggests that fruits and vegetables now contain fewer nutrients than they did in prior years.

Another aspect of social inequity within the food system is the distribution of employment and wages. The US, along with many countries across the globe, often displays systemic discrimination. Unemployment, low wages, and food deserts impact people of color more than white citizens. Jobs and resources are commonly denied because of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or background. If these intolerances persist, they will prevent regular access to a nutritious diet for entire communities.

Labor conditions also vary by industry and country. In some areas of the world labor laws do not exist to protect the health and safety of the workers. Even in the US there are frequent reports of health and safety violations, such as those cited at meat packing plants in Upton Sinclair’s famous book The Jungle. These violations can not only affect the well-being of the employees, but the condition and quality food being handled. Tainted food can easily cause the outbreak of disease among consumers.

 

Environmental Factors

For a food system to be environmentally sustainable it must have a neutral or positive impact on the surrounding natural environment. This covers many aspects of environmental conditions, such as plant and animal health, biodiversity, water quality, soil quality, carbon footprint, water footprint, food waste and toxicity.

Climate change and ecological destruction are widely known issues relating to current food systems. Agriculture is currently the second largest contributor of global greenhouse gas emissions, second only to the energy sector. Many harmful toxins are released in a variety of ways, such as the use of fertilizer, land drainage, the natural digestion of livestock and manure management. In addition, many farming methods are dependent on the use of fossil fuels to run industrial equipment.

Ecological destruction is readily seen in agricultural practices like deforestation for farmland, which eliminates entire ecosystems and limits biodiversity to a handful of crops. Pollution ranges from the burning of fossil fuels to the use of harmful pesticides and fertilizers. Industrial farming often leads to soil degradation and harmful additives to the groundwater.

Perhaps the most inexcusable problem of current systems is the amount of food that goes to waste. The UN estimates that 17 percent of total global food production is wasted each year. That equates to roughly 1.3 billion tons or $1 trillion. While some of this can be credited to poor harvesting techniques, more of it just goes bad from sitting unused for too long.

Food spoilage doesn’t just occur in the home of consumers. Food goes to waste on store shelves before it is sold, in the kitchens of restaurants or even during transit between places. The distance between the farm and the refrigerator of a consumer can be so great that a product may already nearing the end of its shelf-life when it arrives at a store. If it not sold, it oftentimes ends up being transported to a landfill.

The USDA identified 27 percent of the world population as food insecure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is this food loss devastating to the millions of people struggling with hunger, it is also a waste of the water and energy used to produce it. According to the UN, the food wasted each year accounts for 38 percent of total energy usage in the global food system.

 

What We Do at The Foodbank

We do our best at The Foodbank to align our work as a charitable food organization with the goals of a sustainable food system; we work to provide regular access to nutritious foods for everyone, not just for today, but for all the days that follow.

We have made intentional efforts to foster socio-economic well-being for our employees, as well as the communities they serve. The Foodbank chose to place company headquarters in the 45417 ZIP code, which was identified as the area in Dayton with the highest concentration of poverty. As of last year, we have contributed more than $3.5 million in economic investment to the West Dayton area.

Recognizing that the minimum wage is not sustainable, our organization set base pay much higher to provide a livable wage. We also follow the four-day work week model so that families can make doctor appointments, attend school functions and meet other obligations without always having to miss work.

Benefits are provided at little-to-no cost because we value the health and well-being of every person within our Foodbank family. So far, The Foodbank has contributed more than $2.7 million in payroll alone during the 2021 fiscal year. Additional perks such as a gym membership, weekly yoga classes, compost bucket program membership and Gem City Market membership are also given free of charge.

Our reentry program provides employment to individuals who have previously had interactions with the criminal justice system and who might otherwise face barriers to entering the workforce. Not only does this grant meaningful employment, but it also reduces recidivism rates, benefitting the community, the employee and subsequent generations connected to them.

We strive to maintain diversity among our team and welcome all voices to the table, regardless of race, age, religion, gender, sexual preference or political beliefs.  More than 690 hours were dedicated to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) training for our staff last fiscal year alone. We continue to focus on ways to incorporate this work in our operations.

Our community outreach might be the most recognizable work we do. Last fiscal year we distributed over 15 million pounds of food to more than 650,000 neighbors within our service area. We hold preference for locally sourced and nutritious foods, so 5.4 million pounds of our total was fresh produce harvested onsite or from local farms.

Some of our food sourcing is directly aimed at minimizing food loss. The “food rescue” program partners with retailers to acquire and distribute product that is nearing the end of its preferred shelf life. This prevents food from otherwise going to waste.

We have gone even further to reduce waste by incorporating our industrial composter. Food that spoils before distribution is turned into a rich compost to support plant growth in place of traditional fertilizers. We use this compost in our very own urban garden, which was created to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the people we serve.

Our Beverly K. Greenehouse was recently added to provide fresh greens year-round. This structure was designed to catch and utilize rainwater, effectively lowering the overall water footprint. Along with the urban garden, this was built on an old gravel lot. Their creation turned concrete into a productive green space.

Last, but not least, we work to educate and advocate. Using our urban garden and hydroponic greenhouse, we demonstrate ways to grow food right here in the community and even pass out plants to the people in our lines so they can do the same. Volunteers and interns are given hands-on experience during our operations that can potentially translate into personal efforts at home.

 

 

References

 

Affairs, Current. “Many Of The Arguments Against Wealth Taxes Are Pathetic ❧ Current Affairs”. Current Affairs, 2019, https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/11/bad-wealth-tax-arguments/.

“Antibiotics In Our Food System”. Foodprint, 2020, https://foodprint.org/issues/antibiotics-in-our-food-system/.

“Are Pesticides In Foods Harming Your Health?”. Healthline, 2021, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pesticides-and-health.

Bojorquez, Manuel. “Inflation Or “Corporate Greed”? Meat Prices Increased By Double Digits During Pandemic”. CBS News, 2022, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/meat-prices-pandemic-inflation-corporate-greed/. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Can We Feed The World And Ensure No One Goes Hungry?”. UN News, 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/10/1048452.

“CDC And Food Safety”. CDC, 2022, https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/cdc-and-food-safety.html.

“Chemical Cuisine Ratings”. Center For Science In The Public Interest, 2021, https://www.cspinet.org/page/chemical-cuisine-ratings.

Chinni, Dante, and Paul Freedman. “The Socio-Economic Significance Of Food Deserts”. PBS Newshour, 2022, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/arts/the-socio-economic-significance-of-food-deserts.

“Climate Change Data | Climate Watch”. Climatewatchdata.Org, 2022, https://www.climatewatchdata.org/sectors/agriculture#drivers-of-emissions.

Egan, Matt. “Russia-Ukraine Crisis Replaces Covid As Top Risk To Global Supply Chains, Moody’S Says”. CNN Business, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/04/business/russia-ukraine-supply-chain-oil/index.html. Accessed 22 July 2022.

“Fruits And Vegetables Are Less Nutritious Than They Used To Be.”. 2022, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/article/fruits-and-vegetables-are-less-nutritious-than-they-used-to-be#:~:text=Mounting%20evidence%20from%20multiple%20scientific%20studies%20shows%20that,C%20than%20those%20that%20were%20grown%20decades%20ago. Accessed 22 July 2022.

Gallion, Emily and Caitlyn McIntosh. “The Social Determinants Of Health: Connecting The Dots Between Race, Health Equity, And The Food Landscape”. The Foodbank, Inc. Blog, 2020, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/sdoh/. Accessed 1 Aug 2022.

“Industrial Agriculture Is Creating Serious Problems For Our Environment – Garden.Eco”. Garden.Eco, 2022, https://www.garden.eco/industrial-agriculture-creating-serious-problems#:~:text=While%20much%20of%20it%20is%20clean%20and%20pure%2C,mercury%2C%20lead%2C%20arsenic%2C%20and%20cadmium%20dissolved%20in%20it.

Livingston, Amy. “Living On The Minimum Wage – Is It Possible In 2022?”. Moneycrashers.Com, 2022, https://www.moneycrashers.com/living-on-minimum-wage-possible/.

Nations, United. “Food Loss And Waste Reduction | United Nations”. United Nations, 2022, https://www.un.org/en/observances/end-food-waste-day.

Nguyen, Hanh. “Sustainable Food Systems – Food and Agriculture Organization”. Food and Agriculture Organization , 10 Jan. 2018, https://www.fao.org/3/ca2079en/CA2079EN.pdf.

Project, The. “3 Ways Gainful Employment Reduces Recidivism – The Resource Project”. The Resource Project, 2021, https://theresourceproject.org/3-ways-gainful-employment-reduces-recidivism/.

ShelLin Erdman, CNN. “Global Food Waste Twice As High As Previously Estimated, Study Says”. CNN, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/20/health/global-food-waste-higher/index.html#:~:text=The%20UN%20estimates%20annual%20global%20food%20waste%20at,directly%20linked%20to%20%22poor%20transportation%20and%20harvesting%20practices.%22.

Smith, Kelly Anne. “What You Need To Know About The Minimum Wage Debate”. Forbes, 2021, https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/minimum-wage-debate/. Accessed 22 July 2022.

Smith, Michael D., and Birgit Meade. “Who Are The World’s Food Insecure? Identifying The Risk Factors Of Food Insecurity Around The World”. USDA, 2019, https://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2019/june/who-are-the-world-s-food-insecure-identifying-the-risk-factors-of-food-insecurity-around-the-world/.

“Sources Of Greenhouse Gas Emissions | US EPA”. US EPA, 2022, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

“Sustainable Food Systems”. CIAT, 2022, https://ciat.cgiar.org/about/strategy/sustainable-food-systems/.\

United States Department of Agriculture. Characteristics And Influential Factors Of Food Deserts. 2012

 


Emergency SNAP Allotments

Emergency SNAP Allotments

What They Are and What’s at Risk

By Mary Beringer, Grant Writer


INTRO

The pandemic has made countless changes to the way we live our lives, some permanent and some temporary. Since 2020, the world has had to alter the way we interact with each other and the way we interact with our resources.

Financial instability was exacerbated for families and businesses as a result of the Coronavirus. 334,000 more people were served by Ohio food pantries in March 2022 than in March of 2020. In some cases, federal and state support systems adapted to attempt to ease some of the burden. One such adaptation was emergency SNAP allotments, which helped hundreds of thousands of families keep food on the table and their heads above water. Unfortunately, this program will soon come to an end, unless action is taken.

WHAT IS SNAP & WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP and formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program which helps Americans with low incomes buy nutritious food for their families. There are specific eligibility requirements for who can receive SNAP benefits. An applicant’s household must fall at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Limit and cannot have more than $2,250 in resources (such as cash or money in a bank), or $3,500 if at least one person in the household disabled or older than 59. Most applicants who are physically able to work are required to do so, though the number of hours varies based on several factors. Beneficiaries receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which they can use to purchase groceries at approved retailers.

It has been discussed before on this blog how SNAP is critical to our hunger relief work here at The Foodbank. SNAP was built to be a pre-existing structure in times of economic crisis. Foodbanks are critical as well, but for every meal that Feeding America’s network provides, including those from The Foodbank, SNAP allotments provide nine meals. SNAP also stimulates the economy. Every dollar spent in SNAP benefits in Ohio generates between $1.50 and $1.80 in economic activity.

There has long been a pervasive public perception that people using SNAP are “lazy” or lying about their need. The truth of the matter is that food insecurity is pervasive, and only a fraction of people who could benefit from food assistance actually get it. At The Foodbank, Inc., we base our data on Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap studies. The post-pandemic data has not yet been released, but in 2019 we know that there were 35,207,000 people who self-reported food insecurity in the United States. 50% of those people were below the SNAP threshold of 130% poverty. Consistently, over the years, we can see that two thirds of people using SNAP are children, seniors, or people with disabilities. These are people who need help getting food on their tables, and while foodbanks help, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without SNAP.

HOW DID IT CHANGE WITH COVID-19?

In a normal year, there are a significant number of people who need food assistance in America. After the pandemic hit, that number jumped dramatically. In the midst of COVID-19, many people lost income, supply chains dried up, and already fraught financial situations became dire. In response, Congress issued SNAP emergency allotments as a part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. These are additional funds to supplement what SNAP already supplies.

The emergency allotments helped boost benefits for around 700,000 Ohioans. The specific increase in funds depended on family size and specific situations, but Congress increased monthly benefits for all families by at least $95, and some saw an increase of over $200. Another factor at play is whether or not a household’s state is still in a state of emergency due to the pandemic, which can grant additional benefits. While this is no longer the case for most states, some have chosen to keep the emergency allotments going regardless, as Ohio did.

USDA research has shown that expanded SNAP benefits, along with federal child nutrition programs, were crucial to mitigating the effects of the pandemic on hunger across the country. Some have long said that the standard SNAP benefits were not enough. The only problem is that these life-changing programs are about to end.

WHAT IS AT RISK OF CHANGING?

Some of the SNAP improvements over the last few years are permanent and will do lasting good for our communities. However, as pandemic emergencies end, a significant portion of many people’s SNAP benefits will disappear.

The federal public health emergency (PHE) declaration needs to be renewed every 90 days in order to continue and keep providing expanded benefits. The next 90 day window ends on July 15th, 2022. The Biden Administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has promised that it will notify states 60 days prior to the end of the PHE if they will not be renewing it. Because there was no announcement in mid-May, we can assume that the PHE will be extended until mid-October, though it is possible that the July extension could be shorter or longer.

Regardless, eventually the public health emergencies at the state and federal level will be lifted, and Ohioans who depend on the extra money from the emergency allotments will be left in the lurch. The graphic below from the USDA shows just one example of a family’s SNAP benefits at various points in time.

(Image Courtesy of the USDA)

It is true that, in this example, the Johnson family will be receiving more SNAP benefits when the pandemic emergency status ends than they did before the pandemic. However, while the state of emergency has technically ended, this does not mean that American families no longer feel the ramifications of COVID-19. As we have discussed, inflation is at record highs, putting pressure on many American families. Food and fuel costs are especially exorbitant, which makes it harder for people to get groceries, and for foodbanks to stock their shelves.

CONCLUSION

The argument can be made that SNAP benefits were too low for years before the pandemic. What is not debatable is that SNAP has helped hundreds of thousands of Ohioans get by in the past few years, and the ending of expanded benefits will have drastic consequences.

Some lawmakers have proposed legislation to permanently expand SNAP benefits even more, and The Ohio Association of Foodbanks, of which The Foodbank, Inc. is a member, is asking the state of Ohio for $183 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to help stock the shelves of foodbanks across Ohio in preparation for the end of the PHE, when foodbanks and food pantries are likely to see a sharp increase in neighbors visiting. You can sign a petition to support this campaign.

Action must be taken to help maintain the safety net built to protect the most vulnerable people in our society. When things are unstable, we have to lean on each other for support, and many Ohioans are still on shaky ground.

Thank you to Joree Novotny, from the Ohio Association of Foodbanks who helped clarify some of the points included in this blog post.

 

References

“Our Statewide Request For ARPA State Fiscal Recovery Funds – Ohio Association Of Foodbanks”. Ohio Association Of Foodbanks, 2022, https://ohiofoodbanks.org/arpa/.

“Sign-On To Urge Ohio Leaders To Mitigate The Impact Of The COVID Cliff”. Ohio Association Of Foodbanks, 2022, https://p2a.co/pkDpSbd.

“SNAP Benefits – COVID-19 Pandemic And Beyond”. Food And Nutrition Service- U.S. Department Of Agriculture, 2022, https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/benefit-changes-2021.

“State-By-State Resource: SNAP And COVID-19”. Feeding America Action, 2022, https://feedingamericaaction.org/resources/state-by-state-resource-snap-and-covid-19/.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Facts. 2022, https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10101.pdf.

Gallion, Emily. “The Long Shadow Of The “Welfare Queen” Narrative”. The Dayton Foodbank, 2022, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/welfare-queen/.

Guardia, Luis. “Latest USDA Data Reveal SNAP And Child Nutrition Programs Critical To Mitigating Spikes In Hunger Caused By COVID-19 Crisis”. Food Research & Action Center, 2022, https://frac.org/news/usdadatasnapcncritical01282021.

McIntosh, Caitlyn. “SNAP Is Critical To Our Hunger Relief Work – Here’s Why”. The Dayton Foodbank, 2020, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/snap/.

“Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”. Feeding America, https://www.feedingamerica.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/fact-sheets/snap-factsheet-final.pdf.

Ungar, Laura. “SNAP Benefits Helped Older Adults During Pandemic”. AARP, 2021, https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/government-elections/info-2021/snap-benefits-helped-during-pandemic.html.

Wright, Amber. “Inflation Escalates Hunger”. The Dayton Foodbank, 2022, https://thefoodbankdayton.org/inflationescalateshunger/.

Wu, Titus. “700,000 Low-Income Ohio Households Could See Big Cuts To Food Stamps Program In July”. The Columbus Dispatch, 2022, https://www.dispatch.com/story/news/politics/government/2022/05/11/ohio-low-income-families-see-big-cuts-snap-benefits-congress-legislature-food-banks-inflation-covid/9645897002/.

 


Food Insecurity and Mental Health

Food Insecurity and Mental Health

Hunger affects not just the body, but also the mind.

By Mary Beringer, Grant Writer

May is Mental Health Awareness Month It is a time to acknowledge and empathize with the millions of people who struggle with mental illness, and ultimately break the stigma associated with mental health issues. In America alone, one in five adults is living with a mental illness. While there can be a genetic component to mental health, some conditions are caused entirely by responses to personal trauma and lived experiences. One of the traumatic circumstances that can have a devastating effect on one’s mental health is food insecurity.

Research has shown again and again that food insecurity has an impact on the way the human brain operates. The constant stress and instability of not having enough of what you need to survive, and wondering where your next meal will come from, takes a significant toll on the brain and body. Additionally, there is evidence that a lack of certain nutrients plays a role in mental illnesses. No matter the cause, the results are clear: food insecurity can lead to anxiety, mood disorders, substance use, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, depression, and more. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, “mothers with school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56.5% more likely to have PTSD, and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression”. One study showed that the risk of depression due to food insecurity was higher in people over 65, as opposed to younger people. That being said,  food insecurity can have a significant impact on children, especially those in school.

Most people know how a lack of sufficient nutrients can impact a child’s growth. Unfortunately, hunger can affect young people’s mental development too. Kids need lots of energy, both to grow into healthy adults, and to participate in learning and play that will serve them well later in life. The very state of being hungry makes it hard for kids to focus on school, and can slow the development of language and motor skills. Children experiencing food insecurity also often have behavioral issues, which can sometimes result in aggression or hyperactivity. Behavioral issues mean a student will spend more time distracted from classwork, which can lead to declining school performance. According to Feeding America, “Fifty percent of children facing hunger will need to repeat a grade.” Childhood hunger can lead to depression and even suicidal ideation in later life. There is no good time to be hungry.

Mental health struggles are about more than just feeling moody or getting distracted easily. These are serious quality of life issues that can contribute to and exacerbate physical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, and even death. Too frequently, the most food insecure populations have the most difficulty accessing mental health services Less than 15% of children experiencing poverty who need mental health care are actually getting it, and the statistics for adults are comparable. Income, race, and geography can all be factors that play into whether or not a person who needs mental health help will be able to receive it. Many therapists and psychiatrists only offer their services during business hours on weekdays, when many people cannot afford to take time off for these services. Moreover, waiting lists for mental health clinics are long, and even once you get in, it often takes months of steady appointments before it feels like you’re making any progress.

Unfortunately, medication and therapy cannot cure systemic societal issues. While The Foodbank, Inc. is doing what it can to get at the root cause of the problem, addressing food insecurity in the Miami Valley, there are people already feeling the effects of hunger on their mental health. If you have Medicaid, you can call the member services number on the back of your card for more information about network providers. The government organization SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) can also provide assistance.

You are never alone, and if our communities can talk openly about mental health, we can all help reduce the stigma and make it easier for people to ask for help.


Inflation Escalates Hunger

Inflation escalates hunger

As the cost of groceries increases, so does food insecurity

By Amber Wright, Marketing

Most of us have already experienced the shock of inflation. Whether it was after ringing up the usual staples at the grocery store or at the gas pump, prices have increased all around.

Inflated prices means inflated need. Many Americans are finding their normal wages cannot stretch as far as they used to. To mitigate these financial challenges, many individuals and families turn to nonprofit organizations, like food banks, to provide the services needed to supplement their income. Yet the nonprofits comprising the social safety net are subject to the same economic circumstances as individuals. For this blog, we will look at the impacts of inflation and what it means for our organization.

Several causes have been credited as contributing factors to the current economic conditions. Much discussion has centered around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Russia and Ukraine, and even instances of corporate profiteering. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the most obvious factor. Global shutdowns and labor shortages disrupted supply chains across the world. The Federal Stimulus package, while crucial to economic survival, caused demand to remain high while production was down. When demand outweighs supply, prices go up.

22 million jobs were cut from the U.S. economy during the pandemic. While most of those numbers have since been restored, inflation had already taken hold. Online commerce data shows consumers spent roughly $32 billion more for the same goods over the past two years.

The war between Russia and Ukraine has made its own impact on the global market. The two countries are major contributors of goods such as oil, gasoline, metals, fertilizers, wheat, corn, and soy. This disrupts countless goods and services that require any of those items for production. In addition to problems fueled by conflict, sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and other countries have further complicated matters.

Some speculate corporate greed is also playing a role. Manuel Bojorquez, a writer for CBS News, exemplified this with data gathered from Tyson, one of the four “meat giants” controlling 85% of the market. He demonstrated how the company was able to increase profits by 48% since 2021. Even after compensating for rising costs and increased wages, they are still making more money while average families struggle with inflation. Other businesses in the industry show similar results.

It is worth noting that Tyson, like many other corporations, have raised pay for workers by 20%. This is a common trend culminating in the fastest average wage increase in 15 years. The problem is that inflation still overshadows these gains, resulting in paychecks being worth nearly 2% less in terms of purchasing power.

 The White House has expressed that inflation is typical following a pandemic and that this has been seen before in American history. The unfortunate timing of the Russia-Ukraine war has exacerbated issues, but measures are being taken to control the long-term outcome. The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates in order to quell economic growth, and therefore demand, until the supply is regulated. Unfortunately, it takes time for this to take effect. In the meantime, consumers can expect higher costs in the form of credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans, student loans and other forms of borrowing money.

 

Key Points of Inflation

The current Consumer Price Index shows that inflation has risen 8.5% over the last year, which is the fastest rate seen in more than four decades. In April, it was estimated to cost the average American household an extra $327 a month to maintain their standard of living. The main areas dramatically affected include necessities such as food, fuel, and materials like metal and plastic that are found in packaging of nearly all retail items.

Food costs have repeatedly risen since 2020 and it is anticipated that this trend will continue. CNBC compared the current price for household grocery staples to costs last year. These essential items have jumped in price at the following rates over the last year:

Flour and prepared flour mixes: 14.2%
Butter and margarine: 14%
Meat, poultry and fish: 13.8%
Milk: 13.3%
Eggs: 11.2%
Fresh fruits: 10.1%
Bread: 7.1%
Fresh vegetables: 5.9%

Similarly, fuel has seen an extreme increase with crude oil at a staggering 70.1% annual increase and gasoline seeing a 48% price hike. Similar trends can be found among other forms of energy with electricity costs spiking 11.1%. Raw materials are another area suffering steep upticks. While prices are continuing to fluctuate, steel has seen a 74.4% increase and lumber an increase of 79.5% in cost over the previous year.

 

What This Means for Us and the Neighbors We Serve

As we all adjust our spending to compensate for various spikes in prices, we know the people most greatly affected are those already walking a financial tightrope. Low wages, redlining, discrimination, and other root causes of poverty have prevented many individuals from surviving without some way to supplement their income, even prior to the pandemic. Inflation is intensifying the problem.

The cessation of pandemic-related assistance programs has further reduced support for many. It is reasonable to assume that inflation is knocking more families into a financial crisis without these supplemental benefits. Like most food banks, we are seeing an increase in families served at our distribution sites, and we anticipate numbers will grow when the Public Health Emergency SNAP allotments end in the months ahead.

Need for food assistance is on the rise, and so are purchasing costs.  About 65% of Feeding America food banks reported seeing a greater demand in March from the month before. While these organizations are buying the same amount of food this year compared to 2021, it is costing roughly 40% more.

Our non-profit is enduring similar trends. For example, an 8.45 oz. white milk used for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program cost us 50 cents apiece in September 2021. We were able to order 32,400 (totaling $16,200.) Just five months later in February 2022 the price increased to almost 63 cents apiece. At that price, securing the same amount increased more than $4,000.

Another example is the Honey Pepper Beef Sticks we also purchase for our Good-to-Go-Backpack program. This shelf stable, ready-to-eat source of protein is an important piece of our kid-friendly food packs. In August of 2021 we purchased 30,240 at 48 cents apiece (totaling about $14,515.) In February 2022 the price went up to 52 cents apiece, and so did our purchase for 68,544 (totaling about $35,643.) If the same amount had been purchased, it still would have cost over a thousand dollars more.

Another trend we are seeing among food banks is a decrease in donated product. Retailers are forced to tighten their spending as they are confronted with the same economic conditions. Labor shortages and supply chain issues disrupt their product flow as well. As a result, food donations are not as robust as they once were. Feeding America reported a 20% decrease in donations from food manufacturers and 45% less provision from the federal government for fiscal year 2022.

 Accommodating a greater need can require additional time and space. Anyone who has waited in our Drive Thru distribution already knows that the wait times are getting longer, but we have remained to serve every car in line. We will continue to do so, rain or shine, as long as the need exists. Supply chain issues may not afford us the ability to purchase the items we want, but we will always provide the best within our means to create a well-rounded offering of food to our partners and customers.

Our warehouse is currently in the process of expanding to store and distribute more food. The current building had already reached max capacity with a yearly distribution of nearly 18 million pounds of food each year. While this process was underway before inflation got out of hand, we will continue to invest the time and money it requires to address increased food insecurity. The more food we can store, the more we can distribute.

 We are committed to meeting the need in our community no matter what challenges we face. We have done so through a pandemic, tornados, and a county-wide water crisis, and we will do it again. We have honed the ability to pivot and adjust to the circumstances at hand. Our staff is rich with talent, compassion, and dedication, which will allow us to overcome obstacles in the path to fulfilling our mission. As we navigate the changing economic climate, we will remain firm in our efforts toward equity so that we can end hunger and its root causes. With the continued support of businesses and community members, we can weather whatever storm may lay ahead.


Incarceration and Food Insecurity

Incarceration and Food Insecurity

Ex-Offenders Face Systemic Barriers to Reentering Society, Most are Food Insecure

By Amber Wright, Marketing

The incarceration rate in the United States is at its lowest since 1995, yet nearly 7 million  US citizens are incarcerated or under community control at any given time.

Roughly 600,000 people are released from prison every year and these barriers and inequities carry over not only for them and their families, but also the communities to which they return.

For this blog, we will look at the nutritional well-being among formerly incarcerated individuals. 91% of people beginning their transition out of imprisonment report not having regular access to nutritious food. Long after release, they still remain twice as likely to be food insecure. Reentering society presents several barriers to gaining meaningful employment, leading to high rates of food insecurity and ultimately higher rates of recidivism and healthcare expenditures.


Importance of Proper Nutrition

Inadequate nutrition has been linked to several consequences such as:

  • Obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and deficits in brain function (CDC)
  • Worsening mood disorders like depression and anxiety (Harvard)
  • Hypertension and osteoporosis (USDA)
  • Hyperactivity, disciplinary problems, psychological problems, and criminal behavior (DOJ)
  • Increase of premature deaths

 

Stable access to healthy foods is crucial for both physical and mental well-being. Just as school children affected by hunger display poor performance and difficulty learning in school, adults suffer the same outcomes in the workplace.

If proper nutrition remains out of reach, it can be difficult to retain employability. Coupled with new or preexisting health conditions, this can generate avoidable healthcare expenses footed by the state.

Research reveals poor diets account for 20% of healthcare costs from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. That equates to about $50 billion that could have been avoided.

There are several factors unique to previously incarcerated individuals that hinder access to a sufficient diet.


Collateral Consequences

Sentences might end, but the consequences of incarceration do not. For those who are released each year, most find significant barriers to getting back on their feet. They struggle to find adequate housing, employment, and living wages. These necessities are crucial for individuals to successfully reenter society instead of returning to the system.

Legally sanctioned restrictions and disabilities resulting from a conviction are known as “collateral consequences.” More than 47,000 collateral consequences have been identified in state and federal law, barring formerly incarcerated people from rights normally granted to American citizens. These may negatively affect access to housing, employment, professional licensure, property rights, mobility and even access to public benefits.


Barriers to Housing

Federal law currently bars access to public housing for people with certain types of convictions and grants private landlords the ability to deny anyone with a criminal background. It is not surprising that a third of people released from prison wind up in homeless shelters. Even those who have been incarcerated only once are 7 times more likely to be homeless than the general populations. It is 13 times more likely for anyone incarcerated more than once, and even higher in both categories for people of color and women.

Legislation punishes homelessness even more by criminalizing things like sleeping in public spaces, panhandling and public urination, which entraps hordes of people in the cycle of poverty while increasing recidivism rates. Even if former inmates are lucky enough to secure housing, they often find themselves limited to low-income, redlined neighborhoods. This increases the likelihood of living in a food desert and raises the chance of food insecurity.


Barriers Employment

Several social and legal barriers make it just as difficult for returning citizens to find employment. The first time data was released on the subject in 2018 by the Prison Policy Initiative, it revealed that unemployment for those leaving incarceration was an astounding 27%. Not only is that 5 times higher than the general population, but it exceeds the rate of any economic crisis, including the Great Depression. More than half of people released from prison remain out of work for at least a year.

One study found that state and federal law restricted ex-offenders from obtaining licensing required for various forms of employment. It discovered more than 12,000 restrictions for individuals with any type of felony and more than 6,000 restrictions based on misdemeanors. Surveys suggest most private employers are unwilling to hire someone who has served a prison sentence and 87% of employers conduct background checks.

Social stigma may suggest that people reentering society are not looking for work, but recent analysis indicates otherwise. For people between the ages of 25-44, data listed 93.3% of ex-offenders were either employed or actively looking for work, while only 83.8% of the general population fell into the same category. Low employment rates are more related to the systemic barriers they face rather than a lack of desire to work. Like housing barriers, people of color and women are affected the most.


Barriers to Benefits

Barriers have also been put in place hindering access to public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

In 1996 federal law banned anyone with a felony drug conviction from receiving SNAP benefits. Since then, most states have either dropped the ban entirely or allowed assistance on the condition of regular drug testing and treatment. However, South Carolina still has the full ban in place.

The additional requirements put in place by states who have modified the ban not only accrue additional costs for the state, but they add strain to the individuals in fulfilling them. Already having a harder time finding employment, they must now limit their availability to make regular appointments.

When accessible, public benefits improve the health of recipients as well as cut costs in other areas. For example, SNAP has shown to reduce healthcare costs while improving the overall health of recipients and reducing food insecurity by 30%. At the same time, studies for even the modified ban on access to these benefits proved to increase recidivism instead.


Why This Matters

It’s not difficult to see how all these factors lead to food insecurity. If someone is unable to find housing or employment, it’s unlikely they will have regular access to healthy foods. Poor nutrition escalates physical and mental health conditions, decreasing employability and overall quality of life. Under these conditions, it is no surprise that both recidivism and poverty rates remain high.

It has been estimated that between 1980 and 2004 overall poverty in America would have dropped 20% if not for mass incarceration.

Poor nutrition exacerbates behavioral issues and aggression. When people have served their sentence, they continue to be punished with collateral consequences and social stigma, resulting in barriers to housing and employment. This increases recidivism and decreases social productivity for everyone.

Instead of funding being spent on public assistance and programs to help people reenter society (or avoid arrest completely,) it is often used to house those who are unable to overcome these challenges.

Reducing recidivism helps everyone. It is essential that ex-offenders be granted the same accessibility to these basic needs to make it happen. More programs should be put in place not only for their benefit, but for that of their families and the overall well-being of society.

 


Food Insecurity in Women-Led Households

Food Insecurity in Women-Led Households

Female headed households were already more vulnerable to food insecurity, but Covid made it worse

By Amber Wright, Development and Marketing

Women have been fighting for equality since before Susan B. Anthony advocated for women’s rights. Our nation has made great strides with females winning the right to vote, gaining employment in greater numbers and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974, which allowed women to legally own credit cards separate from their husband. However, lasting effects of gender inequality has left many women still experiencing disparities in areas such as poverty and food security.

National food insecurity rates were dropping during the years leading up to Covid, but that trend excluded certain groups such as woman-led families. After the pandemic made its devastating economic impact, they continue to experience higher rates of food insecurity than their peers. More than a quarter of women-led families currently struggle with hunger.

Women are more vulnerable to food insecurity if they have children, although women are more likely to live in poverty even without them. They suffer from greater unemployment during Covid, lower wages, extra childcare responsibilities, and disproportionate health consequences. While this holds true globally, for this blog we will focus on data from the United States.

A great deal of stigma has often plagued single mothers throughout history. Racially charged depictions of the “welfare queen,” along with pervading religious dogma, have contributed to this stigma. Ohio and several other states even considered forced sterilization of single women who had another child while on public assistance. Besides being archaic, this stereotype completely ignores half of single mothers who are divorced, separated, or widowed. It also fails to consider the number of women who are victims of trauma, fleeing physical abuse, or became pregnant because of sexual assault.

Households run by single mothers are the second most common family type in the U.S., accounting for 80.5% of all single-parent families and almost half of all low-income families. This group experiences poverty at more than double the rate of their male counterparts, with 23.4% of single mothers living in poverty compared to 11.4% of single fathers. The numbers are far worse compared to married couples with children, who sit around 5%.

Since food insecurity is driven by lack of income and other critical resources, it is important to look at the inequities regarding employment. In general, women now make 98 cents for every dollar a man makes working the same job. However, the average for single mothers is lower at 82 cents. Average pay is even less for single mothers that are Black (64 cents) or Latina/Hispanic (56 cents).

Our country’s recent recession is the first time unemployment has risen into the double digits for women since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began reporting data by gender in 1948. Since the onset of the Covid economic crisis, women in general have suffered job loss at a higher rate (15.7% for women compared to 13.3% for men.) Once again, rates are higher for Black women (15.8%) and Latina/Hispanic women (19.8%).

This latest economic downturn more adversely effected the service industry, which is disproportionately staffed by women. Data shows women are twice as likely to work in low-wage, part-time jobs with few to no benefits. This leaves many of them lacking adequate health insurance and medical care. Of all groups, single mothers are most likely to lack coverage. It further jeopardizes their basic income if sick leave is not provided. It is also worth noting that unlike most of our peer countries, the U.S. does not grant new mothers paid leave.

Another contributing factor is closures of schools and child-care facilities. Women carry a higher burden of childcare responsibilities: 80.5% of all single-parent households are run by a mother alone. Of these households, only a third received any child support payments, which averaged only $286 a month. The average cost of childcare alone is $808/month in Ohio and a little more than $750/month nationally. However, many facilities shut down entirely during Covid, leaving many women out of options regardless of income or support. This forced a large number of women, especially single mothers, out of the workforce. While households with children who miss school due to Covid-19 receive P-EBT benefits, the parent is still responsible for grocery shopping and food preparation.

Children suffered higher rates of food insecurity after school closures. Not only can the family’s primary source of income be effected, but schools are no longer providing regular meals. The mother is now faced with lack of childcare and the burden of providing and preparing extra meals during the day.

Both mothers and children experience disparities in health conditions tied to food insecurity. Proper nutritional intake not only effects a child’s current health, but also their mental, physical, and social development. The USDA has stated children from food insecure homes are more likely to suffer adverse outcomes, such as chronic health conditions, slower progress while learning in school, and more difficulties with social development.

Women are more likely than men to experience weight gain or obesity while food insecure, but at the same time are less likely to consume more than 50% of the recommended energy intake compared to food-secure women. This is often linked to the consumption of cheap, calorie-rich food.

The mental health of women also declines as food insecurity increases. It is not surprising that people lacking regular access to nutritious food show higher rates of depression and other mental health disorders. In turn, this can further reduce the stability of regular employment.

Social Programs, like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), are proven to reduce food insecurity. Research has shown that food insecure mothers who receive the benefits display improvements in both mental and physical health. Women, Infants and Children (WIC) further helps mothers with young children access proper nutrition and overall better health, but the dollars do not stretch far. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the estimated national average of SNAP benefits only amounts to roughly $5.78 per day ($1.93 per meal.)

We have recognized several levels of disparities regarding food insecurity in women, particularly women of color. Continuing research has shown positive improvements in health and livelihood for food insecure women with help from various public benefit programs, but the support is not enough to close the gap. In the spirit of equity and advocacy, we suggest a call to action for legislatures to increase funding for these initiatives.