Pride Month: Highlighting hunger in LGBT households

 Pride Month: Highlighting hunger in LGBT households

LGBT individuals face elevated rates of food insecurity compared to their straight and cisgender peers.

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, Volunteer Support and Intake

June is Pride month, where we celebrate the LGBT community and the freedom to live life unapologetically yourself. The Foodbank values all people without judgement, and we are committed to advocacy work that strives to provide everyone with a healthy, happy, just, and safe life. 

Many efforts have been made towards equality for the LGBT community, but there is still a long way to go. Like most marginalized communities, LGBT individuals are disproportionately affected by food insecurity. 

One study by the Williams Institute found that 27% of LGBT individuals experienced food insecurity the previous year, compared to 17% of their straight and cisgender (the term used to describe people who are not trans) peers. Strikingly, 18% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual  individuals surveyed reported that they or someone in their family went without food for an entire day in the prior month.

LGBT adults are 1.62 times more likely than non-LGBT adults, on average, to report not having enough money for the food that they or their families needed at some point in the last year. 

There are disparities present within the LGBTQ community as well: a 2019 study, also by the Williams Institute, found that rates of food insecurity were highest among transgender individuals and cisgender bisexual women.

There are racial disparities present within the LGBT community as well: The 2016 study found that among LGBT individuals, 42% of African American people, 33% of Hispanic people, 32% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives, and 21% of Whites reported not having enough money for food in the past year.

Food insecurity rates were also higher among disabled people and younger LGBTQ individuals.

Cultural factors also play a large role in the food insecurity rates of LGBT individuals. A study published by Transgender Health found that the sociopolitical climate of the Southeast United States made it difficult for transgender and noncomforming individuals to find and maintain employment, which is a primary driving factor of food insecurity. 

Food insecurity has many other detrimental impacts on one’s well being. Stress from unemployment and underemployment, inadequate food supplies, and discrimination was reported as a contributor to poor physical and mental health, and weakened support systems. 

To offset the public health impacts of discrimination against LGBT individuals, Transgender Health recommended implementing employment nondiscrimination policies to protect trans and gender nonconforming people in the workplace. The organization also saw a need for building relationships between local food pantries and LGBT organizations to create safer environments for all persons in need of food assistance.

De’Ja Durham, MSW, is the Southern Region Program Manager for Equitas Health, an organization that offers health and other services for the LGBT community. She manages housing advocacy in Newark, Dayton, Portsmith, and Athens Ohio. Ms. Durham said she has seen clients who experience food insecurity amidst unexpected financial hardship.

“Unexpected costs not only affect mortgage, rent, but also affect affording food, toiletries, personal items, and other expenses,” Ms. Durham said. “We have a lot of clients who are homeless and are using food pantries to be able to put just a simple meal on the table.”

Among these clients, discrimination related to their LGBT identity can contribute to challenges around housing, substance abuse, and food insecurity.

“I know at least a handful of clients who are homeless due to family putting them out due to being LGBT or transgender. I know clients who have turned to substance abuse as a result of not being accepted,” Ms. Durham said. “If people don’t understand them due to the community they are a part of, or if they don’t feel comfortable attending work, they don’t have means to have income to afford food. We have a handful of clients who have told their significant other (about their LGBT identity) in the midst of their transition and may lose housing that way. They can go from being able to afford the food they need to having nothing.”

To better serve individuals in the LGBT community, Ms. Durham said that organizations should participate in bias training and training on the use of gender-affirming pronouns. Equitas Health Institute offers a variety of trainings on their website, https://equitashealthinstitute.com/.

“A lot of people have issues with saying, ‘I don’t see color,’ or ‘I don’t see gender,” Ms. Durham said. “But you should see me for who I am and accept me for who I am.”

We know that true progress towards equality cannot be done without policy and legislation change.

A study done by the Center for American Progress found that LGBT Americans receive SNAP benefits at over twice the rate of their non-LGBT counterparts. A SNAP household includes anyone living together that purchases and prepares their food together. This allows the many LGBT individuals who have a “chosen family” of loved ones that may not be related by blood to receive benefits.

Health disparities are a large concern for members of the LGBT community who are more likely to be uninsured than their counterparts. Transgender women and gay or bisexual men face higher rates of HIV than any other demographic. Medicaid expansion and access to affordable healthcare of all kinds is a life-saving measure for many LGBT Americans. 

As Ms. Durham mentioned, many LGBT individuals face homelessness because of stigma and discrimination in their personal lives. Unfortunately, these individuals are widely discriminated against in some homeless shelters and rental/housing markets. Access to affordable, but most importantly safe, housing is crucial to the wellbeing of these individuals facing personal trauma. 

This Pride month, and every month, we encourage you to bring those extra seats to the table for those who need it most. 


The American Rescue Plan and new USDA policies support increased food security

The American Rescue Plan and new USDA policies support increased food security

How a recent flurry of policies at the federal level help us do our work

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

In the past month, we have received a lot of encouraging news from Washington about positive changes that have the potential to impact food insecurity rates in the United States. These policies cover a wide variety of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, debt relief for farmers, and more.

Here is our rundown on some of the latest policies coming out Washington:

The American Rescue Plan includes critical support for nutrition assistance programs.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), signed into law March 3, 2021, includes sweeping measures to strengthen nutrition assistance programs. These are programs anti-hunger advocates have focused on for years to reduce food insecurity in the United States.

Here some of the measures included in this legislation:

  • The extension of the 15% boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) through September 2021
  • The extension of Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits through the summer to support families with children who typically rely on school meals
  • $500 million in funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • $37 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, commonly known as Senior Food Boxes) to support the nutrition of low-income seniors

Researchers at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University have projected that these policies, combined with others within the scope of the act (including unemployment insurance expansions and the Child Tax Credit) will cut child poverty in half.

The Foodbank, Inc. applauds the passage of these measures. While we are glad to see fewer people seeking food assistance than this time last year, many families in our area are still struggling with lost income, exhausted savings accounts, and increased debt.

In addition to lifting families out of poverty, benefits that are spent directly at grocery stores — which includes SNAP, P-EBT, and WIC programming — have a demonstrated stimulus effect on the economy. According to research from the USDA, every $1 spent on SNAP increases GDP between $.80 and $1.50.

USDA takes a closer look at equity for farmers of color.

The American Rescue Plan also includes $4 billion for debt relief for historically disadvantaged farmers and an additional $1 billion for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a racial equity commission.

While some conservative lawmakers have taken aim at this portion of the ARP, this funding is intended to offset the USDA’s history of racial discrimination against farmers of color.

There is extensive evidence that the department has discriminated against Black, Indgenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers. A 1994 review of USDA loans and payments found that loans to Black males averaged $4,000 (25%) less than those to white males. Additionally, less than 1% of disaster payments went to Black farmers. The situation came to a head in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, which culminated in one of the largest ever class action settlements in US history.

Advocates have pointed out that discrimination by the USDA has likely contributed to a decline in Black farmers over time. At peak in 1910, 14.6% of all farmers were Black. By 2012, the percent of Black farmers had declined 98% to only 1.6% of the total population. This racial discrimination did not start in the 1990s, either: It has roots in the Reconstruction era, when Black families were promised “40 acres and a mule” and instead were forced into sharecropping.

We are acutely aware that racial inequity is one of the driving factors of food insecurity. As participants in the larger food system, and recipients of USDA-funded product, we are glad to see Congress and the USDA working to provide reparations for past misdeeds and ensure greater inclusion in agriculture.

USDA increases SNAP benefits to lowest-income households.

The USDA announced April 1 that the department would increase SNAP benefits to households already receiving the maximum SNAP benefit, providing $1 billion per month in assistance to an estimated 25 million people.

This decision is a reversal of the Trump-era policy in which all SNAP households were issued the maximum monthly benefit. While this policy provided important support to many SNAP households, the lowest-income households who already received the maximum benefit received no increase.

Beginning in April, households that had not received at least $95/month in increased benefits will be awarded additional benefits.

According to the USDA, “Among households that [previously] received little to no benefit increase, about 40% have children, 20% include someone who is elderly and 15% include someone who is disabled.”

Research has demonstrated that SNAP households in the lowest income brackets are most likely to spend all their benefits, maximizing the stimulus effect of the program.

We are glad to see these changes applied to the SNAP emergency allotment system to ensure that very low-income households are not excluded from receiving additional benefits.

The Foodbank works with a variety of allied organizations, including Feeding America and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, to provide education about the impact of public policies on our programming. To stay up to date on our advocacy efforts, follow us on Twitter at @thefoodbankinc.

 


How the pandemic has worsened existing inequalities

How the pandemic has worsened existing inequalities

It is more important now than ever before for food banks to address systemic inequality

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

There are many positive signs that the hardships of the pandemic are easing. More and more people have been vaccinated. Many businesses have reopened. We are relieved that our lines are much shorter than they were one year ago.

While we are hopeful for the future, we also know that for many households in our line, it will take much longer to rebuild.

At its core, food insecurity is an money issue. Food insecurity is, in many ways, a symptom of other evils, including poverty and generational inequality. While providing a box of food may help a household stretch their income and afford other expenses, such as utility bills and medication, it will not push them into the next income bracket.

The United States is widely considered a wealthy nation. However, that wealth is not shared by all who live within its borders. At the height of the pandemic, Feeding America estimated that over 50 million people were food insecure. At the same time, the top five billionaires saw a 59% increase in their wealth.

In many ways, the pandemic has reinforced existing inequalities. In figures recently released by the federal reserve, Black households had a median net worth of less than 15 percent that of white households.

Historically, families of color have been subjected to a wide variety of racist policies and practices, such as redlining, discriminatory lending, and mass incarceration, which have made it more difficult to accumulate wealth. Contrary to the “bootstraps” mentality, our nation’s past transgressions continue to have an impact on current generations: Researchers have estimated at least half of all wealth in the United States is transferred via bequests and other gifts.

The economic impacts of the pandemic have been disproportionately borne by low-income households and people of color. On average, households in the United States have actually increased their savings amidst the pandemic.

According to a Harvard-based research study, households with higher incomes reduced their spending by 17%, while low income households only reduced their spending by 4% in the same time period. Additionally, almost 70% of low-wage workers in zipcodes with the highest rent lost their jobs during the additional shutdown.

Given this data, it comes as no surprise that nearly 14% of Americans exhausted their emergency savings during the pandemic. This trend will make households impacted less resilient in future crises.

The disparate impact of the pandemic on US families is reflected in lines at The Foodbank and other food assistance programs. According to the Urban Institute, Black and Hispanic/Latino households were more than three times as likely to access charitable food assistance during the year 2020. The author of the brief wrote that this is “likely reflecting both higher rates of need before the pandemic and the recession’s significant impact on households of color.”

As we have mentioned before, food insecurity can also lead to poor health outcomes and perpetuate the poverty cycle. The high-carb, low-nutrient diet and other dangerous “coping mechanisms,” such as medication underutilization, that are associated with food insecurity can lead to preventable health problems down the road.

Unfortunately, this cycle begins at childhood at no fault of the children. A study by the Alliance to End Hunger found that schools with 90% white children spend $733 more per child than schools with 90% children of color. These dollars affect critical programs like school lunches, where schools that have a high percentage of students of color are half as likely to adopt healthy lunch options as the schools with majority white students.

All of these inequalities are a direct result of the laws, policies, and procedures that have been implemented for decades. There is no shortage of food in the United States, which regularly wastes 30-40% of the food it produces. Because food insecurity is not caused by a lack of food, it cannot be solved long-term by providing food alone.

Policy interventions have had a demonstrated effect on the severity of food insecurity amidst the pandemic. According to The Urban Institute, food insecurity dipped in May after the first stimulus checks were released, dropping from 22 percent to 17.9 percent. Then, rates rebounded to 19.6 percent from May to September. This relationship demonstrates that while relief packages have been effective, the “start and stop” pattern they are released in contributes to related fluctuations in food insecurity.

Given the severity of the inequalities present in the economic crisis, it is important now more than ever that food banks and other anti-hunger or anti-poverty organizations advocate for systemic change, partner to address the social determinants of health, and continue to disprove harmful myths about poverty in the United States. We should also be careful to set our expectations for recovery: Many lessons can be taken from the recovery curve of the Great Recession, which lasted about 10 years.

While early signs of economic recovery are positive, we must pay close attention to the data we use to ensure that no group is left out of recovery. We are hopeful that this recovery will be faster than the most recent recession.

The Foodbank takes part in a variety of activities to address the root causes of hunger. While food assistance plays an invaluable role in ensuring that “no one should go hungry,” the long-term issue of food insecurity cannot be solved with food alone. For more information about our work, we invite you to read the following previous blog posts:

●     SNAP is critical to our hunger relief work – here’s why

●     Shortening the line: why we hire re-entry

●     The Social Determinants of Health: Connecting the dots between race, health equity, and the food landscape

 


Evaluating our reach with data

Evaluating our reach with data

The Foodbank recently underwent a Service Gap Map in partnership with the University of Dayton

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

There is a question we hear a lot: “With three counties, how do you make sure you are serving everyone who needs help?”

It’s a valid question — while our headquarters in the city of Dayton is our highest-need and most-populated area, our three-county service area spans a diverse territory with varying needs. We serve communities that are urban and rural, high-poverty and seemingly affluent, and communities of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. So how do we make sure we are investing where we need to?

The answer: the only way we can make sure we are equitably allocating our resources is to do it with data.

The Foodbank recently underwent a Service Gap Map in partnership with The University of Dayton. We periodically take this measure to evaluate the changing landscape of food insecurity in our community. It is also an important tool to assess how effective our own distribution of services is.

“We want to make a difference in the world, and there’s no better place to start than in our hometown of Dayton,” said Dr. Cori Mowrey, Department of Engineering Management, Systems, and Technology from the University of Dayton.

Dr. Mowrey went on to say, “Our team is very excited to partner with The Foodbank to develop data-driven, evidence based solutions to serve the needs of our Miami Valley community. We are committed to continuing this work to ensure equitable access to The Foodbank and their partner agencies’ resources.”

As a result of this analysis, we obtained the following map of Montgomery County, created using GPSVisualizer.com, OpenStreetMap.org, and US Census data:

Across all three counties, the University of Dayton team found that we have a 97%* coverage rate by headcount of food insecure individuals. This is good news: We were concerned that recent events, such as the 2019 Memorial Day Tornado Outbreak, would have a significant impact on the landscape of need in our area.

We have made the above map available to the public via press release. We believe this information is valuable to many stakeholders in the community, and we embrace the transparency that this data provides from an evaluation standpoint.

However, we are concerned for the locations that were identified as underserved. In Montgomery County, these areas were Vandalia, Englewood, and Phillipsburg. In response, The Foodbank has added two new monthly Mobile Farmer’s Market sites this week to ensure that the food needs of these communities are being met.

These new mobiles will take place at Living Word Church (Vandalia) and Englewood Christian Assembly (Englewood). Due to the close proximity of Philipsburg to Englewood as well as its relatively low population, we anticipate that clients in that area will be able to access the Englewood mobile.

To view the dates and times of these and other mobiles, visit https://thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood/.

We have made the choice to release this map in stages while we evaluate how to serve communities identified as needing additional food resources. While our Mobile Farmers Markets are an excellent way to distribute food in high-need areas, the heart of our operation is the acquisition and distribution of food to our partner agencies.

As a more permanent solution, we prefer to work with organizations that are already active in those communities to stand up brick-and-mortar pantries. Our agency relations team works closely with a variety of community organizations to help them to provide services in these areas.

For a list of these partner agencies, visit https://thefoodbankdayton.org/agencies/. If you are interested in becoming a member of The Foodbank, please contact Jamie Robinson at jrobinson@thefoodbankdayton.org or by calling (937) 461-0265 x 14

 

*Preliminary results showed an expected coverage rate of 95%. The actual rate given by the University of Dayton team showed 97.3% coverage by headcount.

 


The “Heat or Eat” Dilemma

The “Heat or Eat” Dilemma

How heating and cooling costs contribute to seasonal increases in food insecurity

By: Emily Gallion, Grants & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager and Caitlyn McIntosh, Outreach/SNAP Lead

For the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, any variability in cost of living expenses can bring hardship. In Northern states like Ohio, increases in utility costs during cooler months can lead to a dilemma: pay your utility bill or purchase food?

According to a 2018 US Energy Information Administration report, nearly one in three American households struggle to pay utility bills. About one in five households also reported forgoing basic necessities, such as food or medication, to pay energy bills.

The challenges low income households face to pay their utility bills highlights a grim paradox: It’s expensive to live in poverty. While a wealthier household can afford to make necessary efficiency improvements, such as installing insulation, that will reduce their heating and cooling costs in the long term, many lower income households do whatever they can to make ends meet.

This may help explain the relationship between a family’s “energy burden” and their ability to move out of poverty. A November 2019 study of households living below the poverty line found that families that were “energy burdened” — or spending 10% or more of their income on energy costs — had more difficulty escaping and staying out of poverty.

In fact, the households that were energy burdened were both twice as unlikely to see their income rise above the federal poverty limit and twice as likely to fall into poverty.

This issue is particularly striking in rural communities. According to a study from US News & World Report, rural low-income families spend three times more of their income on energy bills than any other part of the country. Many families are then forced to restrict their food budget in order to pay their bills.

Yvonne, a Foodbank client who visits our mobile food pantry in Xenia, says “food is the only budget you can adjust,” she added in. “You can’t change the water bill.”

While many low-income households do try to adjust their energy bills by rationing natural gas and electricity, during Ohio winters, families reach the point where they’re forced to turn up the heat to avoid pipes bursting.

Although energy costs in Ohio are below the national average, families at the lowest income levels still face a high energy burden. Similar to other areas, Ohio counties that are rural face higher energy burdens than urban areas.

An interactive study from The Atlantic shows that Preble County residents living below 50% of the federal poverty limit (FPL) spend a staggering 36.7% of their income on energy bills. Greene County residents living at the same income levels spend about 30.9% and 29.3% for Montgomery County.

There are many factors that contribute to higher energy burdens on rural households, including higher rates of poverty. Rural areas are also more likely to have homes that are older and less energy efficient. They are also more likely to use more expensive fuel sources, such as propane, to heat their homes. This may explain why poor residents of Preble County have higher energy burdens than those of the same income levels in Montgomery County.

There is a racial justice component to energy costs as well. According to the Community Action Partnership, the utility disconnection rate among white households is 5.5%, but 11.3% among Black households.

These added pressures can be particularly worrisome for families trying to make it through the winter holidays. The Foodbank tends to see an increase in client visits during this time as families are preparing to make sure there is enough food on their tables. In 2019, our drive thru saw one of its largest service dates on the Friday before Thanksgiving, serving 425 households.

Fortunately, programs exist for people struggling to make their utility payments. The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) is available to Ohioans living at or below 175% of the federal poverty limit. This program will pay one home energy bill for qualifying applicants each year.

In addition to HEAP, the Ohio Development Services Agency operates two programs for households that have been disconnected, are at risk of disconnection, or have less than a 25 percent supply of bulk fuel in their tank. The Winter and Summer Crisis Programs provide assistance to qualifying residents living at or below 175% the federal poverty limit (see above). To qualify for emergency assistance, households must sign up for a payment plan such as the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP), which caps energy expenditures at 6% (natural gas users) or 10% (electricity users).

Community Action Agencies exist to provide financial support to low-income families working towards becoming self-sufficient. Assistance is available for utility bills, rental assistance, and more. To find a local agency near you, visit the Community Action Partnership’s website.

While The Foodbank’s vision is that no one should go hungry, we also know that hunger does not operate in silos. Part of our work also includes finding additional resources to stabilize the lives of families in our line.

For more information on programs and resources in the Dayton area, visit United Way’s website at https://dayton-unitedway.org/ or by calling 2-1-1.