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/.


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.


The Benefits Cliff: Why some people can’t afford to get a raise

The Benefits Cliff:
Why some people can’t
afford to get a raise

Minimum wage hikes may not benefit families

if they lose more in public benefits

By Amber Wright, Development and Marketing

 

At the Foodbank, we often see people come through our Drive Thru for food while still dressed in work attire. They are employed, but still struggling to put food on the table after paying the bills. For many, paychecks just aren’t stretching far enough.

One solution that could alleviate this problem is to raise the federal minimum wage, which does provide a boost in income for workers earning the minimum wage. However, the issue is more complicated than it may first appear due to the way many public benefit programs are structured.

One issue, known as the “benefit cliff,” hurts most the workers making the least. This is where a person gains a small increase in income, which then causes them to lose some benefits from programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Section 8 housing vouchers, or other programs.  Employees can feel trapped by the system because wage increases do not actually improve their financial situation.

While there isn’t significant growth in their paycheck, they can suddenly find themselves with substantial bills for things such as housing, childcare, medical bills, grocery bills and more. They may now bring home less money overall because their paycheck is taxed, whereas their benefits were not. This financial predicament can be triggered by a pay increase as small as 25 cents an hour.

For example, imagine a working family is receiving SNAP benefits as well as Section 8 housing assistance. The head of household barely qualifies for SNAP assistance, and their employer offers them a $1.50 hourly raise, which would make them ineligible for SNAP and Section 8. If this household loses their Section 8 status, they will have to reapply to the program — which has average wait times up to 8 years depending on the city, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities – if their wages or hours are cut in the future.

At 40 hours a week, a $1.50 raise would only add $240 to the total monthly income before taxes. The Dayton Housing Authority last reported an average pay out for section 8 housing assistance in the area at $588 per month. That is $348 more than the increase in wages, even without factoring in taxes or the dollar amount lost with SNAP benefits.

Single parent families can be hit the hardest. Not only do they struggle with rent and basic utilities, but they are also confronted with rising childcare costs, school fees and extra mouths to feed – all on a single income. In cases like this, they often rely on public assistance to survive.

It’s not surprising that many people will turn down a raise, promotion, or extra hours/overtime to avoid this financial nightmare. It may seem like a paradox, but many people find that they can’t afford to get a raise.

Legislators and advocates are discussing solutions to this cliff effect. One idea that is already practiced in a few sectors is to taper benefits gradually instead of cutting off all assistance at once. Benefits would decrease at the same rate as wages increase, or even a little less as an added incentive to excel at work. This would provide a smoother transition to self-sufficiency in smaller, more manageable steps.

Another idea is combining the various benefit programs into a combined filing process, which would not only make applying quicker and easier for applicants, but also allow better insight into how these benefits work together in relation to recipient’s wage and other circumstances.

Currently, most public assistance programs are granted with their own separate requirements, such as documents proving eligibility, employment, or ongoing employment applications. Some programs may also require regular appointments with a case manager, attending job training or other classes. For someone needing or receiving multiple benefits, this can be difficult to juggle along with work, children, and household responsibilities.

The benefit cliff is already a problem many people face without changes to minimum wage, but we must consider how raising it might further exacerbate the issue. Each state implementing its own standard complicates things further.

The federal minimum wage is set at $7.25/hour, but on January 1st Ohio’s jumped 50 cents to $9.30/hour, which is higher than all but one adjacent state. Michigan also raised theirs with the New Year to $9.87/hour, while Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania remain at the federal minimum $7.25/hour. West Virginia kept theirs the same at $8.75/hour.

Some funding programs have already gone several years without considering factors such as these into the equation. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a basic block grant providing public assistance that has not been adjusted for changes such as population increase, inflation, or minimum wage hikes since it began 25 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, in fiscal year 2021, the TANF basic block grant was worth 40% less than its value in fiscal year 1997.

However, there are existing practices that do provide earning incentives. SNAP is one of the programs structured to ease the transition off public assistance. A “benefits phase-out” slowly decreases benefits as income grows so that the financial support doesn’t disappear all at once. The current rate allows recipients to bring home a higher total income even as their benefits decrease.

The SNAP program also shows preferential treatment to earned income over unearned income, such as social security or cash assistance. A family whose net income from employment matches that of a family only on assistance will be granted greater funds as an incentive to work.

Raising the federal minimum wage has the potential to aid many families in the United States, but it is not a simple fix. We also must ensure our public benefits programs are structured to support growth, incentivize work, and help families meet their basic needs as incomes increase.

2022 Minimum Wage by State

Alabama $7.25 / hour
Alaska $10.34 / hour
Arizona $12.80 / hour
Arkansas $11.00 / hour
California $14.00 / hour
Colorado $12.56 / hour
Connecticut $13.00 / hour
Delaware $10.50 / hour
Florida $10.00 / hour
Georgia $7.25 / hour
Hawaii $10.10 / hour
Idaho $7.25 / hour
Illinois $12.00 / hour
Indiana $7.25 / hour
Iowa $7.25 / hour
Kansas $7.25 / hour
Kentucky $7.25 / hour
Louisiana $7.25 / hour
Maine $12.75 / hour
Maryland $12.50 / hour
Massachusetts $14.25 / hour
Michigan $9.87 / hour
Minnesota $10.33 / hour
Mississippi $7.25 / hour
Missouri $11.15 / hour
Montana $9.20 / hour
Nebraska $9.00 / hour
Nevada $9.75 / hour
New Hampshire $7.25 / hour
New Jersey $13.00 / hour
New Mexico $11.50 / hour
New York $13.20 / hour
North Carolina $7.25 / hour
North Dakota $7.25 / hour
Ohio $9.30 / hour
Oklahoma $7.25 / hour
Oregon $12.75 / hour
Pennsylvania $7.25 / hour
Rhode Island $12.25 / hour
South Carolina $7.25 / hour
South Dakota $9.95 / hour
Tennessee $7.25 / hour
Texas $7.25 / hour
Utah $7.25 / hour
Vermont $12.55 / hour
Virginia $11.00 / hour
Washington $14.49 / hour
West Virginia $8.75 / hour
Wisconsin $7.25 / hour
Wyoming $7.25 / hour
Puerto Rico $8.50 / hour
District of Columbia $15.20 / hour
Federal $7.25 / hour

 

Source: Minimum Wage Rates by State 2022 (minimum-wage.org)