Thursday, July 31, 2008

Partnerships Fighting Hunger, Pt. 2

In another example of public-private innovation, the East Texas Food Bank has partnered with the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) to tackle the growing problem of hunger among working families in that area.

According to KETK News in Tyler, children are showing up "in record numbers" at the Food Bank's summer meals sites - 1,600 more per day than last summer (a 12% increase). "We do think that's a direct effect of high fuel and food costs," said Food Bank Executive Director Robert Bush.

Thankfully, through SFSP the cost of these additional meals will be reimbursed by the federal government. SFSP is an example of a public program built to combine the large-scale efficiencies of government with the local knowledge and mission-driven passion of private charity.

(Update: new data from the Food Research and Action Center shows that Texas is forgoing $38.4 million in potential aid from the SFSP program due to under-participation - evidence that more partnerships between the state and local charities should be encouraged.)

Partnerships Fighting Hunger

The fight against hunger in America is a marriage between public resources and the private touch of charity. This arrangement - largely the result of imported English poor law that codified churches as the local hand of social services - was evident in the very first American soup kitchen, which was run by a New York charity using land and capital donated by the colonial state.

Today this public-private tradition continues, as nonprofits like Catholic Social Services and the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley partner with the State of Texas to assist those impoverished by Hurricane Dolly.

According to the Brownsville Herald, these charities are filling the gap left over when the Food Stamps Program, our nation's first line of defense against hunger, refuses those who don't qualify for its strict measures of need. "We are trying to help all those people that fall into the cracks," said CSS Director Sister Norma Pimentel.

At the same time, the State is recruiting charities like the Food Bank to get the word out about its efforts to replace the benefits of those who lost food in the storm. Many victims of the hurricane may also be eligible for Expedited Food Stamps, which are available much more quickly than normal benefits, and can help Dolly's victims get back on their feet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

State Replaces Food Lost to Dolly

Today, Texas Health and Human Services (HHSC) announced a plan to replace food lost by low-income families during Hurricane Dolly.

By issuing replacement food stamps in five counties, the agency hopes to assist over 40,000 families left hungry by power outages caused during the storm.

Such efforts will make a huge difference for families living on the edge of hunger, for whom Dolly was a disastrous event.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Gas Prices, Other Factors Affect Delivery of Help

As lines continue to grow at Texas soup kitchens and food pantries from Dallas to Lubbock, these agencies are facing a new problem - how to reach those who are no longer able to reach out for help.

"We are drowning," said Judy Rorrie, director of Dallas North Shared Ministries. "The increased cost of gas and food is affecting everyone. Our clients are forced to pay for one thing versus another."

"The gasoline has people not coming into the centers," Syble McClain, director of Polk County Aging Services, told the Beaumont Enterprise. "It's making them homebound. Most of them are just overwhelmed at the cost of everything."

To help, some larger agencies like Austin's Capital Area Food Bank have begun "mobile pantry" programs to meet clients where they are.

"These are families that are doing everything right," said Lyn Garcia of the South Plains Food Bank. "They are playing by the rules. They are going to work every day, but at the end of the month they just can't make it."

Relief for Hurricane's Hungry

A little-known fact about the "emergency food system" in Texas is that most families forced to visit the state's nineteen food banks and food rescue organizations are actually facing hunger caused by "chronic" conditions like underemployment, low wages, low education levels, a lack of assets or the rising cost of living.

However, the system lives up to its name when responding to sudden emergencies like last week's Hurricane Dolly. Across South Texas, anti-hunger organizations like the Food Bank of the Rio Grande Valley, Food Bank of Corpus Christi, South Texas Food Bank, North Texas Food Bank and East Texas Food Bank responded rapidly and effectively to help victims of the crisis.

“We are always on standby and ready to respond in times of disaster,” said Robert L. Bush, executive director of the East Texas Food Bank.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Food Banks "Desperate" for Supplies

Yesterday, KEYE-TV Austin kicked off a local food drive for the Capital Area Food Bank with a special report on the diminishing supplies squeezing every link on the emergency food chain.

“It’s just unbelievable the amount of people that come in,” said Bob Craddock, co-director of a pantry supplied by the Food Bank.

Food Bank CEO David Davenport agreed, pointing out that Austin feeding agencies are experiencing 20-30% growth in their normal clientele, most of whom are not homeless (85%) and half of whom (47%) are working.

“A lot of the families that our pantries and soup kitchens are seeing are first time families,” said Kerri Qunell of the Food Bank. “They’ve never had to rely on emergency food assistance before.”

Friday, July 18, 2008

Getting By on $3 a Day

This past month, the staff of the Capital Area Food Bank received an education in the daily hardships facing Texans who receive the state average of $1/day in food stamps benefits from an unlikely source...their CEO.

For the past four weeks, Food Bank CEO David Davenport has embarked on a personal challenge to eat on a "food stamps budget," only allowing himself $21/week to buy the bare essentials.

As a person with diabetes and a recent history of health problems, David lived the experience of many seniors and medically disabled Texans who count on food stamps as their only source of food. His experience, as he recounts on the CAFB blog, demonstrated the real-life tradeoffs between food and medicine that plague many food-insecure Texans.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How Does the Price of Diesel Affect Hunger?

High prices at the pump this summer are hurting everyone with a gas tank, including the rising number of low-income Texans forced to turn to emergency feeding programs for help.

However, it's also hurting the helpers. In Austin, the Capital Area Food Bank is facing longer lines with fewer donations in hand, according to KXAN and the Austin American-Statesman, in part due to the gas pinch hitting would-be donors. "Some families that may have provided donations earlier in the year, because of the change in our economy they are actually seeking assistance," said Food Bank CEO David Davenport.

In Houston, according to the Houston Chronicle, donations are remaining level but the costs of transporting charitable food are rising. Many people forget how much diesel it takes to haul 35 million pounds of food, the amount distributed last year by the Houston Food Bank. Brian Greene, president of the Food Bank, said this year's cost to fuel the agency's 19-vehicle fleet will be about $160,000 — a 50 increase over two years ago.

Legislators Tap the Brakes on TIERS

This Monday, a Texas House and Senate joint committee meeting discussed the potential expansion of the embattled TIERS system to cover more families receiving food stamps.

Following HHSC testimony on the planned rollout to more than a million more needy Texans, several public commenters asked the committee to consider implementing enhanced benchmarks before allowing the expansion, including a focus on the all-important federal law mandating timeliness.

Committee members, whose reaction to the plans ran the gamut from "concern" to "shock," asked HHSC to produce details of how the system would integrate new cases without exposing these vulnerable populations to TIERS' well-publicized problems.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Rising Prices + Sagging Economy = Bare Shelves

Today newspapers in two separate areas of Texas, the Dallas Voice and the Austin American-Statesman, published articles with a nearly identical message: demand for charitable food is up, and donations are way down.

Both are symptoms of the sagging economy, say those at the front lines. "I think [it's] indicative of the fact people have less to give because they're struggling themselves," said Capital Area Food Bank CEO David Davenport. But "people recognize there are people out there who've been hanging on for years and years now [whom] this economy's pushed over the edge."

“We’re trying to bring in more food, but it’s been a struggle just to bring in the same amount as last year,” said Andrea K. Helms, communications director for the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

The squeeze in supply & demand means less food for those who now need it, as well as pressure to lower the quality of food distributed. Said North Texas Food Bank CEO Jan Pruitt, “We are in a recession, yes...and that doesn’t mean just [that we need] more food, but more of the right food. Especially for agencies [serving vulnerable populations], the quality of the calories is very important."

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Texas' Trouble with Timeliness

For those following the slow-motion implementation of TIERS, Texas' new social services enrollment system, yesterday was another step forward - although not a wholly positive one, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Since its introduction, 217,000 hungry Texans in need of food stamps have been transferred to TIERS, whose privatized, high technology was supposed to make life easier for everyone.

Last winter, however, half of new food stamps cases in the system were not resolved in the federally mandated 30 days, stranding hundreds of hungry families without food around the holidays and putting HHSC on the wrong side of the law.

Yesterday, after state lawmakers demanded accountability from the system before approving an expansion, HHSC released a set of nine measures designed to improve TIERS' performance. Not on the list? Timeliness.

"The test is whether you're processing cases in a timely way, and that's not in here," said food policy expert Celia Hagert of the Center for Public Policy Priorities.

Timeliness is a key aspect to fighting hunger. What would you do if your local firemen only showed up in time to fight half the fires?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shout-out from Hill Country

Many thanks to Andrea Ball, columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, for highlighting us on her peerless blog, Charity Chat!

(Update: We're also blogrolling with the best of them - thanks Texas Cloverleaf, Lone Star Democracy Directory and HHSC Employee!)

Working and Hungry

South Texas, like much of the state, has an enviable unemployment rate of just around 5%. Yet agencies like the South Texas Food Bank are seeing more and more families at their door in recent months.

The reason, says Salo Otero, Development Director at the food bank, is underemployment. According to KGNS Pro 8 News, while only 5% of population served by the food bank is unemployed, 30% live below the poverty line and have difficulty meeting their basic needs.

Why are they coming to the food bank? In short, wages are not keeping up with the cost of living.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Growing Hunger Prompts Charitable Expansion

Rising hunger among Dallas residents, especially the working poor and recent victims of the stagnating economy, has prompted a rethink of strategy at the North Texas Food Bank.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Trying to Survive "a Challenge Unparalled"

Philanthropists from the United Way and other South Texas organizations are calling the dual crises of the recession and rising food prices "the worst they've seen," according to the Brownsville Herald.

"These days, people are coming in because they have to make the choice between buying food and putting gas in their cars," said Carlos Gomez, Director of the Good Neighbor Settlement House.

Increasing demand and decreasing donations are forcing local agencies to come up with more recovered and unsaleable food, limiting their ability to provide nutritious offerings.

"Right now, the middle class is being beaten to death," said Traci Wickett, CEO of the United Way of Southern Cameron County. "What's scary to me is that at this point the problem is at so many levels. It's a paradox: at the time when we need the most help, support is the scarcest."

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

WIC Continues Move to EBT

Williamson County recently joined the ranks of Texas counties that have done away with old-fashioned paper WIC coupons in favor of electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Proponents believe the switch to a debit card-like system will result in an even lower rate of fraud, as well as reduce the stigma associated with using paper coupons. A similar switch in the Food Stamps Program (now SNAP) in recent years produced a dramatic effect in both areas.

Williamson County mother GinaMarie Ruiz (pictured) knows that the program assists many young mothers like her. "The way everything is these days with prices going through the roof, it helps a whole lot," she said.