September 17, 2003
By: Helga Niesz, Principal Analyst
You asked for information on anti-hunger programs and what states are doing to address hunger.
The main programs specifically aimed at eradicating hunger in the United States are federal programs: the Food Stamp Program; the Women, Infants' and Children's (WIC) program; the school lunch, breakfast, after school, and summer food programs; the temporary emergency food assistance Program (TEFAP); the USDA surplus commodities program; and elderly nutrition programs funded mainly by the federal Older Americans Act.
States play a role in administering these programs and, in some cases, provide additional funding for administration or additional services. The federal government generally sets the rules for these programs but it also allows the states some flexibility in certain areas.
In addition, all states have nonprofit food banks that collect food from federal, state, and private contributors and distribute it to a network of emergency food pantries and soup kitchens run by community agencies, charities, and churches.
All of these programs supplement the (1) regular state-federal welfare programs that generally provide money and medical care to poor families with children and poor elderly or disabled people, and (2) state general assistance programs that provide similar benefits to non-elderly single adults who cannot work because of medical problems or are otherwise unemployable.
Efforts in this country are not limited to just eliminating hunger. Many organizations are concerned with “food security,” improving low-income people's access to food, and enhancing the nutritional quality of that food. Federal, state, local and private efforts attempt to give low-income people access to local, sometimes organic, produce by providing them with vouchers for farmers' markets, creating community gardens in urban areas, establishing “community supported agriculture” programs and gleaning programs, and encouraging gardeners to plant extra vegetables and donate them to soup kitchens or food pantries.
HUNGER AND FOOD INSECURITY
Although there are still hungry people in this country, their numbers have been reduced over time and government agencies and anti-hunger advocates have expanded their efforts to include “food insecurity.” This term is often defined as the lack of assured access at all times to enough food for healthy, active lives. On the other hand, “food security” means having physical and economic access at all times to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life.
Most of the 1990's saw decreases in both hunger and food insecurity, but recently, most likely due to the economic downturn, these numbers have started rising again.
National Hunger Statistics
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's national and state-by-state report, Household Food Security in the United States, 2001, released in November 2002, showed that 11.5 million households (10.7% of all U.S. households, up from 10.1% in 1999) were food insecure and nearly 40% of food insecure individuals were children (13 million children under age 18). Almost one-third of the food-insecure households (3.5 million or 3.3% of all U.S. households, up from 3% in 1999) had one or more members who were hungry during the prior 12 months before the survey because they could not afford food. A summary of the report is available at: http://www.centeronhunger.org/pdf/Nov02Bulletin.pdf. A full copy can be obtained through http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/fanrr29.
A 2003 report by End Hunger Connecticut, a statewide nonprofit advocacy organization, showed the state had the largest decrease in food insecurity rates in the nation between 1996 and 2001. But still, the report concludes that almost 90,000 people in Connecticut are hungry at some point during the year. It notes that over 40% of people in Connecticut eligible for food stamps do not receive them and recommends more universal breakfast programs in schools.
The report makes a number of recommendations to further address hunger and food insecurity in the state. It is available at: http://www.endhungerct.org/End%20HungerRpt7Rev.pdf
The Connecticut Food Policy Council, created in 1997 by the state legislature, works to promote the development of a food policy for Connecticut and the coordination of state agencies that affect food security. “Food policy” means government actions that influence the availability, affordability, quality, and safety of the food supply;. It addresses such concerns as: farmland preservation, urban agriculture, emergency food supply, transportation, markets for locally-grown food, food education, child nutrition and inner-city supermarkets.
The Food Policy Council's goals are to recommend and support legislation that promotes food security, educate the public and policy makers about our food system, and promote the preservation of farming and farmland. Its website is at http://www.foodpc.state.ct.us/.
Links to other federal, state, and private community organizations involved in the anti-hunger efforts can be found at:
FOOD STAMP PROGRAM
Description of Program
The Food Stamp program is federally funded, but administered by the states, which share some of the administrative costs. The program provides supplemental food to people on welfare and low-income working families. Historically, food stamps were coupons that people could take to their supermarket and exchange for food, but now many states, like Connecticut, give people access to their food stamp benefits through an electronic card, which they use like a debit card at the supermarket.
Nationwide food stamp caseloads have recently risen after years of a decline that began in 1994, according to a March 2003 article by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a private nonprofit research organization. In December 2002, there were 20.5 million people in the program compared to 17.1 million in December 2000, an increase of 19.5%. Connecticut's caseload increased from 155,890 to 175,737 during that time period, an increase of nearly 13%. The article attributes the increases to the downturn in the economy, increased unemployment, and to a lesser extent increased outreach efforts and recent program changes. The article and a state-by-state chart of changes can be found at: http://www.cbpp.org/1-15-02fa.htm.
To be eligible for food stamps, people have to document their income, assets, expenses, and family situation. The amount of food stamp help they receive depends on their situation, determined by a complex formula that looks at their income, makes certain deductions, and determines their needs. The minimum monthly food stamp benefit is $10, but the average recipient receives about $150 to $200. The federally set maximum benefits are $371 for a family of three and $471 for a family of four. Some people are “categorically eligible” for food stamps because they also receive temporary welfare benefits for families with children or are elderly or disabled people receiving federal Supplemental Security Income benefits, or fit into other categories states have determined to be eligible. Non-disabled, non-elderly adults who are not caring for children under age six are expected to engage in work, job search, or training activities. Federal rules generally allow able-bodied single people to receive food stamps for only up to three months, unless they are working, searching or training for work, or living in certain high labor surplus areas. People have to reverify their situation periodically to continue to be eligible and generally report certain income changes.
The federal government sets the rules for the program but allows states some flexibility to choose among several options or ask for a waiver of specific rules. In May 2002 federal legislation made several changes. Most notably, it reauthorized the program for another five years, broadened states' options, lengthened the time that families transitioning from welfare to work can continue to receive food stamps without additional paperwork, made it easier for larger families to qualify for food stamps, and allowed more legal immigrants back onto the program in several stages (P.L. 107-171 Title IV). A January 2003 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report “Implementing New Changes in the Food Stamp Program: a Provision by provision Analysis of the Farm Bill” discusses these and other changes at
A National Conference of State Legislatures analysis of the changes is also available at: http://www.ncsl.org/statefed/humserv/fsguidenew.htm
More recent federal proposals would allow a demonstration program in five states that would turn the program into a block grant instead of an entitlement program and give the states in the demonstration more flexibility in how to use the money. The House has passed this version (H.R. 4 Title VI Sec. 602), but the Senate has not yet done so.
Connecticut has implemented some of the options allowed by the federal law. Family asset limits are $2,000 and $3,000 for families that have elderly or disabled members. The state has categorical eligibility for Temporary Family Assistance (TFA) and SSI recipients. Participants must now provide reverification of their income and financial situation only every six months and when changes above a certain level occur. Those who have transitioned from welfare to work can remain on the program for five months without additional paperwork and may be eligible after that depending on their situation. In 2002, the legislature increased the vehicle equity exemption from $4,500 to $9,500, the same as for the TFA welfare program. In 2003, the legislature required use of a standard utility allowance instead of actual utility expenditures and authorized the Department of Social Services, which administers the program, to undertake other program simplification measures. Single adults without children who are able-bodied can only get food stamps for three months out of a 26-month period unless they live in Hartford, Waterbury, or Bridgeport, but the state is asking the federal government for a waiver for all of Connecticut because of the current surplus labor situation.
Connecticut also has a purely state-funded food stamp program program for legal immigrants who would otherwise have been eligible for the federal program but were excluded by federal welfare reform legislation in 1996 (P. L. 104-193). But acceptance of new applications to this program ended June 30, 2003.
Other States' Approaches
At least 60% of the Food Stamp program participation decline since 1994 resulted from people leaving the welfare program, according to a 2002 federal General Accounting Office report (GAO). This group left the food stamp program at a higher rate than food stamp recipients who were never on the welfare program. The finding raised concerns that the federal program rules do not facilitate participation by low-income working families affected by welfare reform. The GAO study (1) examined how states have used the existing options and waivers and (2) found that almost all states used one or more of them to change their process for determining eligibility (“Food Stamp Program: States' Use of Options and Waivers to Improve Program Administration and Promote Access” GAO 02-409, February 2002).
State programs vary somewhat in their structure because different states have chosen to use the federal options and waivers differently. For instance, while Connecticut exempts $9,500 of vehicle equity when determining food stamp eligibility, some states have higher limits and 21 states exclude the value of all vehicles, or all vehicles used for transportation (Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine (for households with children), Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Wisconsin, West Virginia). Some states exempt the value of one vehicle per household or one per each adult in the household. For more details and a 50-state chart on vehicle asset exemptions, see “State Vehicle Asset Policies in the Food Stamp Program” at the CBPP website: http://www.cbpp.org/7-30-01fa.htm.
Forty-one states, including Connecticut, have waived the three-month limit on able-bodied childless adults in areas of high unemployment. Seventeen states, including Connecticut, have some type of program to replace the federal food stamp benefits that legal immigrants lost in 1996. http://www.cbpp.org/6-17-02fs.htm.
States can use exemptions to increase the three-month time limit for able-bodied childless adults who are not working to six months or nine months. Missouri and Pennsylvania do this to raise the time limit to six months in non-waived areas. http://www.cbpp.org/12-7-00fa.htm
Over the years, organizations involved in anti-hunger or food security efforts have suggested that states need more active food stamp outreach programs. A study from California by food policy advocates catalogs what they consider best practices in California counties, which help administer the Food Stamp program, and other states to improve access and outreach in the program. The report suggests numerous possibilities, such as expansion of categorical eligibility and exemptions for able-bodied adults without dependents; nontraditional office hours; alternative application sites and methods such as mail-in applications; simplification of the application; using clerical staff to assist clients in filling out applications; using food banks to initiate applications; improving customer service standards; making appointments to help clients avoid long waits; establishing hotline numbers for food stamp information; developing a comprehensive food resource brochure and providing food stamp information through food banks and food pantries; sending outreach workers to schools, health centers, and community centers; linking food stamp outreach to other existing outreach programs; creating partnerships between community-based anti-hunger advocates and county social service agencies. The report is available at: http://www.cfpa.net/foodstamps/BestPractices.pdf.
On the other hand, a recent commentary from the Heritage Foundation, a private conservative research institute, calls the Food Stamp program an outdated, old-style program that should be reformed more in the way the welfare program was in 1996. The article is available at: http://www.heritage.org/Press/Commentary/ed090103a.cfm
Other Food Stamp Resources
DSS's A Guide to the Food Stamp program
State by state food stamp website information
Other CBPP food stamp publications and Food Stamp Program information from a variety of sources can be found at: http://www.cbpp.org/pubs/fa.htm and http://www.cbpp.org/12-19-01fa.htm.
SPECIAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS, AND CHILDREN (WIC) PROGRAM
WIC is a federal program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). It is administered in Connecticut by the state Department of Public Health's Bureau of Community Health through health clinics. The program, available in all 50 states, provides coupons for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and children under age five to get specific high-nutrition foods like, milk, cereal, or meat. To be eligible, applicants' income must be below 185% of the federal poverty level. A health provider must also certify that the applicant is at nutritional risk, which can mean inadequate diet or medical risks such as anemia, underweight, or a history of pregnancy complications. Participants in the Food Stamp Program, Temporary Family Assistance (TFA), or Medicaid are considered automatically eligible to meet the income requirements. WIC coupons can also be used at farmers' markets through the WIC Farmer's Market Nutrition Program. Unlike Food Stamps, the program is not an entitlement and availability depends on how much money Congress appropriates for it. Additional details are available at the FNS website: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/
Information on the Farmer's Market Nutrition Program can be found at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/FMNP/FMNPfaqs.htm
A December 2001 GAO report, “Food Assistance: WIC Faces Challenges in Providing Nutrition Services” (GAO 02-142) discusses the challenges involved in trying to coordinate the program with other changing health and welfare program, responding to health and demographic changes in the low-income population it serves, and other issues. The report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/.
SCHOOL LUNCH, BREAKFAST, AND RELATED PROGRAMS
National Program Description
Various USDA child nutrition programs are aimed at getting food to low-income people. These include federal funding for low-income children to receive free and reduced priced meals under the school lunch program, school breakfast program, summer food service program (which provides meals to low-income children when school is not in session), special milk program, and after-school snack program, all of which Connecticut participates in to some degree. To be eligible for free meals, the children must live in households with income at or below 130% of the federal poverty level. For the reduced prices, their household income must be no higher than 185% of federal poverty level. Nationwide, 78% of schools that serve lunch also serve breakfast. In the 2001-02 school year, almost 43 children received free or reduced price school breakfast for every 100 who received free-or reduced price school lunch.
These programs are described in more detail at the USDA Food and Nutrition Service website at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/. An analysis of the summer meals program can be found at:
Neither school lunch nor school breakfast is required by state law in Connecticut and 15 school districts do not participate in the program. But if they participate in the federal school lunch program, school boards with at least one school building designated as a “severe need” school under the program must also provide the federal breakfast program at severe need elementary schools that contain grades eight or under and that serve 80% of the lunches to students eligible for free or reduced price lunches. Most grade schools in Connecticut have at least free and reduced price lunches for low-income student and many also have breakfast programs. Schools in several cities with large numbers of low-income students provide “universal lunch” free to all students (Bridgeport, Hartford, and New London) or “universal breakfast (Bridgeport, Hartford, New London, and New Haven).
The State Department of Education's descriptions of the various programs can be found at: http://www.state.ct.us/sde/deps/nutrition/nutbro.pdf.
Innovative Efforts in Other States
While Connecticut's law requires any school participating in the school lunch program where 80% of students are eligible for free or reduced school lunch to also offer school breakfast, New Jersey recently passed legislation requiring this if only 30% of the student body is eligible for school lunch.
Another innovation is “universal breakfast” which provides free breakfast to all students, regardless of income. These programs usually provide the breakfast in the classroom at the beginning of the school day rather than in the cafeteria before school starts, which makes it easier for more children to participate. As noted above, some schools in Connecticut already offer “universal breakfast.” These are particularly cost-effective in areas with large numbers of low-income students because the school districts receive federal reimbursement for all meals served and do not need to pay someone to take the money from those who have to pay. The practice also eliminates the stigma for some students of being singled out as eligible for the free or reduced prices. A nationwide pilot studied such new programs at selected schools in each of following states: Alabama, Arizona, California, Idaho Kansas; and Mississippi. First-year results are available at: http://www.frac.org/html/news/112702bfastSummary.htm
More information on these child nutrition programs and the issues involved can be found at:
FOOD DISTRIBUTION PROGRAMS
The federal government provides surplus agricultural commodities through a number of programs. For example, the USDA's Temporary Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) buys food, including processing and packaging, and ships it to the states. The amount received by each State depends on its low-income and unemployed population. State agencies work out details of administration and distribution. They select local organizations that either directly distribute to households or serve meals, or distribute to other local organizations that perform these functions. Usually states give the food to food banks, which then distribute it to food pantries or soup kitchens run by community organizations, churches, or other charities. Each state sets criteria for eligibility, but recipients of prepared meals are considered needy and not subject to a means test. More details on the TEFAP program are available at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/programs/tefap/
Food banks are nonprofit entities that receive federal commodities, and sometimes state and private charitable funding. They also collect food, such as surpluses, from corporations and retailers and distribute it to food pantries. Many use gleaning programs. They send volunteers into fields, orchards, and packaging plants to collect food that is left after the harvest or is not perfect enough to be sold.
The largest nongovernmental food distribution program in the country is Second Harvest, a nationwide umbrella organization for food banks.
Two food banks are located in Connecticut: Foodshare, which covers Hartford and Tolland Counties, and Connecticut Food Bank, which covers the rest of the state. The food banks get federal help, mostly in the form of commodities from the TFAP program in USDA.
DSS also operates a state-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides grants to the food banks to purchase high protein foods and other nutritionally beneficial supplemental foods in bulk for food pantries, emergency shelters, and soup kitchens. The legislation requires the food to be distributed free of charge. The Connecticut Food Bank's website is at: http://www.ctfoodbank.org/.
An August 22, 2003 Hartford Courant article reports that this summer, for the second year in a row, the demand for food from emergency food pantries around the state has increased. At the Foodshare food bank, which distributes 10 tons of food daily to programs in Hartford and Tolland counties, supplies are up 25% but demand is up even more and Foodshare has begun rationing. Middletown's Amazing Grace Food Pantry reports a more than 60% increase in households served during the spring and summer of 2003. In July, the pantry ran out of food. The same pattern exists for soup kitchens. Shoreline Soup Kitchens, which operates food pantries in 11 towns in southern Middlesex and New London counties, had a 28 percent increase in demand, serving 155 households in July 2002 compared to 199 in July 2003.
The article attributes the increased demand to unemployment, underemployment, and reduced welfare benefits, which cause food pantries to be used as a regular supplement rather than an emergency resource, particularly in summer when children are not in school. At the same time, the usual sources for donations, such as school-based drives, churches, businesses, dry up in summer.
Most elderly now receive social security. They can also receive federal Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Connecticut State Supplement Program (SSP) benefits if their income is below the poverty level and they have few assets. Elderly people who do not have enough food can also use the regular food pantries, soup kitchens, and other programs.
In addition, the federal Older Americans Act set up elderly congregate nutrition centers and meals on wheels programs to which states, like Connecticut, often also contribute funding. The programs do not charge for the meals, but they usually suggest donations from participants to defray expenses. They provide free meals to low-income seniors. There are also federal programs that provide food in adult day care.
A February 2003 Center on Hunger and Poverty Issue Brief “Hunger and Food Insecurity Among the Elderly” is available at:
http://www.centeronhunger.org/pdf/Elderly.pdf. The Center is a private nonprofit research and advocacy group that is an outgrowth of the Harvard-based Physician Task Force on Hunger in America.
AGRICULTURE-RELATED FOOD SECURITY POLICIES
Food security policies seek to integrate agriculture, human services, environmental, and economic development programs to improve access to food and support other social goals. Most of the initiatives in this area have taken place at the local rather than state level. Food security policies generally seek to address a variety of issues, such as urban hunger and economic pressures on small farmers, in a comprehensive manner. For example, a number of states have obtained permission from the federal government to allow food stamps and WIC coupons to be used at farmers' markets. This gives the food stamp recipients access to fresh local produce at relatively low cost while expanding the market for Connecticut farmers. Other innovations include establishing community gardens, where people who do not have their own land can grow their own vegetables and “community-supported agriculture” (CSA), where individuals, groups, or communities purchase a "share" of a farmers' production for the season, receiving a box of fresh vegetables (often organic) periodically during the growing season and guaranteeing the farmer a stable demand for his harvest.
Connecticut has a number of farmers' markets in the state and allows food stamps and WIC coupons to be used at them.
One example of local food security efforts is the Hartford Food System, a private, non-profit organization that works to create an equitable and sustainable food system to address the underlying causes of hunger and poor nutrition facing lower-income and elderly Connecticut residents. The organization, in collaboration with others, has developed a number of projects, initiatives, and coalitions that address a wide range of food cost, access, and nutrition problems. Among others, it has been involved in creating farmers' markets; encouraging schools to buy locally grown produce; establishing a community supported agriculture program at Holcomb Farm in West Granby that sells shares in the season's produce and subsidizes shares for low-income people; and developing a grocery delivery service for the elderly in Bloomfield, Hartford, New Britain, West Hartford, and Wethersfield. More information on these and other projects is available at the Hartford Food System's website at: http://www.hartfordfood.org/programs/index.html.
An August 18, 2003 Hartford Courant article discusses low-income people's access to farmers' markets and local produce: http://www.hartfordfood.org/programs/LocalOrganicFood4EveryBudget.pdf
Community gardens already exist in a number of Connecticut towns. In Hartford, the Knox Parks Community Garden Foundation maintains 15 community garden sites throughout the city. Others include New Haven, Cheshire, Milford, Simsbury, and Middletown (we do not have a complete list).
State, local, and nonprofit organizations in many states have undertaken various agriculture-related efforts to improve food security and connect low-income urban dwellers with affordable locally grown food. For instance, in New York, the Hunger Action Network of New York State makes mini-grants to start projects such as community gardens, local food buying cooperatives, farm gleaning projects, and community-supported agriculture, in collaboration with other organizations. There is also a “Grow a Row for Your Neighbors” which will organize gardeners to donate produce to a local food pantry. Description of the programs are available at: http://www.hungeractionnys.org/
The Northeast Regional Anti-Hunger Network is a collaboration of organizations in the Northeast states. Their website provides descriptions of programs in New York and the New England States: http://www.nerahn.org/.
Nationwide, the USDA website provides descriptions of examples of best practices and new commitments to various food security projects at:
Other descriptions of successful local programs that have received awards can be found on the website of the Congressional Hunger Center (which is a private bipartisan organization):
Programs in Maine and Michigan encourage farmers and food processors to donate food to organizations and individuals in exchange for tax deductions. Texas has developed a pilot program to use
underutilized state-owned land or other appropriate property in at
least two municipalities to develop community food gardens. Food grown in these gardens must be (1) sold at or below cost to
local low-income families; (2) donated to local families at risk of hunger or (3) sold to the public, with the proceeds used to
support the garden. Underutilized state-owned land can also be used for farmers markets if it would increase food security in the area. The state General Land Office can lease land, for a nominal amount, to local farmers' organization for this purpose.
Foodforall Anti-Hunger Programs
Connecticut Food Policy Council's “Food Security in Connecticut 2001 and Annual Report”
Various food policy council publications about efforts in Connecticut
Making Room at the Table
Mayors' 2002 report on Hunger and Homelessness
Background on US Food Security Measurement Project
US Action Plan on Food Security
USDA Community Food Security Initiative
Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)