Category Archives: Food Security

Assessing the Implementation of the Child Nutrition Act of 2010 and Preparing for Its Reauthorization in 2015

Assessing the Implementation of the Child Nutrition Act of 2010 and Preparing for Its Reauthorization in 2015

Caroyln Burstein
September 26, 2014

The Child Nutrition Act, reauthorized in 2010 as the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA), covers funding for school meal and child nutrition programs, known variously as the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, Afterschool Meal Program, Summer Nutrition Program and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).  The bill that reauthorizes these programs is usually referred to by shorthand as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill. In 2010 these child nutrition programs were re-authorized for five years and included $4.5 billion in new funding over 10 years.

Before considering the elements of the HHFKA, let’s consider how the federal government became involved in child nutrition in the first place. It all began back in 1936 with the innocuous-sounding congressional bill called the Commodity Donation Program, whereby the government, concerned that improved agricultural productivity would continue to depress the prices of   crops, began to distribute surplus farm commodities to schools for meals for students who could not otherwise afford them.

Then in 1946, Congress passed the National School Lunch Act to establish permanently a federally funded school lunch program. In 1966 President Johnson signed the first Child Nutrition Act (CNA) into law that authorized the federal school meal and child nutrition programs. The CNA was to be re-authorized by Congress every five years. Since then the law has expanded to include free and reduced-priced breakfast, milk, after-school snacks and summer meals for qualifying students.

The following are the key provisions of the HHFKA of 2010:

  • Improves nutrition and focuses on reducing childhood obesity by setting nutritional standards for allfoods regularly sold in schools, including those sold in vending machines; providing additional funding to schools that meet updated nutritional standards; helping communities establish local farm to school networks; setting basic standards for school wellness policies, including those in physical activities; promoting nutrition and wellness in child care settings; and, expanding support for breastfeeding through the WIC program
  • Increases access  to Child Nutrition programs by allowing direct certification of children through the use of Medicaid data; setting benchmarks for states to improve the certification process and thus enroll more students; allowing more universal meal access for eligible students by eliminating paper applications and using census data to determine school-wide or community eligibility; and, expanding USDA authority to support meals served to at-risk children in afterschool programs
  • Increases program monitoring and integrity  by requiring school districts to be audited every three years on their compliance with nutritional standards; requiring schools to make nutritional information more readily available to parents; ensuring the safety of school foods; and, providing training and technical assistance for school food service providers

Since the HHFKA is a federal entitlement program for all eligible children living in the U.S. regardless of citizenship status, let’s begin our assessment of the 2010 law with the eligibility and enrollment process. Children can be enrolled in the HHFKA in two major ways: 1) parents can apply for the programs by submitting information about their total household incomes through a simple paper application provided by the school district; or 2) through “direct certification,” a process whereby state agencies or school food authorities obtain lists of families enrolled in the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – SNAP) or the “welfare” program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – TANF) and match those lists with the students enrolled in schools the agency serves. Since the 2008-09 school year, school districts have been required to directly certify students. This change has increased access to free and reduced-price lunches as well as limited the potential for error by automatically enrolling students rather than relying on parent’s paper applications.

And this school year, 2014-15, a third method of enrollment is available to school districts, known as “community eligibility.” Community eligibility covers schools with 40% or more of students who are identified as coming from families receiving food stamps and/or welfare benefits or participating in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), children enrolled in Head Start, or students who are homeless or in foster care. These schools may be reimbursed directly and all children in the school may receive free breakfast and lunch.

High-poverty school districts with low direct certification rates would find that their identified student percentage does not accurately reflect the level of poverty within the student population and should be eager to participate in community eligibility, thus eliminating barriers to participation for numerous low-income, hungry children.

Direct certification became an option for schools as early as 1986, but it was not until 2010 that the HHFKA set performance benchmarks for states, requiring them to directly certify 95% of eligible children by the 2013-14 school year that ended this past June. While states have made significant progress in improving their direct certification rates, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has examined data from the USDA that show that 28 states did not achieve Congress’ benchmark for the 2012-13 school year (data are not yet available for the 2013-14 school year). Twelve states did not even reach 80% of the 90% goal, thus missing more than one in five eligible children.

According to CBPP, the USDA has increased flexibility and strengthened the direct certification process over the past five years, including highlighting the best practices of high-performing states that have received bonus awards and making $17 million in grants available to states to improve their direct certification systems.  The wide gap between the 12 states that had not even achieved 80% direct certification and those near the top clearly demonstrates that some states’ direct certification systems are simply less effective than other states’ systems.

CBPP concludes its analysis by stating that “direct certification ensures that vulnerable children at risk of hunger can count on getting free breakfasts and lunches at school and, as direct certification systems improve, millions of low-income students across the country will benefit from improved access to school meals. At the same time, school districts will benefit even more from the simplified program administration and improved program integrity.”

The states with strong direct certification systems are well positioned to maximize the number of high-poverty schools that are eligible this school year for the community eligibility process that will allow them to adopt the universal meal provision. Some of these states already were early participants in community eligibility (11 states were involved, some as early as 2011). Community eligibility was established in the HHFKA to enable high-poverty schools to feed more students and focus on meal quality rather than on paperwork.

In fiscal year 2013, more than 70% of funds spent for child nutrition funded the National School Lunch Program, while just over 22% financed school breakfasts and less than 1% financed school milk programs. The school lunch program is the second largest nutritional assistance program in the nation after the food stamp program.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) makes clear that, however important breakfast is for all people, especially children, only 10.8 million low-income children benefit from school breakfast, while too many millions of other eligible children miss out. Only about 50% of the same children who enjoy subsidized lunches participate in the School Breakfast Program, if it is even offered at their schools. Why the disparity? Besides the time and place of breakfast service and the stigma of the payment system in reducing participation, there are also numerous other problems that don’t affect the school lunch program. Some of these problems are bus schedules, parents’ work schedules, children’s desire to socialize on the playground, and even slowdowns in lines due to school security. Because of these and related reasons, many schools do not even participate in the School Breakfast Program.

Another program that is shortchanged is the Summer Nutrition Program. Child hunger is often at its worse during the summer months when children are out of school and do not have access to regular school meals. Summer Nutrition Programs are essential for filling the gap, but there are not nearly enough sites to fill the need. There are only 34 summer food sites for every 100 school lunch programs. Even though the majority of schools are closed during parts of the summer, any church or neighborhood program for children is eligible to take part in the Summer Nutrition Program, but, unfortunately, few either do or qualify to be a part of the program.

There are numerous reasons why some of the programs that are part of the Child Nutrition Act (the HHFKA) have been sluggish in their implementation in the past few years:

  • Lack of awareness on the part of some smaller school districts, especially in the area of getting a local entity, such as a private nonprofit, to sponsor the program
  • Communication barriers between families and schools
  • Administrative hurdles to distributing and processing information
  • State budget-driven hiring freezes, layoffs and work furloughs causing the understaffing of many child nutrition programs, even though these jobs are funded by the federal nutrition programs
  • Lack of vigorous promotion of the WIC and other child nutrition programs

In February 2014 the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report on the HHFKA that described a rather frustrating picture of school districts implementing the USDA revised nutrition standards (went into effect during the 2012-13 academic year). Among the more controversial standards is the requirement for students to select either a half cup of fruit or vegetables with their meals.

Local and state authorities told GAO researchers that the “new standards have resulted in more waste, higher food costs, challenges with menu planning and difficulties in sourcing products that meet the federal portion and calorie requirements.” GAO notes that participation in the National School Lunch Program declined to 30.7 million students from a peak of 31.8 million students during the 2010-11 academic year. However, the report also noted that the vast majority of the school lunch drop-outs were those who paid full-price for their meals while participation in the free-meal program increased significantly. These data are in line with USDA data that show that the number of low-income students approved for free meals has been increasing while the number of students paying full-price for lunch has been decreasing since 2007.

Many commentators familiar with the school lunch issues focus on the fact that all change takes time, especially when the change may be difficult. Many food service directors and members of the School Nutrition Association who have been lobbying Congress to drop a number of requirements have, in their opinion, not allowed sufficient time for the nutritional changes to become part of children’s eating habits. Nor has there been much outreach to the families involved. Interestingly, the GAO researchers, despite the negative interviews they encountered, did not recommend scaling back the nutritional requirements.

At about the same time as the GAO report, researchers with the Harvard School of Public Health published their study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine of what was occurring in the National School Lunch Program in four low-income elementary and middle schools in the Boston area. The results showed that students were eating 23% more fruit and 16% more vegetables overall and that the new nutritional standards were not causing more food waste, although much food was discarded. The levels of waste in the program, however, were similar to those found in other urban, low-income schools in Massachusetts.

Data from the Food Nutrition Service (FNS) in USDA indicate that very few schools (only .015% of schools nationwide) have dropped out of the National School Lunch Program due to struggles over providing kids healthy foods. An initiative recently enacted by FNS (USDA) is a new grant program to support “Smarter Lunchrooms,” a broad toolkit of easy-to-implement, low-cost, evidence-based strategies that increase consumption of healthier foods and decrease plate waste. Most of these ideas are based on best practices already in place in some states.

The Senate Agricultural Committee has already begun hearings to discuss re-authorizing the Child Nutrition Act (the HHFKA). The latest was held on July 23, 2014 and the key issue was whether re-authorization should include the concept of “flexibility,” which has been favored by the School Nutrition Association and groups like them. It was clear from the hearing that there are at least two distinct views about re-authorization and these involve politics.

On the one hand, some of the problems raised during the hearing (primarily by Republicans and witnesses that have sought their help) related to: 1) “flexibility” in the form of waivers, which are being sought for schools whose students are having difficulty with current standards; 2) the loss of full-price participants in the National School Lunch Program based on the 2014 GAO report lest school lunches are viewed as food for kids from low-income families; 3) meeting taste standards of students who balk at nutritional standards; and, 4) difficulty with implementation where unlicensed staff operate school kitchens.

On the other hand, many witnesses (primarily those defending the HHFKA and a number of Democrats) expressed the feeling that 1) as more kids and schools continue to successfully make the transition to the nutrition standards in HHFKA participation in the program will keep climbing and waivers will not be needed; 2) community eligibility, which covers all students in a high-poverty school district will overcome any problem of perception about full-price vs. free lunches in some schools, while trends of acceptance of nutritional standards among students will overcome those perceptions in other schools; 3) creative experimentation in menu-planning and focusing on local “favorites” as well as using the produce from school gardens would eliminate problems of students’ taste standards; and finally, 4) USDA’s technical assistance, training and continuing education programs, if sought out by school districts, should overcome problems relating to lack of licensure among school kitchen staff. All witnesses agreed that increased subsidies for school meals would be of great assistance.

Based on the foregoing sections, what are the primary goals that should be sought by nonprofits interested in solidarity with and advocacy for children’s hunger as well as good nutrition as they work with others to help in re-authorizing the HHFKA? At a minimum, they should include:

  • Strengthening the Summer Nutrition Programs so they can meet the needs of children and communities when school is out
  • Simplifying the procedures for local agencies and non-profits to sponsor Summer Nutrition Programs and increasing communication about their importance
  • Expanding the reach of the Afterschool Meal Program
  • Supporting the momentum of school breakfast expansion in every state
  • Ensuring that all schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program also participate in the School Breakfast Program
  • Eliminating the co-payment of 30 cents for breakfast, thereby removing one financial barrier for low-income families
  • Ensuring that more children have a healthy start by improving the reach of the WIC program
  • Intensifying the effort to improve “direct certification” systems
  • Improving the implementation of the “community eligibility” system initiated this past year and determining how assistance can be provided to those states and localities that experienced difficulties
  • Focusing attention on the elements of the “change process” to counter efforts to achieve “flexibility” in the form of obtaining waivers from aspects of the law, especially its nutritional components
  • Authorizing funding for grants to school districts to purchase much-needed kitchen equipment, which would support efforts to improve nutrition quality
  • Providing funding for continuing USDA’s current efforts to give technical assistance and training to school districts requesting help in implementing the Child Nutrition Act
  • Increasing funding for the next five years of the Child Nutrition Act.

Blog: House Republicans Gut Nutrition Standards Set by Institute of Medicine

House Republicans Gut Nutrition Standards Set by Institute of Medicine

By Carolyn Burstein
May 30, 2014

House Republicans have inserted language into the 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) appropriations bill that allows schools to opt out of the nutrition standards set by the “2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act” (and introduced in schools in the 2012-13 school year) if they can show the programs lose money over a six-month period. Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, led by Representatives Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sam Farr (D-CA), had tried on May 29th to strip out several proposals including the waivers to postpone school lunch nutrition standards and the potato industry’s demand that white potatoes be added to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. However, Republicans prevailed and the committee voted Thursday to allow school districts to temporarily opt out of the dietary requirements on a party-line vote.

The 2012 rules activating the nutrition standards require that more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free meals be made available in school lunches, along with a reduction in salt and trans-fats. At the same time, white potatoes were excluded from WIC-approved foods. These changes became law based on the recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences’ highly regarded Institute of Medicine.

As Marion Nestle puts it in her recent post on Food Politics, “As I see it, the food industry couldn’t get its way through the usual rulemaking processes, so it did an end run and got Congress to overturn the work of no less than three committees of the Institute of Medicine.”

Let’s deal with the white potato issue first. The WIC list of approved foods must meet the highest nutritional values and white potatoes, while fine, are less nutritious than some alternative foods, and can be purchased with SNAP funding. The provision to include white potatoes in the WIC-approved list follows strong lobbying by the industry, which is trying hard to undermine healthy reforms made to the WIC program and is hoping to win similar language when the Senate Appropriations Committee considers its own version of the same agriculture bill. It is indeed worried that younger women have moved away from potatoes, but as Mark Bittman of the New York Times said last week: “Let’s recognize that the potato industry can afford to take a step back and let federal dollars enable poor people to choose cauliflower, peas, lettuce and a few other vegetables, and see French fries as an occasional treat, as all of us would be better off doing.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the March of Dimes, among others, have lobbied against the “white potato provision,” but Republican lawmakers, especially those from potato-growing states, want them back in.

The issue of waivers for school lunches affects a larger population. Waiver proponents say that they only want greater flexibility in implementing the standards, but the proposals would more than likely eliminate the standards for those school districts granted waivers because they wouldn’t have to comply with any of the new standards. In addition, there are many ways the waiver could end up being automatically renewed year after year. Allowing waivers would also jeopardize the progress already achieved toward stabilizing childhood obesity.

The issue of waivers can largely be attributed to the lobbying efforts of the School Nutrition Association (SNA), a national organization that represents both school nutrition professionals and companies that sell food to schools. The SNA has advocated a “pause” in the federal standards because it said that many schools are overwhelmed by the requirements and are seeing dramatically increased costs as well as waste because so many children are throwing uneaten lunches away. Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL), head of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, said the new standards “should not drive local school nutrition programs under water.”

The Washington Post on May 29, 2014, said that former presidents of the SNA have clearly indicated that the organization has come under the greater influence of the handful of large companies that dominate the multibillion-dollar school food industry. Interestingly, as the First Lady has explained, the SNA firmly supported the nutrition standards when the legislation passed in 2010.

DeLauro, Farr and other nutrition advocates believe the assault on the federal nutrition standards is being led by the processed food industry, which will continue to lose hundreds of millions of dollars as schools move toward more fruit, vegetables and whole grain products in their cafeteria. Healthy food initiatives threaten profits and are therefore fought at all costs by the producers of processed food.

Food waste and higher costs for food are indeed problems that must be addressed, but not by relaxing or reducing the standards set for healthier lunches at the same time that our nation is facing a health emergency among our children. We need a solution that will maintain nutrition standards and that helps kids to understand the consequences of what they eat and gets them to choose healthy foods.

One solution to this set of problems is food education, which can be either part of the core curriculum, as advocated by Chef Ann Cooper, who writes “Eat + Run” blogs for U.S. News and World Report, or used as examples in other parts of the curriculum. The key is that kids will never choose an apple over a Pop-Tart, especially if they’ve developed a taste for sugar, salt and fat, unless they’ve learned healthy eating habits. Congressman Sam Farr said recently, “We don’t allow kids to opt out of math or opt out of science because it’s tough. Changing the American diet is fundamental to bringing down health care costs.”

It helps to have certain events, such as food tastings, Junior Chef competitions and salad bar education programs as well as school gardens, to help ease kids’ way into learning about the finer points of healthier meals.

As Chef Ann Cooper says in another blog, if the amount of revenue is decreasing through a lunch program, it is important to remember that the purpose of a school lunch program is not to make money. Its purpose is to feed children nourishing food that gives them energy to focus, concentrate and learn. We do not expect math, science or reading programs to profit a school or even to break even. The same logic we use to explain the significance of money spent on feeding our students’ minds, works for feeding their bodies, too.

Schools should plan for an initial decrease in student participation in a school lunch program after major changes are initiated. After all, transitions are rocky and often difficult. Children who are used to eating French fries will naturally initially balk at a pear replacing salt and fat. But with the education described above, schools will notice a gradual increase in student participation each year as children get used to the changes and develop a taste for fresh fruits and vegetables. With families reinforcing these changes at home, soon healthy food will be the only food the children will know.

Left to their own devices, many children will choose hot dogs, French fries and pizza for every meal, but school should be the place where they learn that this type of choice is a very bad idea. We need to hold the line, even if it’s difficult and some school districts are struggling. Over 90% of school districts are in compliance with the law. There are many ways to help the other 10% rather than to let them ignore the nutrition standards.

As Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said, “If we’re going to close the achievement gap in our country, we need to close the nutrition gap.” Healthy school food is just as important as academics for children’s success at school. Mark Bittman is right on target when he points out that workers preparing and serving school lunches are “under-equipped, under-funded and under-staffed.” This point brings us to another part of the solution – healthy food should be prepared by properly trained and paid staff.

Cafeteria workers must be trained in culinary skills that eschew merely opening cans, unwrapping frozen entrees and reheating food. School districts must invest in both fresh food and new equipment. State and federal funding should be available (through grants?) for training programs to prepare workers for a healthy food regime. USDA-proposed rules in January 2014 would introduce minimum education and experience requirements for food service directors and managers. But only eight hours of training is proposed for staff who actually prepare the food and serve the children. This amount of training time will hardly suffice. But at least it is the beginning of professionalizing the school food staff and should also result in higher pay for these workers.

USDA already provides extensive technical assistance to school districts that are having difficulty meeting the new standards and they have demonstrated willingness to offer flexibility administratively, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). The Senate Appropriations Committee, which will take up the USDA bill next week, is requiring the USDA to develop a comprehensive plan to provide enhanced training and technical assistance to help schools comply with the new standards.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IO), who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee, issued a statement arguing that the House was putting “the food industry’s bottom line ahead of what’s best for kids.” And there are numerous supporters of this view, including:  The Pew Charitable Trust, which urged the House to drop the provision; First Lady Michelle Obama, telling a group of school nutrition experts “the last thing we can afford to do is play politics with our kids’ health”; the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Food Policy Action, and the National WIC Association; a group of military leaders who have been concerned about the health of military recruits; and hundreds of organizations that have signed a letter to Congress in support of strong nutrition standards, including the African-American Health Alliance, AFSCME, Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s Defense Fund, Food and Water Watch, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, National Consumers League, National Women’s Law Center, NETWORK, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, Union for Reform Judaism, United Methodist Women and numerous state and local organizations.

As you see from the above partial list, NETWORK strongly supports the continuation of “The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids’ Act” in the form in which it passed with bipartisan support in 2010 and the rules developed by USDA in 2012. Nutritious food is an essential component of what it means to “promote the general welfare.”

Blog: Paul Ryan, It Takes More than Love to Fill a Lunch Bag

Paul Ryan, It Takes More than Love to Fill a Lunch Bag

Shantha Ready Alonso
March 10, 2014

In Summer of 2012, NETWORK’s Nuns on the Bus hit the road to confront Paul Ryan for using Catholic Social Teaching to justify cuts to vital nutrition, health, and other social safety net programs. He still doesn’t get it. Call him at (202)225-3031.

At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Rep. Ryan was talking about his belief that government nutrition assistance programs are ineffective. To make his point, he shared a story:

“The left is making a big mistake here. What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul. The American people want more than that. This reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson… She once met a young boy from a very poor family, and every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch, one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him. This is what the left does not understand.”  

NETWORK agrees that it would be wonderful for every child to go to school with a full lunch bag lovingly packed by a caregiver. Yet, Rep. Ryan has been a powerful voice in Congress for cutting programs that help parents fill their kids’ lunch bags. Feeling the squeeze of working full-time on poverty wages or being unable to find a job, many parents who love their children are unable to feed them enough. Many are also trimming their food budgets due to Congress’ cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and failure to renew Unemployment Insurance. Call on Paul Ryan to support policies that will ensure that kids’ lunch bags are full: a just minimum wage, a robust Earned Income Tax Credit, renewed Unemployment Insurance, and restoration of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Call Paul Ryan at (202)225-3031. Let him know: It takes more than love to fill a lunch bag.

Here’s what you might say:

Hello, I’m __ (name) from (faith community/organization & city). I heard the story Rep. Ryan told at the CPAC conference last week about the little boy and how he believed a brown paper lunch bag would make him feel loved. I agree it would be wonderful for every child to have their lunch lovingly packed by a caregiver daily. That’s why I support policies that fill lunch bags: the Earned Income Tax Credit, an increase in the minimum wage, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and restoration of Unemployment Insurance. All those policies put money in parents’ pockets to be able to send their children to school with a nutritious lunch. I’m glad Rep. Ryan is on board with the EITC. It’s time he saw the light and supported the other three policies, too. 

Please share this message with to anyone who you know wishes to hold Paul Ryan accountable.  While you’re at it, you also might want to check out Sister Simone’s comments about Paul Ryan’s new report on poverty

Oh, and by the way, the Washington Post fact checked the story about the little boy and the brown bag, and its not even true. The Post ranked it with four Pinnochios. The story came from a book called The Invisible Thread.

What Have We Done About Poverty?

What Have We Done About Poverty?

By Rachel Travis
December 13, 2012

A Look at the History of Federal Legislation and the Effect It Has Had on Poverty

A few weeks ago my mentor approached me and asked me to create a timeline that would show major legislative actions we as a country have done to address poverty. I realized I could talk about current poverty legislation and our current poverty statistics, but I did not know about the evolution of poverty. Luckily, I was not simply given this seemingly daunting task, but was also given the resource “So Rich, So Poor” by Peter Edelman.

In his book, Edelman describes a trip he and Robert Kennedy took to Mississippi as a part of a fact-finding effort in order to reauthorize the Economic Opportunity Act (EOA) of 1964. At the time, the War on Poverty was in its beginning stages and what Kennedy saw reflected that. Like so many people in this country, myself included, Kennedy had never found himself face-to-face with starving American children. The focus of the trip shifted to fact finding about why so many Americans were starving.

The timeline starts with the publication of the first poverty statistics in America, in1959, when 22.4% of the population fell below the poverty line. The timeline ends with the 2012 poverty statistics, which show that 15.1% of the population currently falls below the poverty line. The points in between are fairly balanced in number, with positive and negative actions, and they represent interesting points in American history.

Looking to the timeline, the 1971 amendment to the 1964 Food Stamp Act was passed, and people making zero income still had to pay for food stamps. This amendment made it so food stamps could not cost more than 30% of a family’s total income. The 1971 amendment to the SNAP Act was so effective in making food stamps more accessible that the number of participants doubled in a year, going from 4,340,000 people to 9,368,000.

Not surprisingly, two years following the passage of this amendment the country saw the lowest poverty numbers it had ever seen, and has seen to date (11.1%). This leads to an interesting year, 1973. 1973 saw both a historic low in our national poverty rate, 11.1% of the country was impoverished, but it was also a year when President Nixon attempted to reduce the number of people who were on welfare by requiring that all welfare recipients be required to work in order to receive their benefits. This concept was coined “workfare” and the intention behind it was that people in poverty who were receiving welfare benefits should be actively seeking, and in theory gaining, employment. Then there would be fewer people who needed welfare benefits.

Workfare remains in place today. NETWORK’s third-quarter Connection of 2010 included the story of a mother of four who had been receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) for four to five years. Not only is this woman responsible for her children, but she and some of her children have special needs. The work program system has been slow to work with her, making finding employment exceptionally difficult. When NETWORK learned of her story, it had been 9 months of her trying through social services and her work program to be placed into a more appropriate training program. For some people, like this woman, there are simply not enough hours in the day to comply with all the necessary workfare regulations and take care of a family at the same time.

In 1981 President Reagan made $20 billion worth of cuts to both welfare and food stamp programs, which is over $50 billion in current dollars. The justification behind the cuts was, “too much of our resources are going to nonproductive purposes.” That was according to John Block, the Secretary of Agriculture at the time. That same year the number of people who were using food stamps increased from 21,082,000 to 22,430,000, for the 1,348,000 people who started using food stamps those $20 billion in resources were going towards a very productive purpose of helping to keep food on the table.

What this timeline represents is how legislation regarding poverty in the United States affects people. Politicians and media pundits talk so casually about cutting a couple billion dollars from one program or another few billion dollars from another, what is lost in that posturing is that those programs, the ones like Social Security and SNAP, are the ones that keep millions of hardworking Americans from falling into poverty, as well as supporting those who are in poverty.

For me, reading about starving children in my own country put everything else in the history of federal actions affecting poverty in the United States into context. Even though these children are long grown, I saw every legislative action I put on the Poverty Timeline as an action that directly affected those children. Not only do I see a child in poverty as being just a child in poverty; but I believe that a child in poverty represents a family in poverty.

Blog: The Farm Bill Vote

The Farm Bill Vote

By Marge Clark, BVM
June 25, 2013

Last week, the House of Representatives surprised itself and others by voting down the Farm Bill. The House version of the Farm Bill proposed cutting food stamps (SNAP) by $2 billion per year over the next ten years. So, voting it down was a good thing. Children and the elderly comprise the major recipients.

The bill’s demise was due to controversy regarding SNAP. Some representatives could not abide the deep cuts – and had proposed amendments to reduce them (these did not pass). Other representatives wanted the SNAP cuts to be far deeper. Then Representative Southerland (FL) got an amendment passed requiring that any able-bodied person applying for SNAP must be employed, or actively seeking employment – even a single mother with toddlers, many persons with disabilities, and many seniors.

This seemed to be the final nail to kill the bill.

Now, Rep. Southerland is proposing that the bill come back to the House floor, minus his amendment. That does not resolve the terrible cuts to the program, which would effectively cut $90 per month from the average SNAP payment, and eliminate many families entirely. Additionally, the bill as it is would deny school meal programs for as many as millions of children next school year. Free and reduced lunches are tied to SNAP.

What are we doing to our next generation of leaders if we are starving our children (about 25% received SNAP)? And, how are we thanking our elders for all they have provided to us?

Blog: More on SNAP – How Could They?

Blog: More on SNAP – How Could They?

Marge Clark, BVM
May 22, 2013

Today, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to accept an amendment with racially skewed outcomes. Unanimous consent means NO SENATOR OBJECTED!

Senator Vitter (LA) proposed disallowing anyone ever convicted of any of a specified list of violent crimes – at any time in his/her life to ever again receive SNAP benefits. Further, it specifies that their children or other family members would have their benefit cut. It doesn’t matter how many decades have passed since the crime, and how much time was served. A young teen caught in a violent situation could have his/her family denied sufficient nutrition for the rest of his/her life.

It is common knowledge that minorities frequently have received less fair treatment in the courts than to those of us from European origins. They are less likely to have had good counsel. Low-income African-Americans in the South often faced hostile juries and judges. Police were not always as careful with evidence.

The supposed attempt is to keep the worst of repeat offenders from getting assistance. But, no one thought to tweak the amendment to protect the innocent families. We are reminded again of what is in Scripture: Children are not to be held accountable for the sins of their ancestors.

This amendment can still be rescinded or modified. Senators, consider what you have agreed to, and make necessary changes so as to not punish those who need protection.

Blog: Feed the Children? Feed the Elderly? Feed People with Disabilities?

Feed the Children? Feed the Elderly? Feed People with Disabilities?

By Marge Clark, BVM
May 22, 2013

The Farm Bill is currently on the floor in the Senate. Yesterday (May 21) was not a good day for hungry people.

The Senate voted down an amendment by Senator Gillibrand (26-70, with 4 not voting) to restore the $4.1 billion cut from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This would have been offset by a small cut in the payments to crop insurance companies as reimbursement for benefits paid to farmers for crop damage. The reduction in their profits would have been 2%, from 14% profit to 12% profit. It would not interfere with the benefits paid to farmers to compensate for damages.

The Farm Bill continues today to be bombarded with amendments to further erode nutritional help to those whose resources prohibit their purchase of healthier foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables – which most of us take for granted in our grocery shopping. The loss of SNAP also means that children in families denied SNAP benefits will be denied free school meals – jeopardizing their ability to reach their best potential.

Blog: As I Complete My NETWORK Internship

Blog: As I Complete My NETWORK Internship

Katelyn Eichorst, Summer Intern
Aug 02, 2012

I do not have much time left here at NETWORK. My internship flew by and I am not sure how it happened. I recently wrote a blog post talking about how I felt before I got here, now I am writing a blog about the end. I guess the old saying is right, time flies when you are advocating for the dignity of all human beings.

What I have been up to

In my last blog, I discussed the issue of isolation from people who are poor and how this makes some people blind to the issues. Although I have been directly involved in service throughout the school year, I did not take the time in DC to get to know people who are suffering. I am very disappointed in myself because of this. Usually I am very good about making that a priority.

Luckily, I did have one experience actually working with people who are affected by policy. Other interns from faith organizations and I attended a volunteer event at Christ House. This is an organization that helps those that are poor, mostly homeless, in receiving medical attention that they need. They also have permanent housing options, counseling, and an overall great community atmosphere.

After a tour I was placed on preparing and serving lunch. I have done this before and was not concerned, but it is always a great experience. I love the feeling of immediately making an impact and showing someone that you care. For anyone who has not volunteered to serve a meal to someone who doesn’t have one, I would highly recommend you do. Maybe if all of the leaders of this world had this experience they would feel differently about cutting SNAP?

Throughout this experience I realized how necessary it is to incorporate both direct service and social justice into your life. If I want to make a difference, it is necessary to go to the source. Government is necessary in making sure that people who are vulnerable have the support that they need to stay on their feet. However, for those who never encounter someone different from them, they remain blind to the government’s true obligations for society.

What I am going to do with my life

So now what?

We recently had a meeting about the rest of the year and the plans for this. It was great to hear everything that NETWORK plans to do and the steps we must take to move forward. However, it is hard to think that I will not be a part of this work directly. I know there is always a way to stay in touch and make sure you are making a difference from your hometown (such as checking the NETWORK website and reading blogs), but I am going to miss the important work we do and feeling like I am making a bigger impact on those that I served at Christ House that day.

Going back to school I will continue to work directly with people, but I will be much more aware of the political world. I feel that I will better to able to participate in discussions and share my opinion, along with keeping up with current news and making sure my opinion is heard.

I am in my last week of working with NETWORK and I know I will have more great experiences, but for now, I continue my life as a social work student advocating in the political world.

Blog: Reflections of a NETWORK Intern

Reflections of a NETWORK Intern

Katelyn Eichorst
July 9, 2012

Where I am

This summer I am interning with NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. As a social work major, I wanted to look at the big picture and attempt to solve issues for people using policy. It has been an incredible experience and I have learned so much. Even after the first week, I had a deeper understanding of policy and how it affects the people with whom I have worked in the past. I become involved specifically with SNAP (food stamps) and the attempts to make major cuts to this program.

How I got here

Throughout my years in school, I have grown closer to the homeless population and am connected to many of the shelters in Dubuque, IA (where I attend Loras College). I worked most in a new shelter that was built for women. Seeing all of the women who transitioned in and out of the home (some successful in piecing their life together while others not) made me so thankful for my life and everything I have. A majority of the women were younger than me and hearing their stories showed me that I could have been in that situation and would have been the one who was homeless.

Not all of the women used SNAP to receive food, but hunger was definitely an issue at one point in their life. I cannot even imagine not knowing where your next meal might come from or not eating for a day (let alone missing one meal). When studying social work, I went to the individual level and attempted to help these people get out of poverty and back on their feet. After studying in one policy class I became interested in the idea of helping people on a bigger level.

If I see one person starving on the street, I feed them. If I see millions of American’s starving, I make my way to the source.


I am not a policy expert. In no way am I qualified to run the country or even a district in my state. However, I care about the people who are affected, the people that the big dogs sometimes forget. In an attempt to “do the best for the country” some people chose to cut services to people such as SNAP. As I mentioned before, I am no expert, but it seems pretty obvious to me that not helping people who are in need of that support is probably not the best way to go. How do they believe that this is ok? How do they sleep after writing a bill that would cut $16.5 billion from SNAP while keeping in place tax cuts for the top 2%?

Isolation. I do not believe these are bad people and are laughing when they see people who are starving. They do not want these people to suffer. However, they see these statistics regarding people who use food stamps and the need for them and they think of them as what they are, statistics. These are not political issues; these are humans who need our help and support. I think some people need to be reminded of that and NETWORK is working to tug at the hearts of our country.

Policy is intimidating. However, I read in a book once that policy comes from the Greek word polis, which means city. Community is so important in policy, and that is really all it is.

Blog: SNAP — A Program Constantly Under Threat

SNAP — A Program Constantly Under Threat

By Matthew Schuster
October 25, 2011

With all of the Super Committee budget work that is being done in Congress, it is more than important to make sure our country’s politicians do not make cuts in funding to the “SNAP” program*. The program is always in threat of losing funding, and with the recession, we at NETWORK are more concerned than usual about protecting it.

SNAP is the current title of the food stamp program that helps 43 million low-income Americans to afford an adequate diet. For example, one in eight Latinos needs the program. The reason that SNAP becomes an issue during budget organization is because the federal government pays for the full cost of the program. However, it is a necessary program and money well spent. It has been the most responsive federal assistance program and in this economic downturn, it is needed more than ever. In fact, 15.6 million more people have participated in the SNAP program since the recession began in 2008.

The truth is that the amount people get a month averages only about $134. That is basically a dollar a meal. With all the government spends on expensive military operations overseas, that is such a meager cost to feed someone within our own country. Furthermore, SNAP includes employment and training assistance so that people can indeed have some resources to move from government assistance to work. If people do not believe in food stamps, they should visit a food bank or soup kitchen. This is one program that I definitely will never mind my tax dollars going towards.

* The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the name of the Food Stamps program. As noted by the Coalition on Human Needs: “The goal of the program is to alleviate hunger and malnutrition by permitting low-income households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade.” It provides monthly benefits to eligible low-income families for the purchase of food. These benefits are funded by the federal government, with states providing part of the administrative costs.

As noted in a recent NETWORK blog post from former NETWORK Associate Casey Schoeneberger, “SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) has proven to be the most successful and cost-effective anti-poverty program in the nation, most recently in response to the recession and high unemployment rate. With the current “food insecurity rate” of 1 in 20 families (FRAC, 3/2/11) surely more children and struggling families will go hungry if the Republican Budget Resolution to turn SNAP into a block grant becomes law. The House Republican plan to change SNAP would endanger lives. Not only is an adequate food safety net the most basic support the government and fellow citizens can provide struggling families, but economists agree that food stamps are one of the best known stimulus tools the government can use to spur the economy, adding $1.74 to the economy for every $1.00 spent.”

To access the government website explaining the program click here.