What's News in Idaho

 

Thousands of Magic Valley Children are Going Hunger
Kimberlee Kruesi, Times News

In a time when childhood obesity numbers are consistently rising, it’s hard to imagine child hunger as a problem.

Yet, according to a recent study, the problem not only exists in Idaho but it is expanding. The report shows that more than 95,000 Idaho children are “food insecure,” or lack the food they need to maintain healthy lives. A previous study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture during 2006-2008 concluded that 66,000 Idaho children were food insecure.

The new study, funded by the Idaho Foodbank and Feeding America, compared county child food insecurity rates from 2009 to the overall state mark of 23.4 percent. In south-central Idaho, Blaine and Twin Falls counties fell below the state rate, while remaining area counties, led by Camas County’s 28.5 percent, came in above it.

Having county data is helpful in spotting pockets of need throughout the state, said Kathy Gardner, director of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force.

“This data is important. It tells us where we need to increase access to free food programs for children,” she said.

Many schools hold free lunch programs throughout the summer, but Gardner said a major issue is getting the food to kids.

“In Idaho, many kids live in rural areas and maybe can’t get to the lunches,” she said. “We need to change that.”

While Idaho has food banks set up across the state to help those in need, schools run the majority of children’s food programs.

In Twin Falls, close to 2,000 children are fed daily during a free summer lunch program, said Susan Henderson, food services supervisor for the Twin Falls School District. Lunches are distributed in parks throughout the summer, but the handouts will stop once the school year begins and free or reduced-price meals are served in the schools.

“At least these kids know where to get one good meal a day,” Henderson said.

The recession has also increased the number of hungry children in Idaho, said Carolyn Sullivan, Jerome School District food service supervisor.

“I’ve seen an upward trend of more children coming to school hungry and are just not getting fed at home,” Sullivan said. “As times are changing, these programs are critical so no child is left hungry.” 

 

Ban on Using Food Stamps to Buy Soda Rejected by USDA

Patrick McGeehan, New York Times

Federal officials on Friday rejected Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s proposal to bar New York City’s food stamp users from buying soda and other sugary drinks with them.

The decision derailed one of the mayor’s big ideas to fight obesity and poor nutrition in the city. Mr. Bloomberg and the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, were quick to criticize the ruling by the United States Department of Agriculture as a disservice to low-income residents.

Dr. Farley, who said he was “very upset” by the decision, said that it “ really calls into question how serious the U.S.D.A. is about addressing the nation’s most serious nutritional problem.”

In October, city and state officials proposed a two-year experiment to see if the prohibition would reduce obesity among people who buy their groceries with food stamps. Dr. Farley said that about 57 percent of adults in the city and 40 percent of the children in its public schools were overweight or obese, and that obesity was especially rampant in low-income neighborhoods. Limiting consumption of sodas and other drinks with high sugar content, he argued, could help reverse that trend.

But in a letter to a New York State official, an administrator of the food stamp program in Washington said the city’s proposed experiment would have been “too large and complex” to implement and evaluate.

Jessica Shahin, an associate administrator in the Agriculture Department, wrote that the waiver the city sought was denied because of the logistical difficulty of sorting out which beverages could or could not be purchased with food stamps and because it would be hard to gauge how effective the step was in reducing obesity. As an alternative, Ms. Shahin suggested the federal government could work with the city on other efforts to encourage consumers to make “healthy choices.”

Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture, said in a statement that the department “has a longstanding tradition of supporting and promoting incentive-based solutions that are better-suited for the working families, elderly and other low-income individuals” who rely on food stamps than restrictions are. “We are confident that we can solve the problem of obesity and promote good nutrition and health for all Americans and stand ready to work with New York City to achieve these goals.”

The city’s proposal was part of Mr. Bloomberg’s campaign to make the city a healthier place, which has included banning smoking indoors and in public parks, barring restaurants from cooking with trans fats and requiring them to inform customers about calorie counts. The mayor was not pleased with the rejection.

“We think our innovative pilot would have done more to protect people from the crippling effects of preventable illnesses like diabetes and obesity than anything else being proposed elsewhere in this country — and at little or no cost to taxpayers,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a statement. “We’re disappointed that the federal government didn’t agree, and sorry that families and children may suffer from their unwillingness to explore our proposal. New York City will continue to pursue new and unconventional ways to combat the health problems that hurt New Yorkers and Americans from coast to coast.”

The decision was a victory for the soft-drink industry, which had lobbied against the proposal, and for advocates for the poor and underfed, who had argued that the government should not stigmatize them by taking away their right to shop like other consumers. The food-selling industry also contended that it would be too complicated for stores to have to program their registers differently in the city than elsewhere.

“It was a big deal not to start breaking up the programs,” said Jennifer Hatcher, senior vice president for government relations at the Food Marketing Institute in Washington.

The disappointment of Mr. Bloomberg and Dr. Farley was matched by the thrill in the voice of Joel Berg, the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, who cheered the federal government for “deciding not to micromanage” the lives of poor people.

“The whole attempt was misguided and unworkable,” Mr. Berg said. “This proposal was based on the false assumption that poor people were somehow ignorant or culturally deficient.”

The decision was the second in seven years in which the Agriculture Department rejected such a proposed ban. In 2004, it denied a request by officials in Minnesota to prevent food stamp recipients from buying junk food.

The Agriculture Department questioned the merits of that plan, which focused on candy and soda, among other foods, and said it would “perpetuate the myth” that food stamp users made poor shopping decisions.

Mr. Berg and other advocates for the poor and underfed said that New York City’s proposal would have had a similar effect. Instead of restricting the dietary choices of low-income residents, he said, city officials should reconsider how to increase the purchasing power of low-income residents so that they can buy food that is more nutritious.

“If healthier food is made affordable and accessible,” he said, “low-income people will line up to get it.”

 

Nearly One in Four of Nation's Households with Children Report Inability to Afford Enough Food

 

Access the full report HERE or visit our Resources page

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) release

Washington, D.C. – August 11, 2011 – Nearly one in four U.S. households with children struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families in 2010, according to a new report  released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). The analysis separately examines food hardship rates – the inability to afford enough food – for households with children and without children nationally and in every state, every Congressional District and 100 of the country’s largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs).

FRAC’s Food Hardship in America series analyzes data that were collected by Gallup and provided to FRAC. The data were gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has interviewed more than one million households since January 2008. FRAC has analyzed responses to the question: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”

The analysis released today shows that food hardship rates are very high both for households with children and for households without children. Nationally in 2010 the food hardship rate for households without children was 14.9 percent, and it was 23.4 percent for families with children.

When examining state data just for households without children, every state (except for one) reports food hardship rates higher than 10 percent in 2009-2010 and five states report rates of 20 percent or higher.

But, not surprisingly, given relative national poverty and hunger rates, the situation for households with children is far worse.  Among the findings of deep and widespread food hardship are the following:

  • 368 Congressional Districts have at least one in six households with children struggling with food hardship, answering that they did not have enough money to buy needed food at times in the last 12 months. 195 Congressional Districts have a food hardship rate of at least one in four for households with children.
  • Of the 100 largest MSAs, 40 had at least one in four households with children (25 percent or more) struggling with food hardship and every one of the 100 largest MSAs had 15 percent or more of such households affirmatively answering the Gallup question.  
  • In 21 states and the District of Columbia the rate for households with children reporting food hardship exceeded 25 percent.

“The data in this report show that food hardship – running out of money to buy the food that households need – is a substantial challenge in every corner of this country,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “These data demonstrate, as if any further evidence were needed, that this is not the time to make our safety net weaker. Congress must ensure that all deficit consideration protects federal nutrition programs – SNAP (food stamps) and child nutrition and senior nutrition programs – and other parts of the safety net that help low-income people.”

“These data merely underscore what every Member of Congress should know already -- that his or her district has tens of thousands of households struggling with hunger or food insecurity,” said Weill. “Weakening any of these key safety net programs will make hunger and malnutrition more common and deeper. It will increase fiscal deficits, further weaken the economy, and increase human suffering in the district.”

FRAC also noted that the data in this report show states, cities, counties and school districts have to do a much better job using federally-funded anti-hunger programs in order to reduce hunger. State participation rates and shortfalls in key programs can be found on FRAC’s website. Reaching more people with these programs would translate to less hunger, healthier children, more federal dollars flowing into the state, more economic growth, and more jobs.

 

Idahoan's Efforts to Tackle Hunger Gain National Spotlight: Kathy Gardner Named Finalist for AARP Foundation's Nationwide Hunger Hero Award  

BOISE, Idaho, Aug. 8, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 6 million older Americans face the threat of hunger and are forced to skip meals, or choose between paying for groceries or their prescriptions, with Idaho having one of the highest food hardship rates in the nation.  Few people know this better than Kathy Gardner, the Director of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force, and few are doing as much to stop it – now her work is in the national spotlight. 

Gardner's efforts to end hunger in Idaho and her innovative approach to tackling hunger issues in the state haven't just garnered her a nomination for the AARP Foundation's Hunger Hero Award, it's made her one of five finalists out of over one hundred nominees nationwide.     

Through The Drive to End Hunger (a national effort to help end senior hunger in America), the contest recognizes extraordinary people (aged 50+) whose efforts to combat hunger inspire and motivate others to action.  Gardner's work with refugees in Idaho made her a clear standout, having established the Somali Bantu African Food Project.  The project enables the Somali Bantu (refugees from Southeastern Africa) to harvest foods indigenous to their home, and has distributed over 300,000 pounds of food, as well as helping the group raise funds for other projects by selling their harvest at the Capitol City Farmer's Market – efforts led by the community's elders. 

"Kathy's work has helped tens of thousands of Idahoans threatened by hunger have access to the basic necessity of a meal," said Jim Wordelman, State Director for AARP in Idaho.  "She doesn't do this work for any other reason than to make a difference in people's lives - we're glad her efforts are being recognized." 

In addition to national recognition with their profile in AARP The Magazine and an Inspire Award from the publication, the AARP Foundation will also make a $15,000 donation to the winner's charity to help that organization continue working to end senior hunger.   

"Idaho is a particularly vulnerable state when it comes to hunger, and we've got a lot of work ahead to continue to tackle this issue," said Kathy Gardner, Director for the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force.  "It is an honor to be nominated as a Hunger Hero, the award money that comes with the national recognition would go an especially long way in a rural state like Idaho." 

The finalist with the most votes wins. To read more about Gardner's story, and those of the other finalists, and vote, people can visit: www.aarp.org/hungerhero (voting begins today, people can cast one vote per day ending September 24).   

Gardner's other efforts in Idaho include launching the Hunger Free Community Initiative in Emmett, involving lawmakers, senior centers, food pantries, farmers and school districts to tackle food insecurity in the area; creating a Senior Farmer's Marker Nutrition Program; and working to remove barriers to Idahoans' participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) across the Gem State.

 

USDA Awards Grants to Reduce Hunger and Improve Nutrition of School-Aged Kids by Improving Enrollment in School Nutrition Programs: Idaho is Chosen as a Grant Recipient 

 USDA Press Release

WASHINGTON, July 28, 2011 -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced new investments in New Hampshire and Idaho to help eliminate childhood hunger and improve nutrition and health for school-aged kids. The grants are awarded to the two state agencies to reduce paperwork and expedite certification of students for free meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs through a process called direct certification.

"Direct certification is a useful tool that allows us to get healthy meals to our kids so that they get access to the nutrition they need to learn and thrive," said Vilsack. "These grants will help states improve their direct certification process so that fewer eligible families will have to fill out duplicative paperwork for healthy school meals."

With direct certification, states and local, educational agencies can automatically enroll students from households already participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations without requiring the child's family to complete an additional application. The investments announced today are intended to help improve direct certification rates for children in households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Agencies administering the National School Lunch Program in New Hampshire and Idaho were chosen to receive the grants provided by the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Act of 2010. Idaho will receive $513,190 and New Hampshire, $109,916. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service expects to award additional grants to states meeting eligibility requirements each quarter over the next year. Direct Certification Grants totaling nearly $3 million have been made to 15 states since January, including those announced today.

Under Secretary Kevin Concannon underscored the importance of the grants, "Direct certification is a trifecta for schools, parents and children. Schools and parents benefit from reduced paperwork, and children get better access to healthy school meals.," he said. "And these grants help states do that."

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, in addition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and National School Lunch Program, also include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Summer Food Service Program. Taken together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net.

 

 

Food Stamps: The Struggle to Eat


The Economist, July 14th

WHEN the dismal news came on July 8th that the unemployment rate had risen fractionally to 9.2%, both Republicans and Democrats declared the data proof of the folly of the other party’s policies. How, Republicans asked, could Democrats even consider raising taxes when the economy is so weak? How, Democrats retorted, could Republicans advocate big cuts in the safety net when so many Americans are in desperate need? As the haggling over raising the legal limit on the federal government’s debt reaches a climax, the feeble state of the economy is making the budgetary trade-offs involved ever less appealing.

Take food stamps, a programme designed to ensure that poor Americans have enough to eat, which is seen by many Republicans as unsustainable and by many Democrats as untouchable. Participation has soared since the recession began (see chart). By April it had reached almost 45m, or one in seven Americans. The cost, naturally, has soared too, from $35 billion in 2008 to $65 billion last year. And the Department of Agriculture, which administers the scheme, reckons only two-thirds of those who are eligible have signed up.

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives want to rein in the programme’s runaway growth. In their budget outline for next year they proposed cutting the amount of money to be spent on food stamps by roughly a fifth from 2015. Moreover, instead of being a federal entitlement, available to all Americans who meet the eligibility criteria irrespective of the cost, the programme would become a “block grant” to the states, which would receive a fixed amount to spend each year, irrespective of demand. The House has also voted to cut a separate health-and-nutrition scheme for poor pregnant women, infants and children, known as WIC, by 11%. (The Senate, controlled by the Democrats, is unlikely to approve either measure.)

Advocates for the poor consider such cuts unconscionable. Food stamps, they argue, are far from lavish. Only those with incomes of 130% of the poverty level or less are eligible for them. The amount each person receives depends on their income, assets and family size, but the average benefit is $133 a month and the maximum, for an individual with no income at all, is $200. Those sums are due to fall soon, when a temporary boost expires. Even the current package is meagre. Melissa Nieves, a recipient in New York, says she compares costs at five different supermarkets, assiduously collects coupons, eats mainly cheap, starchy foods, and still runs out of money a week or ten days before the end of the month.

It is also hard to argue that food-stamp recipients are undeserving. About half of them are children, and another 8% are elderly. Only 14% of food-stamp households have incomes above the poverty line; 41% have incomes of half that level or less, and 18% have no income at all. The average participating family has only $101 in savings or valuables. Less than a tenth of recipients also receive cash payments from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families programme (TANF), the reformed version of welfare; roughly a third get at least some income from wages.

Spending on food stamps has risen so quickly because, unusually, almost all the needy are automatically and indefinitely eligible for them. Unemployment benefits last for a maximum of 99 weeks at the moment, and that is due to fall to six months from next year. No one knows exactly how many people have exhausted their allotment, as the government does not attempt to count them. But almost half of the 14m unemployed have been out of a job for six months or more, and so would no longer qualify for benefits under the rules that will apply from January 1st.

Medicaid, America’s main health-care scheme for the poor, does not cover childless adults in most states, no matter how destitute they are. Housing assistance is not an entitlement, and only a small fraction of those who qualify for it actually receive it. The food-stamp programme has a rule limiting able-bodied, childless adults to three months on food stamps every three years—but it is suspended at times of high unemployment, leaving only recent immigrants and those convicted of drug offences to go hungry.

Stacy Dean of the Centre for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a think-tank, argues that the rapid growth of food stamps in recent years is a sign that they are working as intended, responding promptly to hard economic times. In contrast, she points out, block-grant programmes grow much more slowly when times are tough, since funding for them does not increase in line with demand. Food-stamp participation rose by 45% between December 2007 and December 2009, CBPP calculates, while the number of families receiving cash grants under TANF, a block-grant scheme, rose by just 13%.

Food stamps also help stimulate the economy more than other forms of government spending, points out Jim Weill of Food Research and Action Centre, a charity, since their recipients are so poor that they tend to spend them immediately. When Moody’s Analytics assessed different forms of stimulus, it found that food stamps were the most effective, increasing economic activity by $1.73 for every dollar spent. Unemployment insurance came in second, at $1.62, whereas most tax cuts yielded a dollar or less. All the talk in Washington these days, however, is of cutbacks—even for the hungry.

 Idaho Foodbank Fund Ready for Second Successful Year 

The Idaho Food Bank Fund will accept grant applications between July 1 and July 31. Any Idaho 501(c) (3) organization that provides hunger relief is eligible. This includes grants for emergency food purchases, assistance to expand capacities and funding for hunger-relief services and programs.

Grants will be reviewed in August and September, and applicants advised when the process is complete. 

The Idaho Food Bank Fund was established by the 2009 Legislature as a cooperative effort between three well-respected statewide Idaho nonprofit organizations: The Idaho Foodbank, Community Action Partnership Association of Idaho and Catholic Charities of Idaho. The donation opportunity was on the Idaho State Income Tax Form 40, which allowed taxpayers to designate a dollar amount for the Fund.

During the Idaho Food Bank Fund’s first year, in 2010, generous taxpayers provided $78,100 to 26 nonprofit recipients. The hunger-relief grants ranged from Post Falls to Wendell and included:
  • $5,000 for a snack program at Oasis Worship and Food Center in Caldwell
  • $3,200 to the Post Falls Food Bank to help fund fuel and electricity for food collection
  • $1,500 for help with food purchases at the Community Kitchen in Idaho Falls. 
Applicants are not required to have any connection with Community Action Partnership, Catholic Charities or The Idaho Foodbank.

For more information about the grants email grants@idahofoodbank.org. To learn more about the fund and view the public service announcement go to http://idahofoodbankfund.org

 

Feeding Kids When Parents, Schools Can't

Felipe Barral, CNN     July 14, 2011

Cobb County, Georgia (CNN) -- For many, summer means vacation, sports, camping or just time off to relax, but not for millions of kids living in poverty in the United States. There are few camps or beach trips for them, and sometimes not even three meals a day.

During the school year, public schools provide breakfast and lunch to millions of students in the United States. But when summer arrives, parents struggling to feed their children can no longer rely on those meals.

More than 21 million children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school. But in the summer, the number of kids participating in food programs drops to fewer than 3 million, despite efforts to raise awareness and increase community support, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

To help fill that gap, one community in suburban Atlanta is delivering food -- and hope -- in brown paper bags.

Must Ministries is an organization in Cobb County, near Atlanta, that provides food, clothing and assistance to families in need. During the summer, volunteers pack hundreds of bag lunches for some of the nearly 46,000 kids in the county who qualify for free or reduced-priced meals during the school year.

When she started as a volunteer 11 years ago, Must Ministries coordinator Paula Rigsby said they made 200 lunches every Friday. Now, they prepare up to 700 every day, and many parents rely on the help.

"During the school year, they do not have to worry about feeding their children during the day," Rigsby said. "Feeding your own children in the summer time can be a hardship."

Stephanie Bautista, mother of four, is grateful for the help. Without free lunches for her kids, she said, "I would have to go find something for them, or sacrifice something that I would want ... for my kids to eat. So it does help tremendously."

The people who Rigsby serves have been hurt by the tough economy.

"The way jobs are right now, it's too low," said Carla Rojas, mother of three. "Sometimes my husband works, but sometimes he doesn't. This help allows us to save money by getting food for our children."

Rigsby has noticed a change as well.

"We see a lot more fathers present that we have never seen before," she said. "Usually the fathers never come; it's the mothers that we see. Now the mothers have gone to work, either to baby-sit or clean, and it's the fathers walking to the children in the stop."

Such hardships are felt not just in this Atlanta suburb, but nationwide. The number of kids who qualify for free or reduced-price meals is growing; it's up nearly 6% in the past three years. Families of four with an annual household income less than $28,000 are eligible for the school lunch program.

In January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed new rules to strengthen school breakfast and lunch nutrition standards. It would be the first change to school lunch standards in 15 years and would be part of the Obama administration's attempt to curb childhood obesity. The rules would increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat milk while cutting the amount of sodium and saturated fat. It would reduce the availability of traditional school lunch staples such as pizza and french fries.

Advocates say adequate nutrition can lead children to better lifelong eating habits and improved behavior and focus in school.

But improvements during the school years don't help families during the summer.

According to the National Poverty Center, children represent a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States. They are 25% of the total population, but 35% of the poor population. In 2008, more than 15 million children -- 1 in every 5 -- lived in poverty.

"The lack of good nutrition is just one of the many issues children in poverty have to deal with," said Eric Jensen, author of "Teaching With Poverty in Mind." "These kids move around a lot, don't have much adult supervision or routine in their lives, and sometimes suffer from mistreatment or abuse. So it's no wonder studies have shown that low-income students tend to be low performers in school."

So while providing food is a good start, it's not the only thing these kids need.

"Hope is the main tool, giving our kids a sense of hope, and belief that they can do it," said Christa Flood, a school administrator from Charlotte, North Carolina. "Once you transform their minds, they act in a different manner."

Ultimately, it's important to feed kids' minds and bodies, educators said. Jensen said efforts like the summer lunch program help reduce children's stress levels, which is critical in helping them learn.

That's why on any given summer day, you can find Paula Rigsby and her fellow volunteers trying to give local kids a boost -- one lunch at a time.

 

Idaho's Surplus Exceeds Expectations

John Miller, Associated Press

July 13, 2011

A healthy share of Idaho’s 2011 budget surplus will go to offset taxes residents pay on food, but programs for the poor and disabled that saw a $108 million reduction in state and federal funding during the last Legislature won’t be restored.

The plan Gov. Butch Otter announced Tuesday for the extra revenue Idaho collected during the 12 months that ended June 30 is already getting criticism from minority Democrats and one Republican budget writer, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

In all, Idaho took in $2.44 billion, up 7.9 percent from 2010 as hiring accelerated, more businesses turned a post-recession profit, and the public resumed buying.

Despite the positive revenue, Otter said he’s taking a cautious approach as Idaho tries to emerge from the recession. In recent months, job growth has stagnated, and the federal government’s current talks over raising the debt ceiling are creating more uncertainty.

“We’re a long way from out of the woods,” Otter said in a prepared statement. “You need to remember that this is about half a billion dollars less than we had in my first year as governor” in 2007.

Most of the extra 2011 cash, some $68 million, must be diverted to public schools and community colleges to fulfill commitments to the federal government to maintain funding levels.

Combined with $51 million from the federal government to preserve teachers’ jobs since last year, Idaho has nearly restored the $128 million fiscal 2010 cut to public schools.

About $15 million will go to expand the grocery tax credit, Otter said.

Following a 2008 legislative compromise, Idaho’s grocery tax credit has been lifted to $70 annually for low-income residents and $50 for others.

The 2011 Legislature wanted to delay expansion, citing uncertain budgets, but Otter’s decision to boost the credit will provide an additional $10 back on nearly everybody’s income taxes.

Otter could have called a special session to ask legislators to partially restore Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled but indicated he felt the grocery tax credit was the best way to spend the money.

“That’s one of the promises we made long ago, and we’ve desperately tried to keep it,” Otter said.

Cameron, co-chairman of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said he’d have preferred to partially restore Department of Health and Welfare programs like Medicaid because that would have leveraged federal matching funds of roughly $40 million, restoring about half the money the program is losing.

“My preference would be either restoring some of the current programs we have cut,” Cameron said. “Health and Welfare would be a high priority.”

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls and an architect of this year’s Medicaid changes, didn’t return a phone call.

But House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said institutionalizing those cuts when money is available will ripple throughout the system: higher prison costs, busier emergency rooms, more human pain.

“The consequence of that is we’re going to pay more in the out years,” Rusche said.

In Tuesday’s announcement, Otter conceded he lost a $100 wager — a “silly bet,” he called it in the statement — with former Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus that final collections for fiscal year 2011 would be closer to a forecast of $2.43 billion by former Idaho chief economist Mike Ferguson than Otter’s austere $2.29 billion estimate.

Ferguson, who retired in 2010 after more than 25 years as Idaho’s chief economic prognosticator, said Tuesday he was pleased Idaho’s revenue exceeded even his own forecast.

That’s after Ferguson found himself at the center of a 2010 budget controversy as conservative legislators, wary that the recession would linger, dismissed his projections as too rosy and adopted more austere figures — with the budget cut to match. Some of “the cuts that were made now may not have been necessary,” Ferguson said.

A continued revenue recovery will put conservative Idaho legislators in an unusual, and maybe even uncomfortable, spot: figuring out what to do with surpluses that could top $100 million as early as next July, even if revenue grows from actual 2011 collections at just the forecast 3 percent rate.

Wayne Hammon, Otter’s budget chief, said the governor has two priorities for additional cash: Bolstering education and refilling rainy day reserves drained from $350 million to nearly nothing over the past three years.

“Everyone recognizes that without a hefty rainy day account, the last three years would have been much more difficult,” Hammon said.

Others, too, have their eye on incoming cash. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, last year floated a proposal to reduce Idaho’s corporate and individual income tax rates, and said the clamor could become louder as revenue growth resumes.

“We need to backfill some of the needs of education,” said Moyle. “And then give it back to the taxpayers.”

 

Agriculture Deputy Secretary Highlights School Meal Improvements to National School Nutrition Advocates.

USDA Press Release

NASHVILLE, Tenn., July 12, 2011 – Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today highlighted the importance of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and announced the findings of USDA's first Farm to School report during the 2011 School Nutrition Association national convention. Merrigan delivered remarks to thousands of school nutrition professionals at the three-day event which provided an opportunity to discuss the Obama administration's efforts to improve the health and nutrition of meals served through the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

"By working closely with school nutrition professionals, the Obama Administration is promoting initiatives that provide kids with access to nutritious foods and information to teach them healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime" said Merrigan. "Farm to school programs are a great way to bring more fresh, local produce into school cafeterias and support local farmers as well. Many schools are also using Farm to School programs to teach students where their food comes from through nutrition education."

A USDA Farm to School Team was established late in 2009 as a result of discussions within the department-wide Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, which seeks to create new economic opportunities by promoting local and regional food systems that help keep wealth in rural communities. These discussions focused on the need to develop strategies to enhance market opportunities for local farmers as well as the need to better connect farmers with consumers and thereby increase public understanding of American agriculture. Farm to School was quickly identified as a strategy that could potentially contribute to both goals.

During 2010, the team visited 15 school districts across the country that were involved in farm to school related activities in varying capacities, reviewed resource materials, participated in national and regional conferences and consulted with other organizations that worked with the farm to school community. The report published today summarizes the observations of these activities. This report also provides suggestions for further action by USDA to support schools in obtaining fresh and healthy food from their local and regional food systems. USDA's Farm to School Team found that communities are passionate about providing locally grown products to schools and work hard to overcome challenges such as the limited availability of local agricultural products and difficulties with processing and storage. For more information or to view the report, please visit the USDA Farm to School website at: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/F2S/.

Merrigan also announced that USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Food Nutrition Service (FNS) will conduct a pilot for acquiring fresh fruits and vegetables to build on farm-to-school programs in Florida and Michigan. The pilot will use commercial distribution models already in place and allow schools to obtain locally grown produce. Additionally, USDA's National Agricultural Library published a new resource titled 'Farm to School: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography. To view the bibliography, please visit the USDA Farm to School website at: http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/srb1102.shtml

With one in every three children in America at risk for preventable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease due to overweight and obesity, school nutrition improvements are an investment in improving our children's future and are critical to helping them maintain optimal health, she said. School meals currently reach nearly 32 million children each school day nationwide, and many children consume as many as half their daily calories at school.

Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed by President Obama in December 2010. The legislation, which reauthorized the Child Nutrition programs, will allow USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school meals programs improve the nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children, and help a new generation win the future by having healthier lives. The Act is the legislative centerpiece of the Let's Move! initiative.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees 15 nutrition assistance programs that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. The programs work together to form a national safety net against hunger. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs provide nutritionally balanced, free and low-cost meals to nearly 32 million school children each school day. SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, puts healthy food in reach for more than 44 million Americans each month, half of whom are children.

 

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Economic Development Funding to Create Jobs, Economic Opportunity and Strengthen Rural Communities

Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force (Sage Community Resources) Receives grant

USDA Press Release

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2011 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the selection of 43 community-based organizations to receive funding to promote economic growth and the selection of six rural microenterprises for loans and grants to support rural business development, create jobs and strengthen local communities.

"A strong rural America and a strong agricultural industry go hand in hand," said Vilsack. "These investments will bring increased economic opportunity to rural residents and communities. And they will help organizations expand job opportunities across the nation, part of the Obama Administration's effort to win the future."

The funding announced today is being provided through the Rural Community Development Initiative Program (RCDI) and the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP). RCDI helps community-based development organizations, federally recognized Indian tribes and other groups promote economic growth in low-income, rural communities. Recipients are required to obtain matching funds, which increase the value of the grants. The grants are awarded to public or nonprofit intermediary organizations. The funds are then provided to recipients, which must be located in eligible rural areas. RCDI funding, much of it regional in nature, underscores USDA's support of locally-led regional strategies. Recipients under the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program are development organizations that make loans to microenterprises and microentrepreneurs and provide business-based training and technical assistance grants to rural microborrowers.

For example, in Columbia, Md., Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. was selected to receive a RCDI grant to provide financial and technical assistance to 23 rural and tribal organizations working to create and preserve affordable and sustainable rural housing. Enterprise will leverage its expertise in green building and energy-efficient housing development to foster economic opportunity through staff training.

Of the more than $9.5 million in total funding Vilsack announced today, more than $3 million is being provided for Microentrepreneur assistance loans and grants (RMAP). For example, the Eastern Maine Development Corporation in Bangor, Maine was selected to receive a $500,000 loan and a $105,000 grant to assist rural microentrepreneurs and microenterprises in Hancock, Knox, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Waldo and Washington counties. The project is expected to save 90 jobs and create 40.

Idaho

Ida-Ore Planning & Development Association Inc., dba Sage Community Resources: $65,300 to assess local needs and gain access to locally produced foods.

 

Nation's Primary Nutrition Assistance Program Reaches Highest Accuracy Rate in History of the Program: Improved Administration Results in $356 Million Reduction in Incorrect Payments

USDA Press Release

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2011 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the Department of Agriculture in cooperation with state partners has improved payment accuracy and program integrity in the nation's largest nutrition assistance program. Vilsack commended selected states for their excellence in administering the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Fiscal Year (FY) 2010. The national average level of program payment accuracy for FY 2010 is (96.19 percent), the fourth consecutive year the program has achieved a historically high rate. The accuracy rate for Fiscal Year 2010 is at an all time high and underscores the Administration's ongoing effort to make government more accountable to the American people.

"The Obama administration has made it clear that we will track down and eliminate misspent tax dollars in every agency and department across the federal government," said Vilsack. "USDA and our state agency partners have done just that in achieving historically high accuracy rates in SNAP and we will continue to make improvements that protect taxpayer dollars while putting healthy food on the table for struggling individuals and families."

Under the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008, each state agency is responsible for monitoring and improving its administration of SNAP. The SNAP Quality Control System determines the accuracy of the benefits authorized. The national payment error rate was 3.81 percent in FY 2010, a record low. Without this improvement, FY 2010 improper payments would have been $356 million higher.

Working in collaboration with USDA, state agencies continue to enhance SNAP program integrity even as demand has increased in response to national economic conditions. This year, USDA is investing in process improvement efforts that examine local office processes and identify and implement efficiencies. The department is also interested in funding projects that use technology to achieve procedural changes, such as document imaging, telephone interviews or web-based access to case status information. Today's announcement proves that states' efforts to ensure program integrity and improve their process for administering SNAP are working.

SNAP benefits are essential to the nutrition and well-being of one in seven people in our nation and also provide an economic stimulus that strengthens communities. Research shows that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9.00 in economic activity. SNAP benefits move quickly into local economies, with 97 percent of SNAP benefits redeemed within a month. It is estimated that at least 8,900 full-time equivalent jobs are created from $1 billion of SNAP benefits.

USDA provides monetary incentives to the seven states with the best payment accuracy rates and the three states with the most improved payment accuracy, while $6 million is awarded among the four states with the lowest negative error rates and the most improve negative error rates. For the second straight year, states overall have improved their negative error rates (a measure of denials, terminations, and suspensions). Two states, Texas and Illinois, are being recognized for both best payment accuracy rates and most improved accuracy rates.

The states below were recognized for their performance rates:

Best Payment Accuracy Rate (figures represent the error rate as a percentage)

Florida 0.78
South Dakota 1.31
Delaware 1.52
Illinois 1.70
Mississippi 1.92
Wisconsin 1.97
Georgia 1.99
Texas 2.13
Alaska 2.15

Most Improved Accuracy Rate (figures represent the improvement rate as a percentage)

Texas 4.77
Indiana 4.53
Illinois 4.47

Best Negative Error Rate

Nebraska 0.00
South Dakota 0.25
North Dakota 1.24
Oregon 2.12

Most Improved Negative Error Rate (figures represent the percentage point improvement)

District of Columbia 27.18
Michigan 20.55 

 

Food Desert Solution: Mobile Supermarkets

Peter Smith, Good Magazine

June 8, 2011

You’ve heard of food trucks and green carts. Now there’s a building momentum around mobile supermarkets that can tackle the country's food deserts.

Rick Schnieders grew up working in a little grocery store in Iowa and worked for years with Sysco, the United States' largest food distributor, until retiring a year and a half ago. He admits that he doesn't play golf or own a boat, so he's making the most out of retirement with a for-profit company called Mogro. 

The mobile grocer started trucking in groceries in a 33-foot long trailer—10 full bays with 200 supermarket items—in Santo Domingo Pueblo, a Native American community in New Mexico. It’s basically a beer trailer with added refrigeration. Shopping there is sort of like walking through an outdoor grocery store, albeit one with only two aisles and no chips, soda, or candy bars.

"The trailer is the easy part," Schnieders told me. "The rest of it becomes pretty complicated. You’ve got to find a distributor. You’ve got to have a driver with a Commercial Driver’s License. Just showing up in a community is not enough. We’ve partnered with Johns Hopkins to do cooking classes and events, so you do have to put a lot of pieces together.”

What also makes Mogro different from other mobile food banks and grocers-on-wheels is that it stocks more than just fruits and vegetables. Schnieders doesn't think there's a high enough return on produce to make that venture economically sustainable. In the long-run, perhaps the business could be a model for filling in the gaps that make food deserts—access to healthy affordable food.

"But the real reason we're doing this is because we love this part of the country," he says. "We love the people. It’s an absolute crying need. My wife and I have a biding interest in food, agriculture, and nutrition. And we wanted to see if we could make this work."

 

 

Kids Eat Free

Mike Butts, Idaho Press Tribune

June 9, 2011

 

 

 

CANYON COUNTY — Kids in the Canyon County area can get free lunches all summer vacation long.

But despite the availability of the meals and the bad economy, not all children who may need the meals get them, the director of a hunger task force based in Boise said.

The only requirements for getting the free lunches, and in some cases breakfasts and dinners, are to eat the meals on site and be between 1 and 18 years old. There are more than 60 free lunch sites in the Canyon County area that serve meals on weekdays.

Only 22 percent of kids in Idaho who participate in the free or reduced cost lunch programs at public schools used the U.S Department of Agriculture's Summer Food Service Program last July. That figure is down by almost 8 percent from the previous July.

“That's a real scary number for us,” Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force Director Kathy Gardner said. “We are calling on everyone in the state to play their part to increase summer meal participation.”

Royce Wright, a Caldwell pastor who helps operate the Canyon County area Summer Feeding Program with 61 sites, said the number of meals he served last year were down from the year before. But he thinks that could be because of the bad weather last summer and more families using other social safety net programs for food.

For a list of free meal sites in Canyon County and the surrounding area visit oasiswc.org and click on the Summer Feeding Program link.

What people say about the Summer Food Service Program

“A lot of these children wouldn't get well-needed, nutritious meals otherwise. There's definitely the children that faithfully show up every day.”

Carla Soppe of Caldwell, who works for the Oasis Worship & Food Center's Summer Feeding Program

“It's huge. These kids get off the bus and they're ready” for breakfast.

Terra Reddish, summer school reading aide for Roosevelt Elementary in Nampa

“In the summertime our food bills (could) double, especially because of lunch.”

Jackie Chapman, Nampa mother of four and user of the Summer Food Service Program

Summer Food Service Program by the numbers

  • 256,000: Meals served to Canyon County area children last summer by the Oasis Summer Feeding Program
  • 21,211: Low-income children in Idaho receiving summer meals in July 2010
  • 2.2 million: Children who participated nationwide in the Summer Food Service Program at almost 35,000 sites in 2009
  • $357.9 million: Dollars Congress appropriated for the Summer Feeding Service Program. The amount was $312.2 million in 2008.

How does the program work?

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture reimburses local programs for meals, labor and equipment
  • Sites are established based on nearby schools that have 50 percent or more students on free or reduced lunch programs
  • Some local schools also have free lunch and breakfast programs as part of their summer school operations. These are open to the public.
  • The lunches must contain two ounces of protein, one ounce of grains, ¾ cup of fruits and vegetables and an eight-ounce serving of milk, Wright said.

A few of the free lunch sites also serve breakfasts and dinner.

Adults may purchase the meals. At Oasis sites breakfasts are $1.75 and lunches are $3.25 

 

Participation in Summer Nutrition Programs ContinuesDownward Trend

Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) Press Release

June 7, 2011

Washington, D.C. – June 7, 2011 – Participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs continued to erode in summer 2010 as recession-driven cuts in summer schools and youth programs led to fewer sites that could offer summer meals. Since July 2008, total participation nationwide in the Summer Nutrition Programs has dropped by 90,000 children, according to Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation (pdf), an analysis by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).

FRAC measures how well the Summer Nutrition Programs are reaching children in need by comparing the number of low-income children receiving summer meals to those receiving free and reduced-price school meals during the normal school year. In July 2010, only 15 children received Summer Nutrition for every 100 low-income students who received lunch on an average day in the 2009-2010 school year, a significant decrease from 2009’s ratio of 16:100.  

Continuing fallout from the Great Recession contributed to the worsening reach of summer food. While more children used the regular school year food programs, budget cuts in many states caused school districts to eliminate or reduce their summer programs. The decrease in programs where food can be served makes it more difficult for the Summer Nutrition Programs to respond to children’s need.

 “While participation in other federal nutrition programs grew rapidly because of the recession, participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs continued to slide. It’s time to reverse this trend. This is a time for action,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center.

The report noted that some states managed to increase participation in summer meals. Arizona led the way with a 44.6 percent increase in the number of children from July 2009 to July 2010. Arkansas (36.5 percent), Utah (23.9 percent), Wyoming (17.6 percent) and Tennessee (14.9 percent) also had large increases in participation.

“Several states managed to increase participation, demonstrating that there are inherent programmatic strengths on which states can build,” said Crystal FitzSimons, FRAC’s director of school and out-of-school-time programs.

Action Needed to Feed Hungry Children in the Summer
In the report, FRAC outlined a series of opportunities at the federal, state, and local level to improve participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs:

  • At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing important leadership with the first-ever National Summer Food Service Program Week: “Food That’s In, When School Is Out.” This week-long campaign (June 6 – 10) aims to raise awareness about the risk of hunger low-income children face during the summer months and the benefits of summer food and other programs that can make sure children have access to nutritious food year round.  
  • Nonprofits and schools can embrace new provisions included in the 2010 child nutrition reauthorization law—the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act—that support summer food expansion and outreach efforts.
  • USDA’s two 2010 Summer Food demonstration projects have shown a significant impact on participation and should be replicated. Federal funding was provided to encourage sponsors in Arkansas to operate Summer Food for more days across the summer and to provide activities at sites in Mississippi; participation grew in both states as a result.
  • Some state agencies, such as the Arizona Department of Education, have taken aggressive steps to grow the program—recruiting more sponsors and sites and conducting outreach to families. More states should follow their lead.
  • Schools need to recommit to meeting the nutritional needs of their students during the summer, even if they scale back summer school.

“The Summer Nutrition Programs are a vital part of our nation’s nutrition safety net. There is a foundation on which we can build and which we cannot afford to weaken further,” said FitzSimons. “It’s not too late to make a difference for this summer and for the next.”

The Summer Nutrition Programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, should be filling the food gap for low-income children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year to help keep hunger at bay. Through these programs, children (ages 18 and under) can receive free meals at participating summer sites at schools, parks, other public agencies, and nonprofits.

 

USDA Presents Healthier US School Challenge Honors to 154 Dallas Schools for Excellence in Nutrition and Fitness

 USDA Press Release

DALLAS, May 25, 2011 -- USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, Janey Thornton today recognized 154 Dallas schools for their efforts to expand nutrition and physical activity opportunities, the largest group of honorees from one district to date. USDA and its partners, the National Football League and the National Dairy Council, joined students, teachers, foodservice professionals, and community leaders for the HealthierUS School Challenge celebration. This is the largest number of awards ever presented to a single school district and the state of Texas leads the nation in the highest number of awards.

"HealthierUS Schools have taken an active role in combating childhood obesity by incorporating healthier menus and introducing more physical activities during the school day," said Thornton. "The strong foundation these schools have built supports a clear path for our nation's young people to win the future."

The Challenge and Fuel Up to Play 60 are key components of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation. Last year, the First Lady and USDA called on stakeholders to double the number of HUSSC schools within in a year and add 1,000 schools per year for two years after that. As of May 9, 1,001 schools are certified, well on the way toward the goal of 1,250 schools in this school year. Schools participating in the HUSSC voluntarily adopt USDA standards for food they serve at their schools, agree to offer nutrition education and to provide opportunities for physical activity. Other Let's Move! child nutrition initiatives include Fuel Up to Play 60, a customizable in-school program that empowers youth in more than 70,000 schools to improve nutrition and physical activity at their school and for their own health. It encourages youth to consume nutrient-rich foods (including low-fat and fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables and whole grains) and achieve at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

USDA recently announced that it will be investing $5.5 million in grants with approximately $2.5 million set aside to provide non-competitive grants (up to $50,000) to each State Agency that commits to specific strategies to increase the number of HealthierUS School Challenge applications submitted for approval. Up to $350,000 may be requested to include both competitive and non-competitive grants.

"First Lady Michelle Obama and USDA believe that schools can take a leadership role in helping students learn to make healthier eating and active lifestyle choices for better health," said Janey Thornton, USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. "Today, we honor their commitment and encourage other schools to emulate their efforts in fostering these environments."

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees 15 nutrition assistance programs that touch the lives of one in four Americans over the course of a year. The programs work together to form a national safety net against hunger. The National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs provide nutritionally balanced, free and low-cost meals to nearly 32 million school children each school day. SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, puts healthy food in reach for more than 44 million Americans each month, half of whom are children.

 

New USDA Rule Encourages the Purchase of

Local Agricultural Products for Critical Nutrition

Assistance Programs

 

USDA Press Release

 WASHINGTON, April 26, 2011 – Today, Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon announced that USDA's child nutrition programs are implementing new rules designed to encourage use of local farm products in school meals. The final rule, published in the Federal Register, will let schools and other providers give preference to unprocessed locally grown and locally raised agricultural products as they purchase food for the National School Lunch, School Breakfast, Special Milk, Child and Adult Care, Fresh Fruit and Vegetable, and Summer Food Service programs. The rule is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 signed into law by President Obama and one of the key provisions to bolster farm to school programs across the country.

"This rule is an important milestone that will help ensure that our children have access to fresh produce and other agricultural products," said Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon. "It will also give a much-needed boost to local farmers and agricultural producers."

The rule supports USDA's 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative which emphasizes the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers. The effort builds on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides for increases and flexibility for USDA programs in an effort to revitalize rural economies by supporting local and regional food systems. 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' is helping to break down barriers that keep local food systems from thriving, create new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural communities, and expand access to healthy food throughout the country. USDA expects consumer demand for locally grown food in the U.S. to rise from an estimated $4 billion in 2002 to as much as $7 billion by 2012.

The Farm to School component of this effort is designed to help connect schools with regional or local farms in order to serve healthy meals using locally-sourced products in their cafeterias. USDA currently is sending teams out to select school districts to work on farm to school issues. Some of these programs also incorporate nutrition-based studies, as well as food-learning opportunities such as farm visits, gardening, cooking, and composting activities.

Improving child nutrition is also a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that recently passed Congress and was signed by President Obama on December 13, 2010. This legislation authorizes USDA'S child nutrition programs, including the National School Lunch Program and the Summer Food Service Program. It will allow USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Initiative.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service administers 15 nutrition assistance programs including the Summer Food Service Program; the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the National School Lunch Program; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and the Emergency Food Assistance Program. Together these programs make up the federal nutrition safety net. USDA administers these programs in partnership with state and local agencies and works with faith and community-based organizations to ensure that nutrition assistance is available to those in need.

  

Idaho's Deepening Food Stamp Crisis 

Times News, editorial

The number of Idahoans who now depend on food stamps isn’t just high — it’s scary. According to the Wall Street Journal, the head count of Idahoans taking food stamps has climbed every month since October 2007, hitting 223,347 in December. Back in 2007, 87,232 people got food coupons.

Let’s put that into context: 223,347 is a number equivalent to 14 percent of Idaho’s population; that’s more people than live in Boise.

The growth in food stamp use is so dramatic that Idaho’s major supermarket chains say they’re having trouble handling all the people who come in to restock their pantries on the first of the month.

The latest food stamp numbers have been known for months. We wonder why they apparently weren’t considered by the Legislature when it decided to suspend the annual increase in the grocery tax credit and slash Medicare by $35 million.

“This is a pick-you-up-by-the-bootstraps type of state, which is why the food-stamp participation has been low,” Rose Andueza, program manager of Idaho’s Division of Welfare, told the Wall Street Journal. “But I think now people have just run out of options.”

Idaho’s economy has fallen more steeply than most states’ as two mainstays, technology and construction, nosedived. As a result, food stamps in the state, which typically bristles at federal programs, have drawn broad political support. Last June, Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter suspended for at least one year a federal provision that blocked people with assets such as a boat from eligibility for food stamps.

Officials see no letup in the need for food assistance until Idaho’s economy rebounds, and that isn’t expected until 2013 or 2014, according to Donald Holley, an economics professor at Boise State University. The Idaho Foodbank plans to give out 10 million pounds of food in the fiscal year that began July 1, double what it distributed in fiscal 2007.

Which leads us to wonder why the recently adjourned first session of the 61st Idaho Legislature was far more interested in tax breaks for the private sector than in helping Idaho families.

Two-fifths of Idaho students live in families with low enough incomes that they qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches. In the Bliss School District, it’s 71 percent. At Shoshone, it’s 67 percent. At Hansen, it’s 66 percent. And in Glenns Ferry, it’s 63 percent.

In order to receive food stamps in Idaho, a family of four can have a household income no more than $2,389 a month. For a single wage-earner, that works out to an hourly salary for $14.93 an hour.

But according to the Idaho Department of Labor, the average entry level wage in the eight counties of south-central Idaho is $8.67 an hour. The median wage is $13.83 an hour.

Folks, we don’t have just an economic emergency in Idaho. We have a human crisis.

Before Idahoans talk about any other public policy issues — schools, health care, higher education, corrections — they need to discuss families having enough to feed their kids.

  

USDA Announces Summer Food Program Changes to Expand Nutrition Assistance for Kids in Need

 USDA Press Release

WASHINGTON, April 5, 2011: Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon today announced that more low-income kids will have access to nutrition assistance when school is out and during critical gap periods. USDA's Food and Nutrition Service provided waivers to simplify existing regulations making it easier to provide critical meals through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The changes will expand and enhance the ability of the SFSP to provide nutritious meals and snacks to children in low-income areas during the summer months and long vacation periods for schools on year-round schedules.

"When it comes to our kids, we must do everything we can to provide them with the nutrition they need to grow up and win the future," Concannon said. "The changes we have made to the Summer Food Service Program will improve program efficiency and start to reduce unnecessary barriers for participation so that local SFSP sponsors who are on the frontlines of ending childhood hunger can provide nutrition assistance to those in need."

The waivers announced today:

  • Eliminate time restrictions between meal services, giving sponsors added flexibility. Sponsors will no longer be required to ensure that specific time periods elapse between meals or snacks when they schedule meal services at each site.
  • Extend the "Offer Versus Serve" option to all sites, replacing the requirement that meals be provided as a unit with an alternative that allows children to decline food items they do not intend to eat. This option has been successfully used by schools to help reduce plate waste and food costs in the school meals programs, and it has been available to school food authority sponsors operating SFSP.
  • Simplify requirements to conduct site visits during the first week of meal service operations for sites in good standing. This change relieves sponsors of the requirement to visit sites that have already demonstrated success in the program, so that they can target their resources to new sites and those that need additional oversight.

The SFSP delivers nutrition assistance to about 3 million children at sponsored sites which include schools, government agencies, residential and non-residential camps and faith-based organizations. The SFSP served nearly 134 million meals at eligible sites in 2010. In the near future, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will issue additional waivers that will ease application rules for experienced sponsors in good standing, and expand meal site options. FNS will also provide guidance to highlight flexibilities that already exist at the state level to simplify and improve the delivery of nutrition assistance to low-income children during the summer months.

Simplifying SFSP regulations is part of a broader effort to feed more hungry children during gap periods when schools are not in session. Let's Move Faith and Communities is working with partners on the ground to host new summer feeding program sites at congregations or neighborhood organizations. Additionally, USDA also announced pilot projects to develop and test new ways to feed low-income children and reduce their risk of hunger during the summer months. Those pilots include the Summer Delivery and Food Backpack Projects which will operate in six states, the Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer for Children Demonstration projects in Missouri, the Extending Length of Operation Incentive Project in Arkansas, and the Activity Incentive Project in Mississippi.

Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The legislation authorizes USDA's child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program, the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. The Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children, and help a new generation win the future by having healthier lives. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to end childhood obesity in a generation.

 

Community Supported Agriculture Takes off in the Treasure Valley

 

Anna Web

Idaho Statesman

March 31, 2011

Josie Erskine owns Peaceful Belly Farm, which has offered a CSA, or community-supported agriculture, for eight years.

It’s one of the oldest CSAs in the area, and part of an expanding trend of people wanting to eat food grown close to home, during this Year of Idaho Food.

Subscriptions may seem pricey at first, Erskine said. They typically cost about $420 for 18 to 20 weeks — or about $21 to $23 a week.

But CSA dollars stretch further than they do at local markets for people who buy organic a la carte, said Erskine. A CSA subscription also saves a subscriber labor, water and fertilizer that would be required to grow the wide variety of produce by CSAs.

Here are some local programs. One may be a match for you:

CITY GARDENS

Why it’s cool: Marty Camberlango has been running this small CSA for seven years. He’s known for his salad mix, fingerling potatoes and boiling onions, like cippolinis and pearls. If you love spuds and kale, City Gardens may be a good choice. During the height of the season, subscribers often get as many of these as they want.

The details: City Gardens offers a spring and a summer program. The spring program starts the first or second week of May and lasts eight weeks. The summer program starts when the spring program ends and lasts eight weeks.

Cost: $225 per eight-week program. Subscribers pick up their goods in Garden City.

Spring vs. summer: Camberlango recommends spring. “It’s a lot of stuff you’re not used to — kale, beets, chard — so if you really want to get into eating seasonally, you have to learn to eat this stuff. Cucumbers and tomatoes in the summer are easy.”

Read your green: Camberlango and Katie Painter, head of Global Gardens, have a new blog where they share ways to use CSA produce. Find the blog at castironidaho.com.

Don’t miss: A brussels sprouts and spinach-laden recipe for winter macaroni and cheese.

Contact: 713-1675 and Facebook, City Gardens Garden City.

DRAGGIN’ WING FARM

Why it’s cool: It’s an option for people who love flowers as much as vegetables.

Carrie Jones offers farm-fresh bouquets (Western favorites like sunflowers, rudbeckia, cleome, yarrow, zinnias) and vegetables for home food preservation and canning: pickling cucumbers, paste tomatoes, green beans, basil and dill.

The details: Subscribers get a bouquet once a week for $11 per week, starting mid-June. Prices for vegetables vary, depending on available quantities. Pick-ups in the Collister neighborhood and at Capital City Public Market.

Contact: 440-8406 or dragginwingfarm@yahoo.com.

EARTHLY DELIGHTS FARM

Why it’s cool: This year, said Casey O’Leary, the farm is offering a CSA half-share for light eaters or those who want to supplement their own gardens. Earthly Delights also offers bike delivery service for a fee within a certain service area.

The farm also offers an eight-week, hands-on, organic gardening class beginning April 21. The CSA continues to thrive, but O’Leary said the trend is people wanting to grow their own greens. Earthly Delights wants to evolve with that trend and offer its expertise.

The details: The subscription begins the third week of May and lasts 18 weeks, usually until the end of September.

Cost: $468 for the season ($234 for the half-share). Sign up by May 1.

Contact: 284-3712 or digger@earthlydelightsfarm.com.

EVENSTAR FARM

Why it’s cool: Evenstar, owned by the Hasselblad family, is the new kid on the block. This is your chance to help a new CSA get off the ground.

Isaac Hasselblad said they’re specializing in many heirloom varieties, not just tomatoes, but broccoli and more.

The details: The program begins in late May and lasts into early October. Full and half shares are available.

Cost: $375 full share, $225 half share. Subscribers will pick up their produce at sites TBA. Sign up by May 1.

Contact: 333-9637, or check out the farm’s blog, evenstarfarm.blogspot.com.

GLOBAL GARDENS

Why it’s cool: Farmers are members of the local refugee community. One hundred percent of your payment supports their families.

Global Gardens also accepts food stamps, said director Katie Painter.

The farmers, from countries including Somalia, Burundi and Congo, grow the expected garden offerings like cucumbers and tomatoes, but also items you won’t find elsewhere, like amaranth and collard greens.

The details: The program starts in June and lasts 18 weeks. There will be two local pick-up sites.

Cost: The season is $415.

Contact: 336-4222 or kpainter@idahorefugees.org.

MORNING OWL FARM

Why it’s cool: Mary Rohlfing at Morning Owl offers lots of options. A program called “The Next Level” is a year-round service for those who want to commit to eating local produce, meats and eggs, but don’t have time to source everything themselves.

This program does the work. And, like other Morning Owl programs, brings the food to your door. Sign up for the rest of the year by April 15.

The details: The Next Level costs $2,425 for the year, pro-rated for new enrollees.

The farm also offers the “Back to Basics” program, 16 home deliveries from June to October, for $500.

The farm’s “Stand By” program, which lets you redeem pre-purchased shares at Morning Owl’s Farm Market throughout the season on your own schedule for items as diverse as pizza dough and quiche, is sold out, but Rohlfing said it’s worth getting on the waiting list.

She can usually work something out.

Contact: 850-6798 or morningowl@cableone.net

PEACEFUL BELLY

Why it’s cool: The Erskine family grows a unique diversity of vegetables — subscribers will likely get to sample six different lettuces, six varieties of cucumbers, as many as 25 tomato varieties and more. This CSA also offers several “add-on” options, including fruit from an Oregon farm, Idaho wine and bouquets of flowers grown on the farm.

The details: The program begins mid-May and ends in October for $420. There are four pick-up sites. The deadline to buy a share is May 1.

Contact: 345-8003 or info@peacefulbelly.com.

URBAN GREEN HARVEST

Why it’s cool: This CSA offers a quarter share for light eaters and/or single people. The quarter share still offers enough for veggie lovers, said owner Troy Amyx — typically five items each week.

The details: The program begins mid-May and lasts 18 to 20 weeks, depending on the season. Subscribers pick up their produce at the farm in West Boise, or can pay extra for delivery.

Cost: $500 for the full share, $300 for the half share, $200 for the quarter share. Sign up by May 1.

 

'Insecure about food? The Idaho Foodbank

offers landmark of local hunger story'

 Paige McDaniel

Idaho Press Tribune

March 25, 2011

TREASURE VALLEY — It may seem that “world hunger” is a distant concept, but it can be more difficult to understand the extent of need in the local area. Now. the group Feeding America and the Idaho Foodbank have released a new study that brings hunger to the front door of counties in the state.

Q: What is the “Map the Meal Gap” study?

 A study on the food insecurity rates at the county level and the typical cost of a meal. An analysis of each county’s food-insecure population was used to determine the county’s eligibility for federal nutrition assistance and to measure the shortfall in household food budgets.

Q: What is food insecurity?

 Limited or no access to nutritious and safe foods to lead a healthy lifestyle. Some counties only have access to local grocery stores, convenience stores or gas stations while others, such as Canyon County, have Walmart, Costco or WinCo to access lower-cost foods. Insecurity is related to poverty or food-stamp dependence, but they are not one in the same; unemployment is a better predictor of food insecurity.

Q: If the meal gap is met ($5,438,199 in Canyon County), will it end hunger?

 No. The millions of dollars is the food budget shortfall experienced by Idaho’s food-insecure population. People often make tradeoffs between groceries and utilities, medical care and other necessary resources. Even if cash assistance was provided to all food-insecure people, it would not solve hunger.

Q: What does this mean for you?

 In previous studies, data on hunger could only be defined at the state level; now the problem of food-insecurity can be localized and recognized.

“It’s very natural for people to say, ‘Not in my county, not in my neighborhood.’ It’s easy to ignore it. … Oftentimes we look at the percentage of people in poverty or on food stamps but that isn’t encompassing everyone who is facing hunger. … We assume that if you are above the poverty level you must be doing OK. But with the rise in gas, the cost of living, health care and food, (the poverty level) isn’t the metric that we can limit ourselves to. It’s bigger than that.”

— Karen Vauk, President and CEO, Idaho Foodbank

A bad choice, but the others are worse

 Idaho Statesman, editorial

March 22, 2011

Depending on how you think of it, the Idaho House voted to raise taxes or delayed a tax break. Either way, the grocery tax credit is most valuable to low-income Idahoans. Putting this tax relief on hold for one year is an awful place to scrounge up $15 million.

But the move mitigates the damage in the 2011-12 budget — staving off some further program cuts that would have a profound effect on low-income Idahoans.

Tax increase or not, there’s no debating it’s a flip-flop.

In 2008, lawmakers voted to incrementally increase this income tax credit by $10 a year, in order to better reflect the sales taxes paid on food. They also kept a structure that provides a bigger break to Idaho’s poorest residents: $70 per household member in 2010, compared to $50 per household member for everyone else. (Seniors get an additional $20 per person.)

The long-range — and now, evidently, longer-range — plan is to max out the credits at $100 per person, regardless of income, and $120 for seniors. But now, staring at a $92 million shortfall, the House voted overwhelmingly to freeze the grocery tax credits for 2011.

There’s no question that many Idahoans could put an extra $10 to good use. Yes, it is disheartening to see Idaho balance a challenging budget by reneging on promised tax relief. For the past two sessions, we have urged the Legislature to stay the course on grocery tax relief, saying in 2009 that the state should not “nickel-and-dime people and go back on its word.”

So, no, this isn’t our first choice.

Our first choice wouldn’t be the path of least political resistance. We would prefer to see this money coming from some of Idaho’s myriad (and, still, politically safe) $1.7 billion in sales tax exemptions.

But it’s time to face reality. The 2011 Legislature possesses no stomach for standing up to the special interests that are skilled at procuring and protecting tax breaks. This Legislature seems unwilling to consider any form of a tax increase — hence targeting the grocery credit and painting the move as deferred tax relief.

But this is still better than the bad alternatives. A $92 million shortfall will still force cuts to K-12 and higher education — and a drastic, shortsighted $34 million cut in state Medicaid funding that will affect the very people most helped by the grocery tax credit. The state can’t afford to make the shortfall even deeper, risking a further dismantling of Medicaid and education.

So we’re reduced to choosing among bad options, the hallmark of this budget crisis.

Food Stamps Surge in the West

 

 

Jim Carlton

Wall Street Journal

March 17, 2011

BOISE, Idaho—Before the recession hit, Idaho, Nevada and Utah had some of the lowest rates of food stamp use in the nation. It was a boom time in a region that has always prided itself on self-reliance and a disdain for government handouts.

But since the recession began, these three states have the fastest growth rates in the nation of participation in the federal program, recently released figures show. Utah saw a nearly 34% jump in food-stamp participation in December from the same month a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nevada had the second fastest growth rate at 25%, followed by Idaho at 24%.

For the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, those three states plus Wyoming ranked among the top 10 in food-stamp growth, with Idaho leading with a 42% jump from 2009, according to USDA figures.

It's a striking shift for the area, reflecting a post-boom fallout that has been compounded by the many new residents drawn to the region by a hot economy who lacked a support network when jobs disappeared.

"This is a pick-you-up-by-the-bootstraps type of state, which is why the food-stamp participation has [historically] been low," said Rose Andueza, program manager of Idaho's Division of Welfare. "But I think now people have just run out of options."

Mike Buster, 48 years old, said he lost his construction job in the Boise suburb of Caldwell in 2008 and hasn't been able to find stable work since. His wife, Bonnie, 42, said she tried to work odd jobs, but has been limited by health problems, including a heart condition.

After Mr. Buster's unemployment checks ran out, the couple lost their house to foreclosure. In February 2010, they decided to apply for food stamps for the first time. "We didn't have enough food to last a week, so I looked at my wife and said, 'It's time,' " said Mr. Buster.

The number of Idahoans taking food stamps has climbed every month since an October 2007 low, hitting 223,347, or about 14% of Idaho's population, in December. In October 2007, 5.8% of the population, or 87,232 people, received food stamps.

Nationally, the number of residents using food stamps—which today take the form of debit cards—rose to 44.1 million, or 13.1% of the population, in December from 27.2 million, or 9% of the population, in October 2007.

In 2006, by contrast, Idaho and Nevada ranked second-to-last among states in food-stamp participation, with 53% of people eligible for the assistance actually receiving it compared with a national average of 67%.

The Western region as defined by the USDA—covering California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii—also ranked last with a 58% participation rate; the Midwest's was tops at 74%. Comparisons on state participation rates aren't available beyond 2008.

Officials attributed the rise in Western food-stamp usage to a general push by states for increased access, such as by expediting the process of determining if an applicant is eligible, as well as the recession's impact. Idaho's unemployment rate reached 9.7% in January, nearly triple the 3.4% rate in November 2007, the recent low point. Nationally, the jobless rate stood at 8.9% in February, up from 4.7% in November 2007. (State data are reported with a one-month lag.)

Nevada's unemployment led the nation at 14.2% in January, compared with 3.9% in November 2006, while Utah—whose economy has begun to rebound faster than the rest of the West—held at 7.6% in January up from 2.4% in November 2006.

Idaho's economy has fallen more steeply than most states' as two mainstays, technology and construction, nosedived. As a result, food stamps in the state, which typically bristles at federal programs—it was first to pass a bill to block the federal health-care overhaul—have drawn broad political support. Last June, Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter suspended for at least one year a federal provision that blocked people with assets such as a boat from eligibility for food stamps.

Officials see no letup in the need for food assistance until Idaho's economy rebounds. That isn't expected until 2013 or 2014, said Donald Holley, an economics professor at Boise State University. And the Idaho Foodbank plans to give out 10 million pounds of food in the fiscal year that began July 1, double what it distributed in fiscal 2007.

Michael and Valorie Bruesch said their monthly income of about $2,200 from his unemployment checks and her disability compensation is about $200 over the food-stamp eligibility cutoff. So the couple, who live in Caldwell, lined up with more than 150 others one recent frigid morning for a food handout at the Oasis Worship Center in the city, to help save money so they could keep making mortgage payments.

"When my unemployment runs out soon, we will qualify for food stamps," said the 58-year-old Mr. Bruesch, who lost his job as a medical-supply specialist 15 months ago.

Idaho House Revenue and Taxation Committee Votes 13-3 to Suspend Next Grocery Credit Increase: Estimated to Save $15 Million.

Betsy Z. Russell

Spokesman Review

March 15, 2011

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee has voted 13-3 to suspend the next scheduled bump-up in Idaho's grocery tax credit in the coming year, to save $15 million to help balance next year's budget. The grocery tax credit is currently $50 for most Idahoans and $70 for the low-income, with an additional $20 for seniors over age 65; under the resolution introduced and sent to the full House this morning, it'd stay at that level next year rather than increasing by $10 in each category. Gov. Butch Otter recommended the move in his budget proposal for next year.

“It brings me  no great pleasure to be before you today,” Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who presented the resolution, told the committee. “This is a delay in an incremental increase. It's not a step backwards,” he said.

Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, spoke out against the move. “I think it's a tax increase, and I think it's the worst kind of a tax increase on the people in this state who can least afford it.” He said, “If we're going to raise taxes, I think there are better ways to do it for people who can afford it.”

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “We have known for some time that we were going to have to make hard choices, and this is really hard because everybody has to eat.” She said, “I ain't gonna buy no more bacon, and I love bacon. So it's tough. … But I don't see that we have a whole lot of choice. We've got to cut somewhere.”

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said, “I feel like this is a tax increase as well,” but he said he thought he could “rationalize” it because “we've got the money, it's already in the coffers, we're just returning it.” He said, “If we're going to be forced into tax increases this better just be one of the many that we have to vote on.”

Rev & Tax Chairman Dennis Lake corrected Barbieri. “It's not a tax increase, we're just simply freezing it, we're preventing a tax decrease from taking place,” Lake said. “That's what we're doing.” In the 13-3 vote to both introduce the resolution and send it directly to the full House, the three “no” votes came from Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, Bill Killen, D-Boise, and Burgoyne.

USDA Study Shows States Providing Critical Nutrition Benefits to Those in Need: Idaho comes in with a participation rate of 55% for the year of 2008

To access the report, visit our RESOURCES page.

WASHINGTON DC, Feb. 2, 2011 - USDA today released the latest report that measures each State's success in reaching children and families eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). While the national SNAP participation rate was 66 percent, Reaching Those in Need: State Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates in 2008, reports state rates varied from an estimated low of 46 percent to a high of 94 percent.

"The Obama administration is dedicated to increasing access to nutrition assistance for those Americans in need," said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon. "That's why we're committed to working with our States to ensure everyone eligible for SNAP has access to this critical nutrition program."

SNAP puts healthy food on the table for over 43 million people each month, half of whom are children. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP is largest of the domestic food and nutrition assistance programs administered by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. Serving about 1 in 7 Americans over the course of a year, SNAP is the cornerstone of America's safety-net against hunger.

Overall, the report shows twenty States had rates that were significantly higher than the national rate. Some States had consistently high participation rates relative to other States in all 3 fiscal years examined. In each year from 2006 to 2008, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia had significantly higher participation rates than two-thirds of the States.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has expanded outreach efforts to reach those who are eligible, including underserved populations like the working poor. According to the report, participation among the eligible working poor was significantly lower than the rate for all SNAP-eligible persons in a majority of States.

"I commend the collective efforts made by the States to increase SNAP participation, as it helps millions of families access healthy food and live a more healthful lifestyle," said Concannon. "Our hope is that all families in need seek these essential benefits to help feed their loved ones throughout the year."

SNAP benefits, which are provided to recipients electronically, also provide an economic stimulus that strengthens communities. Research shows that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates as much as $9.00 in economic activity. While SNAP benefits are administered by states, they are federally funded and move quickly into local economies, with 97 percent of SNAP benefits redeemed within a month.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service oversees the administration of 15 nutrition assistance programs, including the child nutrition programs. Through the direct certification process, all children participating in SNAP are automatically enrolled in the national school meals programs.

Improving child nutrition is a focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that recently passed Congress and was signed by President Obama on December 13, 2010. This legislation authorizes USDA's child nutrition programs, including the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, which serves nearly 32 million children each day. It will allow USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, the chance to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act is the legislative centerpiece of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative. 

Congratulations to the Boys and Girls Club of Ada County for Receiving a USDA Summer Sunshine Award!

 Cross posted from the Let’s Move! blog:

Summer Food Service Program – in the middle of winter?

That question is a common one when we talk about the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During the school year, many children receive free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch Programs. What happens when school lets out? Hunger is one of the most severe roadblocks to the learning process. The Summer Food Service Program is designed to fill that nutrition gap and make sure children can get the nutritious meals they need.

At USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) we like to celebrate the successes of our partners on the front lines of the battle to end childhood hunger. Our staff in the Western Regional Office are thrilled to share the winners of the 2010 Summer Sunshine Awards.  These five recipients are incredibly dedicated, passionate and innovative organizations that worked especially hard to make the Summer Food Service Program a success this past summer.

The University of Hawaii Maui College Upward Bound Program is the recipient of the award for Integrating Nutrition Education and Physical Activities at Sites.  The Upward Bound Program creatively integrated nutrition and exercise into the program by teaching students how to plan and cook healthy meals and by encouraging walking as the primary mode of transportation.  Students were actually responsible for preparing their own breakfasts and dinners every day (with some supervision, of course)!

The Boys and Girls Club of Ada County in Idaho has won the award for Improving Nutritional Quality of Meals, Increasing Fruit and Vegetable Consumption.  The Boys and Girls Club showed a commitment to offering fresh local foods, filling vending machines with reduced-sugar and lower-sodium products, and partnering with local farms to teach participants about produce. Children in the program sampled snacks, like red peppers and hummus, and took field trips to an orchard nearby, which Nutrition Director Jennifer Aumeier says “gave the children a deeper insight into where food comes from and why local and organic foods are important.”

In Nevada, the Culinary Training Academy of North Las Vegas has won for Increasing Participation and Community Partnerships. Culinary Training Academy was dedicated to increasing the number of sponsors and sites in the Las Vegas community by forming partnerships with local organizations and marketing the program through both print media and special community events.  Efforts included television interviews, the distribution of 5,000 flyers, and community barbecues to raise awareness of the program.

And, finally, there are two great programs in Portland, Oregon, awarded for Service in Distinctive or Rural/Underserved Communities: the Centennial School District and the Yamhill Carlton Elementary Summer Lunch Program.  Centennial was able to reach more underserved communities by partnering with housing and community development organizations in the Portland Metro Area.  Children who couldn’t leave their apartment complexes due to unsafe conditions, busy roads, or other reasons were at last guaranteed access to nutritious food.  Yamhill Carlton showed its commitment to serving rural communities by developing partnerships with community groups and offering healthy foods in a safe, relaxing, and inviting environment.

Congratulations to the winners and a huge thank you from us all at FNS for the wonderful activities and programs you provide to children during the summer months.