Tag Archives: SNAP

25 groups call on Scott Walker to restore food assistance

The following open letter to Gov. Scott Walker urges him to remove time limits for people on FoodShare who live in 20 counties and 10 cities in Wisconsin with high unemployment rates.

Dear Gov. Walker,

As FoodShare participants are losing food aid at higher than projected rates, we urge you to request a waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture from harmful FoodShare time limits and protect vulnerable Wisconsinites in areas that are lagging behind in economic recovery. Currently, up to 20 Wisconsin counties and 10 cities are eligible for a waiver from Time Limited Benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Wisconsin should request this waiver.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), referred to as FoodShare in Wisconsin, assists low-income adults, children, and seniors in Wisconsin with funds to purchase groceries. In order to receive FoodShare benefits for more than three months within a three year time period, non-exempt able bodied adults without dependent children must work at least 20 hours per week, a requirement instituted under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. During the recent recession, elevated unemployment rates made many areas across Wisconsin eligible for a time limit waiver.

Prior to the economy fully recovering in all parts of the state, time limits for FoodShare were imposed statewide as of April 1, 2015. Those recipients who cannot find work on their own can maintain their benefits by participating in the state’s FoodShare Employment and Training Program (FSET), which is outsourced to private agencies contracted regionally throughout the state. Failure to meet an employment program’s mandates means individuals are eligible for only three months of FoodShare Time Limited Benefits out of every 36- month period.

In April through December of 2015, 62,458 individuals, or 7.7 percent of the total FoodShare recipients, were referred to FSET to meet the program mandates. During just the first six months of the disenrollment period, 30,453 people lost their benefits because they did not meet these mandates, including some who participated in FSET and were unable to gain sufficient employment as a result. This disenrollment is occurring much faster than originally projected – in 2013, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau projected a statewide disenrollment of 31,349 over the course of the entire first year of imposing time limits.

Unfortunately, mandating work does not create jobs. For those living in areas of high unemployment, the situation was already dismal. As a state, we must not take away food aid for failure to find a job in areas of our state where economic recovery is still hoped for rather than assured. Securing a job remains a significant challenge for many in Wisconsin, and unemployment continues to be high in particular parts of the state. Areas with persistently high unemployment are clustered in the rural northern portions of the state, while urban areas with high unemployment are located in the southeastern portion of the state. These parts of the state qualify as “Labor Surplus Areas” where there are significantly fewer jobs available than people looking for work. Disparities in our state are pronounced: while the unemployment rate in the majority of our state’s counties falls below that of the nation as a whole, several counties have unemployment rates above 9%. Thus, considering Wisconsin’s unemployment situation as a whole does not adequately capture the unique challenges faced by job seekers in different geographical locations across our state.

In addition, the FoodShare program is not only instrumental in improving food security for low income individuals and families, but it also increases spending in local economies as recipients purchase food within the community they live. The decline in FoodShare enrollment due to the reimplementation of Time Limited Benefits amounts to a monthly loss of approximately $3,244,271 in federal money spent at grocery stores in communities across Wisconsin. Finally, failure to seek a Time Limited Benefits waiver for qualifying areas in this state creates increased demand for emergency soup kitchens and food pantries, placing an unmanageable burden on local charitable resources to provide food. Mandatory FSET participation will continue to push people into deeper dependency as they become reliant upon charity for the basic need of food. Furthermore, forcing individuals to utilize charitable resources robs them of the dignity of going to the grocery store to select food that meets their nutritional needs and cultural preferences.

For all of these reasons, the undersigned organizations respectfully request that Wisconsin seek a waiver for eligible parts of our state and stop imposing three month time limits on receiving food aid in those areas.

Sincerely,

Hunger Task Force

Community Advocates

Public Policy Institute

Wisconsin Faith Voices for Justice

Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health

Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups

WISDOM

Wisconsin Education Association Council

Wisconsin Council of Churches

Citizen Action of Wisconsin

9to5 Wisconsin

Wisconsin Council on Children and Families

Mental Health America of Wisconsin

Wisconsin Catholic Conference

Good Samaritan COGIC

Ebenezer COGIC

The Sharing Center Friedens

Food Pantry St. Veronica’s

Food Pantry La Causa

Amani Community Food Pantry

Family Life Center

Tosa Community Food Pantry

Daystar The Gathering

The Cathedral Center Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH)

Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP)

Feeding Wisconsin

Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, Inc. (GWAAR)

Jeremiah Missionary Baptist Church Food Pantry

 

 

 

New USDA rules could improve choices for consumers with food stamps

The Agriculture Department unveiled new rules on on Feb. 16 that would require retailers who accept food stamps to stock a wider variety of healthy foods or face the loss of business as consumers shop elsewhere.

The proposed rules are designed to ensure that the more than 46 million Americans who use food stamps have better access to healthy foods although they don’t dictate what people buy or eat. A person using food stamp dollars could still purchase as much junk food as they wanted, but they would at least have more options in the store to buy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and bread.

“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”

In 2014, Congress required the Agriculture Department to develop regulations to make sure that stores that accept food stamp dollars, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, stock a wider array of healthy food choices.

Under current rules, SNAP retailers must stock at least three varieties of foods in each of four food groups: fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and cereals, and meats, poultry and fish. The new rules would require the retailers to stock seven varieties in each food group, and at least three of the food groups would have to include perishable items. In all, the rules would require stores to stock at least 168 items that USDA considers healthy.

The proposal would also require that retailers have enough in stock of each item so that the foods would be continuously available.

The rules could mean that fewer convenience stores qualify to be SNAP retailers. The convenience store industry has argued that it often operates the only stores that serve certain neighborhoods and at certain times, like overnight. Concannon said the department would try to ensure that the rules don’t affect SNAP recipients’ access to food retailers, and the department may consider waiving the proposed requirements in some areas.

The rules come as a key House Republican is pushing for drug tests for food stamp recipients and new cuts to the program.

Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees USDA spending, introduced a bill earlier in February that would allow states to require drug testing. The move is designed to help states like Wisconsin, where conservative Republican Gov. Scott Walker has sued the federal government, to permit screening.

USDA has pushed back on such efforts, as it did when Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to cut 5 percent from the program during negotiations over the 2014 farm bill. The push comes as SNAP use has skyrocketed — the program served more than 46 million Americans and cost $74 billion last year. That’s twice the program’s 2008 cost.

“While I have not seen Rep. Aderholt’s proposed legislation, I have serious concerns about an approach that could deprive a family of access to food and basic necessities simply because a member of the family is struggling with addiction,” Vilsack said after Aderholt introduced the bill.

Gwen Moore to Scott Walker: Testing food stamp recipients for drugs is unconstitutional

Dear Governor Walker, 

I am writing to express my strong opposition to the ill-advised and illegal proposal enacted in the recently adopted Wisconsin State budget to add a drug test as a requirement for participating in Food Share for some recipients.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is vital in helping to combat hunger in America and is a vital lifeline for over 800,000 in Wisconsin. I remind you that SNAP is a federal program and the federal government covers 100% of the costs of the benefits. Administrative costs are split between states and the federal government. As a result, federal law grants the federal government sole authority to set eligibility requirements for the program.

Yet, the State of Wisconsin seems intent on pursuing this misguided drug testing policy, though federal law on this matter is clear. After passage in the recent State Budget of this unwarranted, wasteful, and unconstitutional provision, you have now filed a frivolous lawsuit—at state taxpayer expense no less. Your lawsuit appears to implicitly acknowledge that the federal government could not legally allow this scheme to move forward and advances a very serious misinterpretation of federal law permitting drug testing for SNAP recipients that not even Republicans in Congress share.

How do I know? In 2013, I managed the time opposing the amendment that sought to permit states to add drug testing as a condition for SNAP eligibility during debate in on the farm bill in the House. That proposal (Sec. 136 of H.R. 3102, Hudson Amendment to H.R. 1947) sought to allow states to conduct drug testing for SNAP recipients beyond current law which allows states to ban or test convicted drug felons. The amendment was adopted in the House and incorporated into both H.R. 1947 and H.R. 3102. As noted by the Republican chairman of the House Agriculture Committee during debate on H.R. 3102, “Language allowing the States to very clearly use drug testing as a part of their SNAP application process was adopted by a majority of the votes on this floor.” It would be inconceivable that House Republicans would have pursued this legislation if your interpretation of federal law was, in fact, correct.

If I have not been clear, just over a year and a half ago, House Republicans recognized that no federal law allows drug testing of SNAP recipients by states beyond those with drug convictions. Congress then said NO to giving states that power as the House passed provisions were dropped from the final Farm Bill.

Federal law related to SNAP remains crystal clear on another item: States cannot add conditions of eligibility to SNAP, outside those required by federal law. Specifically, Section 5(b) of the Food and Nutrition Act (7 U.S.C. §2014(b)) states that “No plan of operation submitted by a State agency shall be approved unless the standards of eligibility meet those established by the Secretary, and no State agency shall impose any other standards of eligibility as a condition for participating in the program.” I applaud the work of the USDA to make sure that Wisconsin and other states are not allowed to add wasteful, unnecessary, and, in this case, unconstitutional, requirements to impose more hardships and obstacles to those who are food insecure in our communities. While you may be frustrated by this interpretation, the law remains the law. 

I won’t get into the very fallacious arguments behind proposals such as this that are based on the unfounded and unwarranted presumption most of the people who use food stamps also use drugs other than to express that I have seen neither your office nor proponents in the State Legislature provide one iota of scientific evidence supporting  that contention. I do know that Florida tried to drug test applicants for TANF benefits. Besides being struck down as unconstitutional by a federal court, it was wasteful as well given that Florida spent more money reimbursing individuals for drug tests than the state saved on screening out an extremely small population (108 of 4,086 TANF applicants). 

I suggest instead of wasting Wisconsin taxpayer dollars on this frivolous lawsuit, the money could be better spent trying to figure out how to help restore food assistance to the seniors in Wisconsin who saw they Food Share payments significantly cut by the 2014 farm bill. This includes seniors like 65 year old Judy Beals of Belleville, a disabled senior who relies on Social Security, who saw her benefit drop from $120 to $16. Governors in other states have stepped up to protect vulnerable citizens from losing access to SNAP benefits. Wisconsin can join them if you so choose. 

Again, I urge you to abandon your attempts to impose a wasteful, unconstitutional, unnecessary, and stigmatizing provision whose only goal is to shame poor people.  

Sincerely,

Gwen Moore

S.C. Gov. Haley wants to link food stamps to jobs

Gov. Nikki Haley will not support an earlier proposal to keep food stamp recipients from buying junk food, instead backing an idea requiring people in three counties to show they are working or looking for a job to get the benefits.

Haley’s proposal will have to be approved by the federal government. It would be limited to food stamp recipients in Bamberg, Calhoun and Orangeburg counties for now.

The requirement to work or be looking for a job is part of fighting obesity in South Carolina, just like the governor’s original idea to limit food stamp purchases to healthier foods, maintains South Carolina Department of Social Services Director Lillian Koller, who agency runs the food stamp program in the state.

“There is a strong correlation between unemployment and obesity. Food stamp recipients, in particular, the longer they receive food stamps, the higher their BMI,” Koller told The Post and Courier of Charleston.

BMI is body mass index, a formula of height and weight that health care providers use to determine obesity.

But advocates for the poor say Haley’s latest proposal may not be any better than her initial idea.

“It breaks my heart that those of us working on removing barriers have to deal with others putting up more barriers. Why do we keep thinking that they’re not good people? And that’s what we’re saying if we say you’ve got to prove you’re looking for a job,” Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, told The State newspaper.

Haley’s original proposal made in February 2011 would have prevented people from using benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP — to buy candy, soda, chocolate and chips. Haley’s administration said they backed off that idea after public meetings across the state.

The new “SNAP Work 2 Health” proposal would apply to everyone getting food stamps in the three counties. People with children under age 6 would be exempt.

The counties were chosen because they have both the highest unemployment rates and obesity rates in South Carolina, Koller said.

Boy Scouts shielded sex abusers for decades

If Boy Scouts officials had not protected him in 1987 when he molested two boys, his life would have been devastated, retired Greenfield pediatrician Thomas Kowalski told the L.A. Times.

“Had that been publicized, I would have been out of business, reputation destroyed, and I don’t know how I would have faced people at church,” Kowalksi, now 75, said.

But scouting officials were too concerned about the organization’s reputation to make the incident public. They reported it to law enforcement, but when the victims declined to press charges, the officials pulled strings to keep the story out of the media.

As a result, Kowalski continued working with children for 14 more years, until he retired in 2001.

The Kowalski incident was one of thousands recorded in 14,500 pages of secret “perversion files,” confidential records of suspected child abusers from 1947 to 2005. The files were released to the public last month as the result of a successful $20 million lawsuit in Portland, Ore. 

Officials said they used the files to blacklist suspected molesters and keep them out of scouting. But the files show that again and again, an array of authorities including police chiefs, prosecutors, pastors and local Boy Scouts leaders quietly shielded scoutmasters and others accused of molesting children.

At the time, those authorities justified their actions as necessary to protect the good name and good works of scouting, a pillar of 20th century America. Like Roman Catholic Church leaders, they allowed sexual predators to go free.

Both the church and the BSA condemn homosexuality, and the BSA has a ban prohibiting gay staff, volunteers or members. Only weeks before the group released the perversion files last month, a gay teen in California was denied an Eagle Scout award that he’d earned, prompting an online petition signed by 410,000 people.

The perversion files, kept at Boy Scouts headquarters in Texas, consist of memos from local and national BSA executives, handwritten letters from victims and their parents and newspaper clippings about legal cases. The files contain allegations that stretch across the country and to military bases overseas, from a small town in the Adirondacks to downtown Los Angeles.

In Wisconsin alone, some 51 cities had troops where scouting officials quietly removed adult leaders or volunteers who committed various sex crimes against children.

Responding to the release of the files, the Wisconsin director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests renewed his group’s call for the Milwaukee Archdiocese to release its own files on clerical abusers.

“The evidence from the Boy Scouts files and the continual legal stonewalling of the Milwaukee Archdiocese are more demonstrable proof that institutions continue to put the reputation of institutional officials before the safety of children,” said John Pilmaier, SNAP Wisconsin director, in a statement to the press.

“Parents and the public need to know who these child sex predators are, where they are living, why they have not faced criminal prosecution, and what jobs and occupations they are currently engaged in,” he said. 

Troubling patterns

The BSA’s files document troubling patterns. There is little mention in the files of concern for the welfare of Scouts who were abused by their leaders. But there are numerous documents showing compassion for alleged abusers, who were often sent to psychiatrists or pastors for help.

In 1972, a local BSA executive implored national headquarters to drop the case against a suspected abuser because he was undergoing professional treatment and was personally taking steps to solve his problem.

“If it don’t stink, don’t stir it,” the local executive wrote.

Scouting’s efforts to keep abusers out were often disorganized. There’s at least one memo from a local scouting executive pleading for better guidance on how to handle abuse allegations. Sometimes the pleading went the other way, with national headquarters begging local leaders for information on suspected abusers, and the locals dragging their feet.

In numerous instances, alleged abusers were kicked out of scouting but showed up in jobs where they were once again in authority positions dealing with youths. 

The files also show scouting volunteers serving in the military overseas, molesting American children living abroad and continuing to molest after returning to the states.

But one of the most startling revelations to come from the files is the frequency with which attempts to protect Scouts from molesters collapsed at the local level, at times in collusion with community leaders.

It happened when a local district attorney declined to prosecute two confessed offenders and when law enforcement sought to protect the name of scouting and let an admitted child molester go free.

When cases against Scouts volunteers or executives went forward, locals often tried and sometimes managed to keep the organization’s name out of court documents and the media, as in Kowalski’s case.

Quiet epidemic

The cases included in the BSA’s files are probably only the tip of the iceberg. For every case that was documented, there are likely to be many more that weren’t.

Among those not included is the case of the troop leader who molested Milwaukee resident Karl Larson continually from the ages of 10 to 16 in the 1950s. This summer, Larson started the Spiritual Health Network, which offers a drop-in space for male survivors of sexual abuse in Bay View at 2923 A S. Delaware Ave. (spiritualhealthnetwork.org).

“I’ve confronted the man,” Larson said, but “I’ve not seen that he’s been approached by authorities.”

Larson said his abuser “always positioned himself to be around where boys would be active, where he could have access. He would have like a farm almost of young men. He was active with the church, and the church sponsored the Boy Scouts troop, which he helped create.”

Larson calls child sexual abuse the “quiet epidemic,” because it thrives on the silence of victims and institutions like the Boy Scouts. He said parents must be vigilant and develop relationships with their children that allow them to feel comfortable talking about such matters.

Preventing abuse “takes awareness of parents, and it takes the young men that are being molested to feel confident that it’s not their fault, so they can come out and say, ‘This has happened to me,’” Larson said.