1 in 10 senior households relies on food stamps

Many older Americans are struggling to keep food on the table.

One in 10 households with seniors aged 60 and older receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also called food stamps, according to a study released Wednesday by the anti-poverty nonprofit Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), in collaboration with AARP Foundation.

U.S. Census Bureau data from all 3,142 counties in the nation show the rate of senior SNAP usage remains largely consistent for all kinds of counties, the analysis found. Some 10% of senior homes in metropolitan areas, 10% of those in small towns, and 11% of those in rural areas participate in SNAP. However, out of the 50 counties with SNAP participation above 25%, 75% were rural and only 15% were metropolitan.

The number of elderly SNAP beneficiaries is likely to increase in the coming years as baby boomers age and continue to face unique financial challenges. Rent has grown faster than wages over the past two years, according to numbers from the Labor Department released in July, and health-care premiums have risen from an average of $6,000 per year in 1999 to $18,000 in 2016, an Economic Policy Institute study found.

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Dallas health non-profits have a new tool in their fight to increase food access

In the fight to increase food access in Dallas, area health nonprofits have a new weapon that will help them identify where Dallas faces the most urgent needs.

The City of Dallas Community Food Assessment, an interactive map that highlights key data like the concentration of diseases such as obesity and diabetes, was presented Friday at the seventh annual Dallas Hunger Summit, where dozens of area nutrition nonprofits gathered to listen to what Dallas’ hospital health systems and other health groups are doing to serve Dallas’ neediest.

Heather Lepeska, a manager at the City of Dallas’ Office of Economic Development, said during the presentation to about 200 attendees that the map took about a year to develop from data sources from the city, county, state and federal levels.

“We all have really good information and data on food access, hunger and health as it relates to what our interest areas are, but we hadn’t really coordinated and consolidated it into a document to give us a comprehensive snapshot of what we have here today,” Lepeska said.

The map highlights five key areas by ZIP code: concentration of grocery stores, community gardens, supplemental nutrition opportunities, income, and health indicators. It allows users, for example, to compare diabetes and obesity rates in north and south Dallas. It also shows things like how many grocery stores, corner stores and dollar stores are in a given ZIP code.

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North Texas Food Bank’s new facility hopes to be a hub for a fresh distribution model

The North Texas Food Bank is leaving a longtime distribution location at the heart of North Texas’ urban poverty center in southern Dallas — and it’ll be a blessing for the hungry people around it, the organization says.

The new Perot Family Campus in Plano, opening in September, will serve as the group’s main distribution center. Part of the food bank’s 10-year, $55 million Stop Hunger Build Hope campaign, the facility doubles the space and triples the refrigerated storage of the current location.

The 230,000-square-foot warehouse at the Bush Turnpike and Coit Road also has four times as many loading docks, allowing more perishable food to be delivered and shipped out before hitting peak ripeness. It’ll be more energy efficient, too, with insulated flooring and loading docks, according to the food bank’s chief executive and president, Trisha Cunningham.

The other half of the 10-year plan dedicates about $24 million to more than 260 partner agencies so they can focus on replacing shelf-stable staples with the fresh produce and proteins often lacking in low-income diets. The money can go to anything from energy bills to adding pantry space.

“I think there is a fallacy out there that, ‘Oh well if [the food bank] is leaving South Dallas they don’t really care about South Dallas,’” Cunningham said. “It’s really irrelevant where our facilities are because we can serve those 260 partner agencies from wherever.”


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On days food stamps are issued, grocery stores push soda sales—but only in low-income neighborhoods

May 31st, 2018
by H. Claire Brown

A new study shows stores in neighborhoods with high SNAP enrollment are four times as likely to advertise or display sugary drinks during the days payments are disbursed.

Most people spend a little extra money on payday. In Iceland, for instance, half the population spends 25 percent more than usual on the day paychecks are issued. This isn’t lost on grocery stores, unsurprisingly, which commonly raise prices when people have more spending money. But new research reveals an overlooked method retailers use to capture more of that first-of-the-month paycheck: by ramping up soda marketing, especially to low-income shoppers.

A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicates that retailers are more likely to market soda during the days of the month when people receive money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps). The research, which focuses on three cities in upstate New York, shows that stores in census tracts with high SNAP enrollment are more than four times more likely to advertise or display sugary drinks during the days SNAP payments are disbursed.

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…stores are 1.9 times as likely to display sugary drinks prominently [] on SNAP issuance days as compared to the rest of the month, and the prevalence of soda advertisements was [] 1.7 times the average volume during benefit disbursement. When the researchers accounted for income level, the results were even more stark. While higher-income communities saw no change in soda marketing across the month, communities with high levels of SNAP reliance—at least 28 percent enrollment—were 4.35 times as likely to put up soda displays during the days where people received their SNAP benefits.

Access to fresh food is urgent

“Without vision, the people perish.”

This passage from Proverbs can also describe the food deserts of America. Failure to provide access to healthy food is an injustice with far-reaching implications. Without vision, these deserts proliferate.

A food desert is described as an area without a grocery store within one mile. Popular mythology is that these areas are all low-income, high-crime communities. But there are other truths.

The southern section of Dallas, an area comprising 54 percent of the city’s geographical area, has 270,000 residents. Yet it has only nine grocery stores with fresh, quality food. As founder and executive director of FEED Oak Cliff, I encounter the repercussions felt by the injustice of food deserts each day.

Residents of all income levels may reside in food deserts, where access to quality grocery stores is an issue either because of distance or lack of transportation. Some census tracts are plagued by low access to good food, and 40 Dallas communities are defined as food deserts.

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Why do poor Americans eat so unhealthfully? It’s not what you think

The verdict is in: Food deserts don’t drive nutritional disparities in the United States the way we thought. Over the last decade, study after study has shown that differences in access to healthful food can’t fully explain why wealthy Americans consume a more healthful diet than poor Americans.

If food deserts aren’t to blame, then what is?

I’ve spent the better part of a decade working to answer this question. I interviewed 73 California families — more than 150 parents and kids — and spent more than 100 hours observing their daily dietary habits, tagging along to grocery stores and drive-through windows. My research suggests that families’ socioeconomic status affected not just their access to healthful food, but something even more fundamental: the meaning of food.

Most of the parents I interviewed — poor and affluent — wanted their kids to eat nutritious food and believed in the importance of a healthful diet.

But parents were also constantly bombarded with requests for junk food from their kids. Across households, children asked for foods high in sugar, salt and fat. They wanted Cheetos and Dr. Pepper, not broccoli and sweet potatoes. One mom echoed countless others when she told me that her kids “always want junk.”

While both wealthy and poor kids asked for junk food, the parents responded differently to these pleas.

An overwhelming majority of the wealthy parents told me that they routinely said “no” to requests for junk food. In 96 percent of high-income families, at least one parent reported that they regularly decline such requests.

Parents from poor families, however, almost always said “yes” to junk food. Only 13 percent of low-income families had a parent that reported regularly declining their kids’ requests.

One reason for this disparity is that kids’ food requests meant drastically different things to the parents.

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One in five Dallas-area children live in poverty, report finds

One in five children in North Texas lives in poverty, with more than 260,000 kids in the area considered food insecure, according to a biennial study released Tuesday from Children’s Health and the University of Texas-Dallas. A 97-page report — ‘Beyond ABC’ — offered a comprehensive look at the well-being of children in Dallas County and its five northern neighbors: Collin, Cooke, Denton, Grayson and Fannin counties.

“The challenges aren’t going away,”said Timothy Bray, the director of the Institute of Urban Policy Research at UT-Dallas, and one of the authors of the report.

Focused on four indicators — health, economic security, safety and education — the findings were sobering. Included in the report:

–The rates of uninsured children in Dallas, Cooke, Fannin and Grayson counties were double the national average.

–Texas ranks last in per-capita funding for mental illness.

–For single parents earning a poverty wage, early child-care costs could account for nearly half their income.

–In Fannin County, CPS caseloads were more than double the state average, with 50.3 cases per caseworker in 2016.

–North Texas has less than half as many approved foster homes (1,244) as children needing placement.

–There were almost 7,500 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect in North Texas last year.

–More than half of third-grade students in the six counties, nearly 30,000, were reading below grade level.

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SNAP is a food program — not a jobs program

All Texans deserve the chance to provide for themselves and their families. But our modern, fast-changing economy is full of both opportunity and risk. Nearly everyone reading this knows a friend or family member who recently found themselves jobless, under-employed or struggling to pay unexpected bills.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka food stamps) is part of our nation’s insurance against economic uncertainty. SNAP guarantees that in a nation blessed with such agricultural abundance, none of our loved ones should go hungry while they get back on their feet.

But recent debates in Washington, from the federal budget to the farm bill, haven’t focused on SNAP’s success fighting hunger. Instead, lawmakers are looking to hold SNAP accountable for the problems in our economy and labor market that cause people to fall on hard times and turn to SNAP for help.

That’s a tall order for a program built to provide a basic human need. SNAP was designed as an income support, not a jobs program. That’s reasonable when one considers that most SNAP participants are children, seniors or people with disabilities; and that the majority of SNAP recipients who can work already do — just not at jobs that let them escape poverty.

Still, a small percentage of SNAP recipients (including those known as able-bodied adults without dependents) may be reasonably able and expected to use SNAP as a bridge back to work. Congress should look for ways to strengthen this bridge, but not in a way that undermines SNAP’s role in ensuring every American has enough food to build a healthy, productive life.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what proposals from congressional leaders like Speaker Paul Ryan would do. These call for steep funding cuts combined with more state flexibility to deny benefits to those in need, and greater punishment for folks who struggle to find work. These policies don’t reflect who benefits from SNAP today, or the various barriers to success in our modern job market.

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Big Tex Urban Farms is the backbone of a budding southern Dallas food system

Drew Demler is digging in a box of dirt in the middle of Fair Park. He is harvesting potatoes — big, small, misshapen, one that even looks like a snowman — in a hotter-than-deep-fried parking lot just outside the Cotton Bowl.

“I think potatoes and onions are two of the most important crops that we grow,” Demler, farm manager at Big Tex Urban Farms, says as he uses his bare hands to search for the tubers. “They’re hearty and prolific, and their storage life is long.”

Demler and landscape supervisor Barron Horton take about an hour to harvest potatoes from four raised wooden containers on one side of the farm. There are more than 500 other planting beds around them, full of vegetables in various stages of promise — peppers, black-eyed peas, okra, squash, zucchini.

They bag the potatoes, take them to a weighing station and pack them in crates. They hop in the car and drive the crates about 2 miles down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to Cornerstone Baptist Church’s Community Kitchen, where they will be chopped, cooked and served in one of the 7,000 meals the church feeds the homeless and hungry of the South Dallas community every month.

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