food assistance

Bridge Cards are accepted at the Fulton Street Farmers Market in Grand Rapids.
User: Michigan Municipal League / Flickr

Tens of thousands of Michigan families will soon see their food stamp benefits trimmed.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, was scaled back in the new farm bill.

Many states have been using a loophole to combat SNAP cuts through paying a higher cost for a "heat and eat" assistance program. By providing just $1 in heating assistance, states had been able to help families qualify for extra food stamps. But under the new farm bill, the minimum "heat and eat" payment is jumping to $21.

And Michigan is one of only four states that hasn't decided a way to continue engaging in these loopholes to avoid SNAP cuts.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote today on the long-delayed federal farm bill.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan was a key player in the long, drawn-out negotiations on the multi-billion dollar legislation.

She’s the chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture committee.

Stabenow says she’s glad to see the new farm bill will shift spending to insurance programs and away from direct subsidies to farmers.

“For decades folks have been talking about eliminating direct payments. It’s never happened. And in this farm bill, we do that,” says Stabenow.

The farm bill also contains a compromise on federal food assistance programs.

The bill calls for a 1% cut in food assistance spending. That is more than Democrats wanted, but far less than Republicans wanted.

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Even as more Americans than ever before rely on food stamps, the Farm Bill just passed by the Senate would cut the funding to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by more than $4 billion over the next 10 years. The House version of the bill includes $20 billion in cuts.

Nationwide, more than 47 million people receive federal food assistance, and 1.7 million in Michigan. So, we wondered what these possible cuts mean to them.

Terri Stangl is the executive director of the Center for Civil Justice in Flint, and she joined us today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Courtesy photo / Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank

The food bank that supplies food pantries in 40 Michigan counties had a record year.

Last year Feeding America West Michigan Food Bank got more food donations and distributed more food than ever. More than 25 million pounds went to food pantries in West Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

The food bank’s CEO Ken Estelle says demand is up. Unlike during the recession, he says most people looking for free food these days are employed.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

47 percent of local leaders support right to work

A report released today from the University of Michigan says 47 percent of Michigan's local government leaders support Michigan's right-to-work law. 22 percent oppose it.

Number of children who qualify for food assistance has jumped

"A report by a private foundation says the percentage of young Michigan children qualifying for federal food assistance has jumped in recent years. The annual Kids Count in Michigan project says more than one in three qualified for nutritional help in 2012. That's up 53 percent from 2005," the Associated Press reports.

GM will invest in three plants in Michigan

"General Motors plans to spend more than a billion dollars upgrading five auto plants in three states.   Most of the money will be spent on GM plants in Michigan. Flint will see 600 million dollars in investment.  Romulus will get nearly 500 million.  And millions more will go to plants in Hamtramck and Toledo," Michigan Radio reports.

Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist who himself grew up in semi-poverty, noted over the weekend that the United States is seeing a rapid explosion of billionaires – and of children who are going to school hungry. Not surprisingly, the hungry children part of the equation is truer in Michigan than in most other states.

In fact, one quarter of our children are now below the poverty line, which, by the way, is currently $23,550 for a family of four.

If you have any idea how four people can survive on that amount, you are smarter than I am. That number, by the way, has gone up more than five percent over the last six years.

The Great Recession may officially be over, and bank profits and the stock market are skyrocketing. But there’s very little sign of that affecting those who are poor. Actually, things have been getting worse for them, and are about to get worse still in Michigan.

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Hundreds of thousands of Michiganders who rely on government programs to put food on their table will be getting less money to buy groceries starting November First.

Back in 2009, the federal government pumped billions of dollars into food assistance programs. The money came from the federal economic stimulus. But that ends November first.  After that, Michiganders getting help buying food from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will see their monthly benefits drop by about five to ten percent.

Food stamp debit cards back to normal in Michigan

Oct 13, 2013
www.macombcountymi.gov

Michigan's debit card-style food stamps program is working again after a technical problem crashed the system in 17 states.

State Human Services Department spokesman Dave Akerly says Michigan's Bridge Card system is back up Sunday.

He says that Xerox provides technical services for the Bridge Card program and similar food stamps programs in 16 other states. He says the problem began Saturday and Xerox fixed it late in the day.

U.S. Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Courtney Rowe says the outage was unrelated to the federal government shutdown.

Technical problems stop Michigan food stamp purchases

Oct 12, 2013
User mytvdinner / Flickr

Michigan residents in a federal food program are being denied purchases with their debit-style cards because of technical problems.

Dave Akerly, a spokesman for the state Department of Human Services, says it's a problem Saturday between retailers and Xerox, the company that provides high-tech services. The glitch extends beyond Michigan to at least 16 other states.

Farm in rural Michigan
user acrylicartist / MorgueFile.com

2013 has become the year America focuses on its farms.

That's because the federal Farm Bill expires at the end of September and the House and Senate are trying to get a new bill passed.

But getting that done has become one of the great legislative challenges of the year.

The House and Senate have each passed their versions and the differences between the two are big.

For one thing, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been stripped right out of the House version, while the Senate version calls for cutting about $4 billion from nutrition assistance.

And, what are the differences in the two Farm Bills that really hit home for the farmers of Michigan?

http://www.aec.msu.edu

Its official title is the "Senate Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act," but feel free to call it "The 2013 Farm Bill." It was passed last week by the Senate on the wings of strong bipartisan support by a vote of 66-27.

This nearly $1 trillion bill has been over a year and a half in the making. Not only does it slash $24 billion from agriculture programs, but it makes substantial changes in the way the federal government spends on efforts like the federal food assistance program.

To get a sense of what's in the Senate farm bill and how it matters to each of us, we turned to David Schweikhardt. He's a Professor in the Michigan State University Department of Agriculture, Food and Resource Economics, and he joined us in the studio today.

Listen to the full interview above.

Debbie Stabenow maintains a lead over Pete Hoekstra in a new Michigan poll.
Office of Senator Stabenow

The Farm Bill would cut the funding to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by more than $4 billion over the next 10 years. And the House version of the bill has about five times as many cuts.

Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow is the head of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, and the champion of the Farm Bill.

The Senator joined us today to discuss some of the concerns surrounding this bill.

Listen to the full interview above.

Brandon Shigeta / Google images

Even as more Americans than ever before rely on food stamps, the Farm Bill just passed by the Senate would cut the funding to SNAP by more than $4 billion over the next 10 years.

The House version of the bill includes $20 billion in cuts.

Nationwide, more than 47 million people receive federal food assistance and 1.7 million in Michigan. So, we wondered what these possible cuts mean to them.

Terri Stangl is the executive director of the Center for Civil Justice in Flint, and she joined us today to discuss the issue.

Listen to the full interview above.

The U.S. Senate has passed its 2013 Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation - totaling almost a trillion dollars. We'll found out just what's in the bill, and why, as Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow likes to say, "Michigan is written into its every page."

And, we got an update on the Detroit mayoral race after one of the front-runners got kicked off the ballot.

First on the show, we continue our look at the Great Lakes. Yesterday, we talked about the state's "blue" economy, using our water resources to create jobs and boost industry here in Michigan.

So, today, let's turn to some encouraging news about our lakes from the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition. They've just released an interactive map that pinpoints success stories across the region, efforts to restore the lakes with projects funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

To get an idea of what these success stories are and the challenges to the lakes that still remain, we turned to Andy Buchsbaum, the director of the National Wildlife Federation's regional Great Lakes Office.

Macomb Co.

Newark Mayor Corey Booker did it.

And last week, both Congressman Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) and Congressman Dan Kildee (D-Flint) did it.

They all made a pledge to live on the average food stamp budget for a week.

That’s roughly $31.50 for a week’s worth of food.

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a new law (House Bill 4042) to ensure that dead people and incarcerated citizens are not eligible for Michigan’s Bridge Card food assistance program.

The Department of Human Services already has policies to ensure that those who are not eligible (example: dead people and those incarcerated) do not receive aid. But House Bill 4042 makes the policy a law.

The state of Michigan has been awarded federal grant money as part of a pilot food assistance program for K-12 students and their families. The program gives a monthly stipend to 10,000 low-income families with students in Grand Rapids and Saginaw Bay area schools once classes are done for the summer.

Howard Leikert, with the Michigan Department of Education, says the money can only be used for specific foods:

"There’s a food list that lists only the specific food that can be purchased,” said Leikert.

Leikert said the money can only be used to purchase healthy foods such as fresh produce and whole-grain bread. Leikert said it will be up to Congress to decide whether the program should be expanded nationwide after it receives a report on the success of the pilot in a couple years.

My favorite new magazine is nice to look at, isn’t printed on paper, and has eye-opening new information about our state twice a week. It’s called Bridge, and it is published online by the non-partisan, non-profit Center for Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Best of all, it’s free. The title comes from the magazine’s purpose, which is to inform citizens in both peninsulas about the serious issues facing our state -- but do so in an interesting, well-written way, according to Center for Michigan founder Phil Power.

USDA.gov

A new United States Department of Agriculture program will provide free lunches and breakfasts to all K-12 students in the Detroit Public School system and the Flint School District.

The free meal service, known as the "Community Eligibility Option," is part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act singed into law by President Obama in December of 2010.

From the USDA:

[The] universal free meal service option...makes it easier for low-income children to receive meals in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The "Community Eligibility Option" will allow schools in high-poverty areas to eliminate the use of applications and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students.

In a statement, Mark Schrupp, DPS Chief Operating Officer, said the program is aimed at eliminating stigma:

"One of the primary goals of this program is to eliminate the stigma that students feel when they get a free lunch, as opposed to paying cash," said Schrupp. "Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income. Now, all students will walk through a lunch line and not have to pay. Low-income students will not be easily identifiable and will be less likely to skip meals."

Blake Thorne reports in the Flint Journal that a district has to meet certain criteria to be eligible for the new "lunch for all" program:

The program evaluates the economic eligibility of an entire school or district, rather than individual students, and if 40 percent of the school or district’s students qualify for free lunches, all students get them...

Last year, 81 percent of Flint students qualified for free lunches, according to Michigan Department of Education data from last fall, the most recent figures available.

Education Department figures show about 41 percent of the state’s 1.57 million students qualify for the meals.

The program is in its pilot phase this year and only a limited number of states can participate.

Once a district signs on, they're required to participate in the program for 4 successive school years.

The Community Eligibility Option will be available to all states beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

In the Detroit News, Michael Van Beek of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, questioned whether the new program is a good use of taxpayer money:

"Under this program, it appears we would be subsidizing school lunches and meals to students who currently don't qualify under the federal program."

Van Beek said there are more creative solutions than giving away meals to everyone at a school where less than half of the students may qualify.

The news reports that "the federal government spent $338 million on free and reduced school meals" in the state in fiscal year 2010.

daisybush / Flickr

Since April, about 30,000 college students were dropped from Michigan’s food assistance program. The Department of Human Services’ new eligibility requirements knocked off more than expected.

Brian Rooney is with DHS. He says Michigan’s rules did not align with the rest of the country.

"If you were going to college then we would count that as an employment-in-training program and you didn’t have to be working part-time, you didn’t have to be a single parent, you could be a single, average college-aged student going to school full-time and qualify for food assistance," Rooney said.

Sydney Watts is a full-time student at Central Michigan University. She says she and her roommates are concerned about losing their benefits.

"It’s hard. It’s very, very hard. I will occasionally eat out with friends and stuff, but other than that it’s Ramen noodles or just crap food because we can’t afford anything. So when all my roommates move back and everything, I don’t know what we’ll do," Watts said.

Rooney says one in five Michiganders is receiving food assistance. He says more people will be cut in October when qualifications are asset-based rather than income-based.

- Amelia Carpenter - Michigan Radio Newsroom

MLHS

The Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS) released its "Economic Security Bulletin" today.

The report showed the unemployment rate dropping in 82 of Michigan's 83 counties when comparing the 1st quarter of 2010 with the 1st quarter of 2011 (Ontonagon was the only county that did not show a drop - going from 16.9% to 18.0%).

But despite the improvement in employment, the need for food assistance is rising.

Flickr user bookgrl

Millions of kids eat free or reduced-price meals at their schools during the school year. But during the summer, those numbers drop dramatically. Last year Michigan schools served 144 million free meals. But during the summer the state only served 2.6 million meals.

user redjar

Michigan is getting 3.3 million dollars from the federal government to continue efforts to stop errors in the Food Assistance Program. Senator Debbie Stabenow said the state is improving on ways to stop errors, but there is a lot more work to be done.

"It is really an outrage when people are cheating and defrauding the system particularly when it’s something as basic as food for families. We have people in Michigan all across Michigan who have paid taxes all of their lives who never thought in their wildest dreams that they would be in a position where they needed to get some temporary help," said Stabenow. 

The senator said Michigan is keeping better electronic records on who is using the bridge card and how often it is being used. The USDA said Michigan was the most improved state last year in fighting food assistance fraud.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The state provides food-assistance to low-income residents who qualify through the Bridge Card Program. The card operates sort of like a debit card instead of more traditional food stamps. They were adopted to make it easier for the state to run the program and reduce the stigma associated with using food stamps.

State Representative Tom Hooker is one of the bill’s sponsors.

“We’re aren’t trying to take food away from little kids and old people and people who are suffering. That’s not the goal of any of these bills.”

qmnonic / flickr

A new report says the need for food assistance in Michigan is still on the rise, even as unemployment declines.

Judy Putnam is with the Michigan League for Human Services, which conducts the quarterly economic report. She says money for food assistance comes from the federal government, and is money well spent.

“This is money that’s spent in local grocery stores, so it doesn’t go into a black hole, it actually goes into the local economies. It’s really considered one of the most effective economic stimulants that you can find. You get a lot of bang for the buck.”

Putnam says if the state eliminates the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families, that could create more need for food assistance in the coming years.