I could talk for days about the causes and effects of rising food prices in the US.
Disadvantaged Americans queue for aid in New York
Its becoming a BIG DEAL.
In the past year 1.3 million new participants (many of them families) have signed up for food stamps in a effort to be able to access essential food stuffs and food stamp programs are projected to reach record-high levels this year. Food banks have experienced a rise of 20 percent in visits than last year. Food prices have risen 5.5% in just six months.
These are just a few facts… type “food prices” into Google and you’ll get 56,800,000 hits, most of them about rising food costs around the world and the social unrest that is coming with it.
There are many reasons for these price increases. According to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s largest charitable hunger-relief organization, federal commodity support for emergency feeding organizations has dropped nearly $200 million per year since the enactment of 2002 Farm Bill because of a decline in need for the federal government to buy surplus food to support farmers. Additionally, food price inflation has caused rapid erosion in the purchasing power of food stamp benefits.
Kids get afternoon snacks at a Kids Cafe in Cincinnati, OH (uh, looks like someone took that kid on the right’s jello cup)
Kids Cafe is a program started by America’s Second Harvest to try to ensure that children of low-income families get the nutrition they need
“The amount of food stamps per household hasn’t gone up with the food costs,” says Dayna Ballantyne, who runs a food bank in Des Moines, Iowa. “Our clients are finding they aren’t able to purchase food like they used to.” (USA 2008: The Great Depression, The Independent)
American Food Stamps
DC is certainly not exempt for experiencing serious hunger issues. According to Capital Area Food Bank (CAFB), a Washington DC food security organization that supports and distributes food to food banks throughout the metro area, nearly 1/3 of DC residents live below the poverty level. ONE THIRD! Thats huge! 60% of households surveyed by CAFB reported at least 1 adult member who was unemployed. In the metro area:
- One-third of Capital Area Food Bank clients reported having to choose between buying food and paying for utilities at least once during the previous 12 months. (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001).
- Over one third reported having to choose between buying food and paying rent or mortgage. (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001)
- Nearly one third had to choose between buying food and paying for medicine or medical care. (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Hunger in America, 2001)
- 109,000 D.C. residents are eligible to participate in the Food Stamp Program each month, however only two-thirds actually receive them; and of those who do, 74 percent report that they do not last the entire month. (USDA and 2001 Hunger Study-Mathematica Policy Research)
- Total number of families making less than $35,000 per year is 43,084 (representing 38.3% of all working families)
- The average monthly Food Stamp Program benefit is $91.83.
- Nearly 50 percent of the households served report at least one working adult in the household. (Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. 2006).
No one should have to choose between paying rent or a mortgage or for medical care and buying food.
What is the government doing in response to this food crisis?
In talking with a representative from CAFB the I found that the DC government does not support their efforts, their funding comes from grants, private donors, and fundraisers. The government currently deals with hunger problems in a few ways:
- Food Stamp Program,
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
- free and reduced price school breakfast and lunches.
Though these programs are certainly a step in the right direction, many of the programs are under-utilized by those who need them due to lack of awareness, insufficient time to apply for the needed assistance, and the confusing application process that these programs have. Organizations like Capital Area Food Bank try to help people find and understand these resources along with administering their other very accomplished programs.
What does the farm bill have to do with all of this?
A March 29, article in the Economist sums it up pretty well:
The current [Farm Bill] policy is shameless. Farmers of a few select crops such as wheat or maize can avoid almost all risk using the government’s overlapping system of subsidised insurance, loans and payments. The recipients are hardly the most deserving: farm households make a third more than others, and the richest of them, which get most of the subsidies, bring in three times what the average non-farm household does. Instead of saving the family farm, the policy is destroying it, encouraging agricultural land consolidation and raising barriers to entry. And then there are the deleterious effects America’s price-distorting payments have on foreign farmers and so on trade negotiations.
Well, the 2007 Farm Bill (H.R. 2419 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d110:H.R.2419:) is a $288 billion, five-year farm subsidy bill being considered by Congress as a continuation of the 2002 Farm Bill. President Bush, idiotically forgetting that we have to eat, threatened to veto the bill because of its high costs. Many, many organizations pushed for more sustainable farming and renewable energy initiatives and subsidies. Current reforms include:
- A modest increase in support for family farmers
- Schools will now be allowed to use geographic preference to buy local food with federally-funded Child Nutrition programs
- A new loan program will support local processing and distribution to support the Farm to School and Farm to Institution markets.
Hmmm. I’m not sure what to say….
Horribly, the bill cut all mandatory funding for the Community Food Projects Program and Organic Transition – two critical programs that support a transition to organic and local food systems. No more automatic funding means that organizations will have to put a huge amount of effort into fighting for funding every year. Fights continue between Democrats and Republicans about the Farm Bill up into this month (April), but will have to end by April 18, at which point current policies will be extended for a whole nother year, something we cannot see happen. (Community Alliance For Family Farmers)
According to Vicki Escarra, president and chief executive officer of America’s Second Harvest in an April 4 press release,“Hungry Americans can not wait any longer [for changes in the Farm Bill]. We are seeing absolutely tragic increases nationwide in the number of men, women and children in need of emergency food assistance, many for the first time ever….Food stamp enrollment is projected to reach record high levels, during the coming year. This rapid rise in food stamp participation is being fueled by the worsening economic downturn. Low-income families are desperately in need of a new Farm Bill to make improvements in the programs that help ensure that they can put food on their tables and lead productive, healthy lives in this nation so richly blessed with food resources.”
“A one year extension to the Farm Bill would be catastrophic for food banks and those they serve,” said Escarra. “The charitable sector does not have the capacity to meet dramatically increasing requests for food assistance. It is critical for Congress to show leadership by passing a Farm Bill, and for the President to show compassion by signing it. If that happens, none of those in our great nation who face hunger daily will have to wait longer for relief.”(Hungry Americans Cannot Wait For A Farm Bill, March 19, 2008)
In the Video, Dan Imhoff, Author of Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill, talks about the Farm Bill on a Food News for Cooking Up a Story.
This is just part 1 of 5. To see the rest, go to the Cooking Up A Story site (where you can also find some other amazing videos about food systems).
and here’s part 5 of the same series.
Want to learn more about the Farm Bill? Well, there’s a billion sources but here’s some of my favorites:
“Long time in germination; The farm bill”. Economist. March 29, 2008. http://agobservatory.org/headlines.cfm?refID=102132
“Hungry Americans Cannot Wait For Farm Bill” America’s Second Harvest Press Release. March 19, 2008.
“Soaring Food and Fuel Prices Create Urgent Need for A Farm Bill.” America’s Second Harvest. April 4, 2008.
Imhoff, Dan. Food Fight: The Citizen’s Guide to a Food and Farm Bill.
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. A Fair Farm Bill Series
Cool pamphlets with lots of good information and cool retro-ish pictures describing issues and changes that could be made (or could have been made) in the 2007 farm bill.
A Fair Farm Bill for America: How Americans are effected everyday by the Farm Bill―from energy and health to the environment, labor and hunger.
A Fair Farm Bill for the World: The Farm Bill’s influence over world policies is colossal―the WTO, food aid, market concentration and public health may all change.
A Fair Farm Bill for Renewable Energy: The Farm Bill should support the next generation of sustainable energy crops and strengthen local ownership
A Fair Farm Bill for the World’s Hungry: The Farm Bill could make food aid more efficient and stop pushing farmers in poor countries off the land
A Fair Farm Bill for Competitive Markets: The Farm Bill should address the domination of agricultural markets by a few big companies.
A Fair Farm Bill for Conservation: A better Farm Bill would do more to support farmers who improve soil and water quality, and enhance biodiversity.
A Fair Farm Bill and Immigration: A fair Farm Bill would help family farmers in Mexico and the United States.
A Fair Farm Bill for Public Health: The U.S. Farm Bill could do a lot to support a healthier food system.
Links on Hunger Issues (Some in DC)
Government Programs in DC
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
- Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program
Community Food Security Coalition** One of my favorite sites with amazing loads of information!
Center for Food and Justice (Occidental College)