Hunger Action Month
Although the United States is one of the world’s largest food producers and food exporters, 40 million of us — including more than 12 million children and five million seniors — lack consistent access to enough food. Worse, with deepening economic disparity and new federal policy changes, these already too-large numbers could rise dramatically.
This September, as part of Hunger Action Month, we’re asked to join with food banks across the nation to fight hunger. And, as we respond to that request for action, we also want to add awareness. Knowing how significantly hunger afflicts our neighbors, and understanding how many more of us could soon be confronted with food insecurity, amplifies the need this month — and year-round.
The Good News
In the past decade, the Fund has allocated more than $3.5 million to Safety Net grantees that help the people in our community escape hunger. The list of grantees includes Building Futures, Davis Street, Meals on Wheels, Mercy Brown Bag Program, St. Anthony’s, and St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County. Additionally, some of our Jewish Life portfolio grantees — Challah for Hunger, MAZON, and Urban Adamah — shed light on hunger issues, advocate for systems change, and use food as a way to connect to Jewish values.
A portion of our Safety Net grantmaking supports policy and advocacy work, too, such as that undertaken by the California Association of Food Banks, California Food Policy Advocates, and the Western Center on Law and Poverty. The approach these organizations take has led to key policy wins, including the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Cashout reversal that took effect this past June. This policy change will enable at least 500,000 very low income seniors and disabled children in California to receive CalFresh benefits of $190/month for groceries. Another significant policy win includes guaranteeing access to free and reduced-price meals for more than 340,000 low-income students who attend charter schools in California.
These victories been tempered by setbacks. In July, the Federal administration proposed that the residents of 43 states who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families be disallowed from automatically qualifying for food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, aka CalFresh). The Food Research and Action Center estimates that 3.1 million low-income people will lose SNAP benefits and over 500,000 children will lose access to free school meals if this rule gets implemented.
The Federal administration also recently finalized the “public charge rule,” which is scheduled to take effect on October 15. This rule changes how the Department of Homeland Security determines whether immigrants are likely to become dependent on government support. Until now, the long-standing policy primarily only took receipt of cash assistance and long-term institutional care into consideration when considering immigration applications. The new rule brings other public benefits — including SNAP, Medicaid, and housing assistance — into purview. That will make it more difficult for moderate and low-income people to immigrate to the United States legally. It will also instill fear and confusion among prospective legal immigrants who receive public benefits.
Our grantee partners already report that their clients have stopped accessing benefits following the announcement of this new rule. The California Budget & Policy Center estimates this change could push up to 165,000 Californians into poverty and another 115,000 into deep poverty if they avoid housing subsidies and food assistance such as CalFresh. California could also lose out on $1.67 billion in federal support.
While the Fund has signed on to a Northern California Grantmakers letter contesting the public charge rule, the rule remains scheduled to take effect. When it does, it will force low-income people to choose between feeding themselves and staying in the U.S. legally.
Hunger and Health
Fighting hunger is also about health. Food organizations have long recognized the connection between access to nutritious food and improved health. This study — in which Alameda County Community Food Bank was a participant — proves food banks are well-positioned to play an important role. Food banks have transitioned to provide meals comprised of up to 60% fresh produce as opposed to packaged or canned food. And the SF-Marin Food Bank partners with health clinics to operate farmers’ market style “Food Pharmacies” that provide access to nutrition advice and health screenings.
In addition, Project Open Hand is collaborating with the California Department of Health Care Services in the country’s first statewide Medically Tailored Meals pilot program. This is designed to cut down hospital and emergency department 30-day and 90-day readmissions for Medi-Cal patients with congestive heart failure. Not only do preventive approaches like these improve the health and well-being of communities, they can also lead to health care savings, with heart failure costing the healthcare system $30.7 billion annually.
The Fund is grateful for the opportunity to support the organizations in our portfolio who inspire us with their creativity and resilience in the face of mounting challenges. It will take a collective effort from all to ensure that nobody goes hungry. During this Hunger Action Month, we hope you will consider how you can take action to end hunger.