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Food insecurity and hunger are severe problems in Mississippi. "Food insecurity" is a term used by the U.S. Census Bureau. Every year, the Census Bureau surveys household to ask if they have enough food. Households that cannot afford enough food to fully meet the basic nutritional needs of their members are considered food insecure. The Census Bureau also keeps track of households in which this problem is so severe that someone actually goes hungry. Every year, a report called "Household Food Security in the United States" is issued that tells what percentage of households in each state during the last three years experienced food insecurity and what percentage experienced hunger. 

In the years 2004-2006, 18.1% of the households in Mississippi experienced food insecurity and 6.4% experienced hunger. These were the worst percentages for any state and also the worst percentages recorded since the census bureau started using the measurement in 1998. In the years 2005-2007, the percentage of food insecure households went down a little, to 17.4%, but the percentage of households with hunger rose to 7.0%. Once again, these percentages were the worst of any state.

There are many causes of this problem. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation. It has also lost many jobs over the past eight years, especially jobs in manufacturing. It is also one of only two states that put full sales taxes on groceries without giving taxpayers credits to compensate.

There are many undesirable consequences to hunger especially among children. These include obesity, failure to do well in school, and chronic health problems. It seems contradictory that obesity, defined as having a body mass index of 30 or above, should be a result of inadequate food, but many studies have shown the relationship. There are several explanations for why food insecurity can lead to obesity. People dealing with food insecurity feel stress, which may lead to binge eating. Also, people who don't have much money to buy food may buy foods that are high in fat, such as the food sold in fast food restaurants. In many cases, unhealthy, fattening foods are less expensive than healthy food. Also areas where many people have low incomes often lack places where people can buy healthy food, such as large grocery stores.

There are actions that could be taken in Mississippi to help reduce the number of people who suffer from food insecurity. The sales tax on groceries could be reduced or eliminated. More people could be informed about federal food programs in Mississippi and how to participate in them. More sponsors could be found for federal food programs. There are many people who do not participate in programs that could help them because there are no sponsors where they live. The development of community gardens and farmers' markets could also help because they can provide people with healthy food at a low cost. - DEK

UPDATES

BEFORE RECESSION, 17.4% OF MISSISSIPPIANS STRUGGLING WITH FOOD ACCESS

Mississippi had 17.4 percent of its people living in households with low food security, meaning that they did not enough access to food to support an active, healthy life during the 2006-2008 period, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) annual report released November 16, 2009. Among households with low food security, 7.4 percent of Mississippi households struggled with very low food security, meaning someone in most of these households had to go hungry during some months.

"Nutrition is a serious problem for our families and our children," said Warren Yoder, executive director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi. "Nearly 1 in 5 of Mississippi households struggled to provide enough food. Most of these families try to cope by switching to a less healthy diet just to have some food for the family. In 4 out of 10 of these struggling families, those with very low food security, even those cut backs were not enough and usually someone had to go hungry.

Because of the timing of the survey, the new national data in the report represent answers about 2008, early in the recession. The national number today almost undoubtedly is worse. Mississippi's data predates the recessions' real impact even more. To report food insecurity in Mississippi, USDA uses three-year averages to compensate for limited sample sizes and give a better estimate of the number of households experiencing hunger - thus the Mississippi data are for an average for 2006-2008. Everything we are seeing in Mississippi tells us that a new survey taken today would undoubtedly show far higher numbers of people struggling to put food on the table.

"President Barack Obama has made it a goal to end childhood hunger by 2015, and these numbers highlight the urgency of achieving this goal, " said Jim Weill president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a national anti-hunger nonprofit that analyzed the new USDA data. "Hungry children can't learn, grow, or thrive. The Administration has signaled its commitment to achieving this goal, and Congress must seize every opportunity to make the 2015 goal a reality."

The Public Policy Center of Mississippi joined FRAC in agreeing that ending childhood hunger by 2015 is an achievable goal - one that can be reached by strengthening the federal nutrition programs, improving income supports like refundable tax credits, and ensuring that all people can access nutritious food at home, at school or child care settings, and in their communities.

"People all across Mississippi have started to work together to address the problem. We are putting more emphasis on the quality of school meals, on schools and communities working together to provide summer food, and on helping child care centers provide healthy food for our youngest children," said Warren Yoder, executive director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi. "There are opportunities for concerned Mississippians to get involved in their local food ministry. Congress is preparing to take up the reauthorization of the child nutrition programs early next year. This is a problem that will take everyone's involvement.

Each year, the Census Bureau measures food insecurity through a series of household survey questions about the ability to obtain enough food for an active, healthy life for all members.

Among the 17.4 percent of people in Mississippi households considered to be food insecure during the 2006-2008 period, 7.4 percent were living in households that were considered to have "very low food security" People that fall into this USDA category had more severe problems experiencing hunger and cutting back or skipping meals on a more frequent basis for both adults and children. - WY (11/16/09)

CHILD NUTRITION REAUTHORIZATION LIKELY DELAYED

The Child Nutrition Act is up for reauthorization this year, but any changes to it may have to wait until 2010, reports the Foodlinks America newsletter. The law, which covers the School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program, expires on September 30. Food advocates are hoping that a reauthorization will contain greater reimbursement to schools for meals served as well as several other provisions to help the programs reach more children and provide healthier food. However, Congress's concentration on health care reform most likely means that the present law will be extended for a few months, which may delay the reauthorization until 2010. In addition, budget worries may result in less funding for program exapnsion than advocates had hoped for. - DEK (08/28/09)

ADVOCACY GROUP LISTS REASONS TO SUPPORT HEALTH REFORM

Families USA, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization for affordable health care, has issued a list of ten reasons that they support health care reform. Included on the list are the expansion of Medicaid to more low-income families, provisions that would keep people with pre-existing conditions from being denied health insurance coverage, subsidies to working class families to help them afford coverage, and aid to small businesses to lessen the burden of providing coverage to their employees, as well as other reasons. Families USA's eight-page outline is an excellent summary of what is in the health reform bills and of arguments supporting reform. – DEK (8/24/09)

SNAP PARTICIPATION RISES IN MISSISSIPPI

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) stood at 510,606 Mississippians in May 2009, according to data released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). This represented an increase of 2.3% over the number of people using the program in April 2009, the 16th-largest increase among states and the District of Columbia in this time period. Mississippi's increase between May 2008 and May 2009 was 14.5%, 41st among states, and its increase between May 2004 and May 2009 was 35.5%, 33rd among states. Approximately 17.4% of Mississippi's population is served by SNAP, the third-highest percentage among states.

In the nation as a whole, approximately 34.4 million people participated in SNAP in May, a record number. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the $4.6 billion that was spent on the program in May generated about $8.4 billion in economic stimulus. – DEK (8/10/09)

SNAP PARTICIPATION IN MISSISSIPPI GROWING SLOWLY

The Food Research and Action Center has released SNAP (Food Stamp) participation data for April 2009. As of that month, 498,956 Mississippians benefited from SNAP. The increase in number of Mississippians participating is growing slowly compared to most other states. Mississippi ranks 40th among states and D.C. both in terms of percentage increase in people using the program over a one-month period (March 2009 – April 2009) and over a one-year period (April 2008 – April 2009). The state ranks 32nd in percentage increase in number of people using the program over a five-year period (April 2004 – April 2009). – DEK (7/17/09)

FOOD INSECURITY RISES SHARPLY IN SAMPLE STUDY

Food insecurity rates are rising sharply for low-income families with young children, says a brief issued by a children's advocacy organization. Children's Health Watch tracks food insecurity rates for low-income families with children under three in a five-city national sample. In 2007, 18.5% of such families were food insecure and the rate rose to 22.6% in 2008. This is the greatest annual increase seen in the last four years. Children's Health Watch states that young children often serve as a bellwether, showing evidence of harm before adults and older children. These numbers could be indicative of a substantial rise in food insecurity rates across the nation as a whole. – DEK (7/16/09)

FRAC OUTLINES CHILDHOOD HUNGER STRATEGIES

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has issued a report applauding President Obama's goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015 and outlining seven "essential strategies" for accomplishing it. The report emphasizes that caregivers of children must be able to buy and prepare healthy food, and institutions that serve children, such as childcare centers and schools, must provide healthy food in a way that does not identify a child's socioeconomic status nor stigmatize those children who need help. The seven strategies that FRAC considers essential are:

  • Policies that promote economic growth, job creation, and higher wages at the low end of the scale.
  • Policies to promote higher incomes for low-income families, such as an increase in the Federal minimum wage.
  • Strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), by increasing benefits and eligibility.
  • Strengthening child nutrition programs by a variety of measures, such as increasing the number of areas that are eligible for the Summer Food Service Program.
  • Involving more departments of the Federal government in fighting childhood hunger, rather than leaving the task solely up to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • Enlisting states, localities, and nonprofits to increase education and outreach, as well as other measures.
  • Increasing access to inexpensive, healthy food by creating incentives for food markets to locate in low-income neighborhoods, and for all grocery stores to participate in SNAP and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) Program.
- DEK (7/2/09)

COMMITTEE PROPOSES FUNDING INCREASE FOR WIC

Congress has begun work on appropriations bills for Fiscal Year 2010, including appropriations for federal food programs. In order to control the deficit, President Obama has asked Congress to adopt pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules, which require increases in any budget area to be offset by savings elsewhere.  This may make reaching President Obama's goal of ending childhood hunger by 2015 more challenging.

However, at least one federal food program is slated for a large increase in funding. Foodlinks America reports that the House Agricultural Appropriations Subcommittee has marked up a bill to increase spending on the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC) by $681 million, to a record level of $7.541 billion. Under that level of spending, the program could serve 10.1 million Americans. The increase in funding would also support improvements in the program, such as expanding breast feeding counseling programs and increasing fruit and vegetable vouchers.

However, legislators may find it more difficult to increase funds for other food programs, such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). TEFAP needs increased funding to distribute and store commodities. The Obama Administration hopes that in the long run, increased spending on preventative health care to low-income Americans will improve the hunger situation in the U.S. – DEK (06/25/09)

SEAMLESS SUMMER OPTION FOOD PROGRAM GUIDE

The Seamless Summer Option is a program to encourage schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program to continue serving children during the summer months. Many children rely on schools to provide free or low-cost healthy meals during the school year, and the Seamless Summer Option provides a way for schools to maintain their important food services while reducing their administrative burden during the summer. Foodlinks America reports that the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture has issued a guide comparing the benefits and requirements of the Seamless Summer Option with those of the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. – DEK (6/19/09)

MHAP: LOWER TAXES ON HEALTHY FOOD

The Mississippi Health Advocacy Program (MHAP) has proposed a measure that could simultaneously address two nutrition-related policy issues: high food taxes in Mississippi and the state's high obesity rate. MHAP proposes that the state reduce the 7% sales tax on healthy food items while keeping the full tax on high-fat "junk" foods. Mississippi is one of only two states that maintain full sales taxes on groceries. It also has a higher percentage of obese adults than any other state, and also leads in obesity percentage among high school students. Healthy food is considerably more expensive than junk food, and the proposal would allow families to purchase healthy food more often. It would also contribute to the state's efforts to reduce its high rate of obesity. In "F As In Fat," their 2008 study of obesity across that nation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Trust for America's Health explicitly recommend the adoption of MHAP's proposal. – DEK 6/15/09

MISSISSIPPI SNAP PARTICIPATION GROWS SLOWLY

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has grown slowly in Mississippi, March data shows. According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the number of people benefiting from the program in the state rose from 488,264 in February 2009 to 491,346 in March, a 0.6% increase. In terms of the size of increase in this period, Mississippi ranked 47th. Nevada was first with a 5.1% increase, while only Louisiana and South Dakota showed declines. In the past year, from March 2008 to March 2009, Mississippi had a 12.7% increase in the number of people using SNAP. This was 38th among the states (including the District of Columbia). In the five years from March 2004 to March 2009, SNAP participation in Mississippi has grown by 33.1%, 30th among states. – DEK (6/5/09)

SNAP PARTICIPATION SEES SLIGHT RISE IN MISSISSIPPI

Participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) grew very slightly in February 2009. According to the Food Research and Action Center, 488,264 Mississippians received benefits through SNAP in February, up from 487,245 in January 2009, an increase of 0.2%. National participation was up 1.1%, from 32,204,843 in January to 32,554,795 in February, which means that there are now more people using the program than at any time in its history. The increase in the use of the program in Mississippi has generally been slower than the increase in the nation as a whole. Since February 2008 the number of people receiving benefits has grown 11.1% in Mississippi and 17.4% in the U.S. as a whole. In the last five years, participation in Mississippi has grown by 30.8%, while in the U.S. it has increased by 38.4%. Since Mississippi continues to have the nation's highest poverty rate and highest food insecurity rate, these numbers likely indicate that many additional people in Mississippi could benefit from the program. - DEK (5/6/09)

NO SNAP DETAILS ON MISSISSIPPI RECOVERY WEBSITE

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has completed a survey of all state and U.S. territory recovery websites. They found that Mississippi's recovery website has no information on increased SNAP benefits and policy changes that are affecting Mississippians. FRAC is asking that advocates urge state officials to post this information on the website, so that the thousands of Mississippians who rely on SNAP (formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) to help provide nutritious meals will be aware of the changes and so that the public at large will be informed about stimulus money that is going toward food assistance efforts. - DEK (4/17/09)

SNAP BENEFIT INCREASE STARTING APRIL 1

Households that benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, will see an increase in their monthly benefit allotment starting in April. The recently passed American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) provides $19.9 billion in increased SNAP funding, which will go toward increasing monthly benefits. "This increase will help families struggling through this severe economic downturn," said Warren Yoder, Executive Director of the Public Policy Center of Mississippi. "It will also strengthen our local economies and all the people whose jobs depend on retail sales." The maximum monthly allotment for a household of four in the continental U.S. will increase by $80 to $668, a 13.6% increase. Households that do not receive the monthly maximum will see their allotments increase by even greater percentages.

States will also see increased funding for SNAP administration. An extra $290.5 million will be divided among states for this purpose based on a formula that takes into account each state's share of SNAP households and the growth in number of SNAP households in each state. Mississippi will receive approximately $1.8 million under this formula. - DEK (3/31/09)

MISSISSIPPI FOOD STAMP PARTICIPATION GROWING SLOWLY

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) has released statistics showing the number of Food Stamp recipients in each state in December 2008. As of December, 486,892 people in Mississippi relied on Food Stamps to supplement their diet. This was an increase of about 1.3% from November 2008 and was a small increase in relation to other states, 42 of which had larger percentage increases in Food Stamp caseloads, led by Ohio's 8.8% increase. During the calendar year of 2008, participation in the Food Stamp program grew by 9.1%. Between December 2003 and December 2008, Mississippi's Food Stamp participation increased by 31.6%, which ranked as the 27th-greatest increase among states. - DEK (3/13/09)

LEGAL SERVICES WINS REVERSAL OF FOOD STAMP DECISION

The Tupelo Office of North Mississippi Rural Legal Services has won reversals of administrative decisions in five cases brought by Food Stamp recipients against the Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS). The clients were disqualified from receiving Food Stamps after an administrative hearing at DHS. The Tupelo Office originally appealed those cases to the Chancery Court of Lee County. The cases were then transferred to the Circuit Court of Lee County. After a hearing in Circuit Court, both sides were required to submit briefs on questions of first impression under Mississippi law. A decision in the first case was entered on November 21, 2008, restoring that client's Food Stamp benefits just in time for Thanksgiving. The Court held that DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and the administrative decisions were not supported by substantial evidence that the agency had proved an Intentional Program Violation by clear and convincing evidence, as is required at the administrative level. The remaining cases were consolidated for a hearing held on March 11, 2009. The cases were submitted on stipulated facts, including that the notice, administrative process, and evidence were substantially similar in all cases. The Judge ruled from the bench that DHS acted arbitrarily and capriciously, and that the administrative decisions were not supported by clear and convincing evidence as required by law. In all cases, the administrative decisions were reversed, and the clients were awarded Food Stamp benefits retroactive to the dates of the administrative decisions. Plaintiffs also requested a statewide injunction barring DHS from conducting any further administrative hearings until such time as they were able to demonstrate an ability to conduct the hearings with adequate protection for the recipients' rights under the applicable statutes, regulations, and State and Federal Constitutions, but the Court denied that portion of the relief requested.

As a result of the litigation and some administrative advocacy with the Food & Nutrition Service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a committee composed of members of the State Attorney General's Office and DHS has been formed to correct problems with the administrative hearing process for Food Stamp recipients. This represents a significant step forward in protecting the rights of poor people in Mississippi. - Alexander J. Simpson, III, Managing Attorney, NMRLS-Tupelo Office (3/12/09)

STATEMENT OF CHILD NUTRITION PRINCIPLES

The Child Nutrition Forum, co-sponsored by the Food Research and Action Center and the School Nutrition Association, has issued a Statement of Principles that should be included in the upcoming reauthorization of the child nutrition and WIC programs by Congress. The Public Policy Center is a signatory of the statement. - DEK (2/23/09)

SUPPER PROGRAM WILL HELP CHILDREN AND STIMULATE ECONOMY

The Afterschool Supper Program is a pilot initiative that helps schools and nonprofits provide nutritious suppers to children from low-income families. It is now available in only eight states, not including Mississippi, but the U.S. House economic stimulus bill has a provision expanding it nationwide. This program could help many Mississippi children at the same time creating jobs and stimulating Mississippi's economy. (Click here for more) - DEK (2/11/09)

SNAP/FOOD STAMP FUNDING WILL STIMULATE MISSISSIPPI'S ECONOMY

A stimulus bill passed by the House of Representatives will provide $296 million in increased SNAP/Food Stamp funding to Mississippi in the next five years. These funds will be spent quickly by people who need increased food assistance, providing an important stimulus to Mississippi's economy. (Click here for more) - DEK (2/11/09)

 

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