Farm Bill FAQs: Q&A with Meg Davidson

September 15, 2022

What’s the Farm Bill? How does it impact my neighbors and I? Why should I care? 

Well, as our Policy and Advocacy Director Meg Davidson puts it: “Do you eat? Then you should care.” 

Let’s dive into how the Farm Bill shapes our nationwide food systems, funds essential federal nutrition programs, and how you can get involved in advocating for continued support for the hunger-fighting programs our community relies on. 

Food Bank (FB): So, what exactly is the Farm Bill? 

Meg Davidson: The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation that serves as the federal government’s main tool for making sure the nation’s food system keeps running. It sets the priorities for both farming and the primary nutrition safety net programs for the next five years. The 2024 Farm Bill is being negotiated right now. 

Think about the Farm Bill as a building with three pillars: 

  • The first pillar provides farmers with a safety net against the inherent ups and downs of agriculture. 
  • The second pillar is the nutrition safety net, helping Americans in need put food on the table. 
  • And the third focuses on the environment – protection of the water, air, and earth to ensure that farming isn’t doing more harm than good. 

FB: As the Food Bank, how does the Farm Bill impact our work? 

Meg: The Farm Bill funds federal nutrition programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program), and CSFP (Commodity Supplemental Food Program), all of which are integral to the work we do. SNAP, aka CalFresh in CA, is a nutrition benefit program that helps one in nine Californians put food on the table. TEFAP is the USDA-supported method through which the Food Bank distributes food to 201k households monthly. And CSFP is a program that helps 10,000 seniors in San Francisco and Marin stretch their budgets and nourish themselves. 

FB: How are we pushing to make SNAP, and other benefits, stronger? 

Meg: We’re looking to improve the adequacy of SNAP benefits by increasing allotment amounts and eliminating barriers for populations who need nutrition support – for example, college students and immigrants. We’re working to expand access to SNAP by removing administrative hurdles, like 3-month limits for working adults and restrictions on how SNAP benefits are spent.  

We’re also pushing to reauthorize CSFP and increase funding for TEFAP, as we continue to see heightened levels of need in our community. For both CSFP and TEFAP, we want the minimum eligibility incomes raised to reflect the high cost of living in the Bay Area. And we’re pushing for continued TEFAP investment in BIPOC farmers and local economies.  

FB: What would happen if SNAP benefits were cut? 

Meg: SNAP benefits are incredible but inadequate. The amount of money that people get is not enough to meet all their needs. Four in 10 people who receive SNAP also go to food banks to supplement their food. So, it’s important that we don’t make SNAP even weaker, because food banks are already completely tapped out. We simply cannot take on more if we were to eliminate certain populations from being deemed eligible for SNAP. There would be millions of Americans who would be excluded from this critical safety net that helps them put food on the table. 

We saw how reducing barriers during the pandemic made it easier for people in need of support to enroll in the program. We know what works, so let’s not go backwards. 

FB: What is the pushback that these programs receive at the federal level? 

Meg: There are a lot of stereotypes that affect lawmaker’s perceptions of programs like SNAP, CSFP, and TEFAP. For instance, there’s always pushback that we need to cut back on the eligibility for SNAP recipients in order to cut costs. But the reality is, SNAP is good for the economy, not just recipients: a recent USDA study estimated that every dollar in new SNAP benefits spent when the economy is weak and unemployment elevated would increase the gross domestic product by $1.54. And 80% of SNAP benefits are spent within the first two weeks of receipt, pumping money quickly back into the economy and generating more jobs. 

FB: How can community members take action? 

Meg: Start out by signing our petition and tell Congress to protect and strengthen SNAP. Adequate safety nets are the most effective way that we can prevent hunger and food insecurity in our community and ensure that our neighbors have a network of support when they fall on hard times. Then, make sure to sign up for our Advocacy Alerts, so you can stay up to date on timely ways to get involved.  

 

It’s up to all of us to take action to end hunger in our community, so stay tuned for more ways to engage with the 2024 Farm Bill. 

Pass the EATS Act

June 29, 2022

You can’t learn when you’re hungry. Yet, as many as 1 in 4 college students who struggle with food insecurity can’t receive CalFresh benefits (food stamps). Our Policy and Advocacy team is working to change this by lobbying Congress to pass the Federal EATS Act.  

CalFresh is one of the most important tools for addressing food insecurity and hunger. Recipients can shop for the groceries they want, when they want, by spending their monthly benefits at participating grocery stores and farmers markets. Unfortunately, students from low-income backgrounds are largely unable to access CalFresh because of barriers like a 20 hour/week work requirement. “The work requirement is an archaic rule that requires students to be working hours that they don’t have,” explained Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.  

Eased Restrictions, Increased Participation

The current “work-for-food” rules are based on assumptions of a “typical” college student – upper middle class, with endless free time and family support. In reality, there is no typical student. Between required labs, rotations, and residencies, working to pay their bills, and even supporting families, many students simply don’t have 20 free hours in their week. School is work. Extra barriers to healthy groceries can spell the difference between obtaining a degree and halting their education. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 got rid of this “work-for-food” rule – temporarily – and the results were immediate. “During the pandemic, restrictions like the work requirement were lifted, and more college students were able to access CalFresh. So, we’ve seen that it doesn’t have to be so hard to get more students in the program,” said Meg.  

School is Work

However, expanded CalFresh eligibility for students is set to expire just one month after the federal Public Health Emergency is declared over. That’s where the Federal EATS Act – and you – come into the picture. The Federal EATS Act would permanently expand CalFresh access to low-income students by making attendance at an “institution of higher education” count as their work requirement. “The EATS Act recognizes that school is work,” said Marchon Tatmon, Government Affairs Manager at the Food Bank. “This bill will allow students to access the nutrition they need.” We need your help to make sure all students have access to healthy groceries that fuel their learning. You can sign up for Action Alerts and get involved through our email list: sfmfoodbank.org/advocacy. Let’s urge Congress to pass this permanent legislative fix for college hunger, together.  

“Not Part-time Employees”

June 28, 2022

CalFresh is supposed to be the first line of defense against hunger, but that’s often not the case for college students. For Dustin and Anthony, two among thousands of college students facing food insecurity, the Federal EATS Act would make a huge difference. Dustin is an LGBT Studies major and first-generation college student at City College of SF. Like many other students, Dustin turns to the Food Bank to stock his fridge and pantry. CalFresh isn’t an accessible option for him because of the work requirements and red tape in the application process. “I do not have the support of parents sending me through college, so I utilize the Food Bank when I don’t have funds,” Dustin told us at Rosa Parks Pop-up Pantry in March.  

School Comes First 

Anthony is a graduate student at UCSF, currently in his second year of the dentistry program. He’s been a recipient of CalFresh on and off since 2018. When we spoke on the phone, he laid out his simple problem with the work requirement for students. “When you’re in a rigorous academic program, you don’t really have much time to study if you’re working to make ends meet. It puts a lot of stress on students who are now focusing more on working instead of studying. We are full-time students, not part-time employees.”  

Not Enough Time in the Day 

For students who come from low-income backgrounds, a college degree holds the promise of less financial struggle in the future. Getting that degree, however, is not easy. And dedicating 20 hours of precious study time a week to a job, just so that you can buy groceries, doesn’t make it any easier. It’s a vicious cycle that forces students to choose between their studies and their survival. That’s why students like Anthony are such strong supporters of passing the Federal EATS Act. “I know countless friends and family members who are college students and could greatly benefit from CalFresh. With the EATS Act, if we remove these barriers then people will have much easier access to food.” 

National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference

March 18, 2021

Federal Advocacy in the Time of COVID

Every spring, our Policy & Advocacy team flies to Washington D.C. for a National Anti-Hunger Policy Conference co-hosted by Feeding America and the Food Research and Action Center.  Our new COVID reality has shifted the conference from our nation’s capital to our own home offices but hasn’t diminished the power of uniting thousands of anti-poverty and anti-hunger advocates in common purpose.

New Administration, New Opportunities

Since assuming office in January, the Biden Administration has taken dramatic, long-sought steps to reduce hunger across the country during the COVID crisis.  The passage of the American Rescue Plan represents a one-in-a-generation investment in low-income Americans and in our nation’s children.  From extending increased benefit levels for SNAP (food stamps) recipients to providing support for free meals for kids while in-person learning is suspended to making it easier for college students to access SNAP, the Biden Administration has made rapid investments in our anti-hunger infrastructure nationwide.

Advocates at the Anti-Hunger Policy Conference will hear from the new Secretary of Agriculture at the USDA, Tom Vilsack.  Food banks like ours receive millions of pounds of food through the USDA and the SNAP/CalFresh program is also funded through the agency, so we look forward to continuing to build relationships with the new Secretary and his staff to push for increased funding and policy advancements for our federal nutrition programs.

Lobbying From Your Living Room

The new remote format makes it easier for advocates who were previously unable to participate in the vital activity of meeting directly with our elected leaders because of the challenge of paying for travel to D.C.  Our Policy & Advocacy team arranged meetings with our Members of Congress and fellow community-based organizations from our district to share the local impact of Federal policies and request their support for policies and funding to alleviate hunger across their district.

Our priorities include continuing to strengthen the social safety net through extending SNAP and school meal flexibilities, fortifying the donated food pipeline that keeps food bank shelves stocked, and making long-term investments in child nutrition.  We will continue to fight for these vital resources to keep our communities nourished, during COVID and long after.

 

Biden Administration Takes First Step to Improve Immigrant Food Access

February 16, 2021

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden took necessary action to undo some of the harm inflicted on immigrant communities by the Trump Administration.  The White House released an Executive Order directing government agencies to review the changes to public charge regulations, which have driven millions of immigrants to forego vital health and nutrition services for their families out of fear.

We applaud the Biden administration’s commitment to promoting policies of immigrant inclusion along with other important investments in the nutrition safety net.

“Chilling Effect” Prevents Families from Seeking Vital Health and Nutrition Support

We witnessed the impact of the Trump Administration’s discriminatory policy changes firsthand, as dozens of parents and individuals flooded our CalFresh Outreach lines to cancel their food benefits out of fear of being deported. Approximately 10.4 million people in California, including 3.1 million children, live in families with at least one noncitizen in the household. Many of these families have chosen to avoid food and health assistance of any kind, fearing that their children will be forced to pay back the benefits or that they would be deported.

Though the majority of immigrants are not subject to the public charge rule, its “chilling effect” has had widespread impacts in our state.  Research shows that about 6.8 million people in California could have been deterred from public programs because of immigration-related consequences.  Even before the pandemic, people who were undocumented were more likely to experience food insecurity, and children of newly arrived immigrants were at increased risk of poor health outcomes due to lack of access to nutritional food

Food Bank Stands with Immigrant Communities

The Food Bank has taken a strong stance in opposition to the harmful public charge rule changes since they were first released.  We stand by the statement our former Executive Director, Paul Ash, made in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle: “We become stronger, more compassionate, and more productive communities when our neighbors are able to access the services they need to thrive without fear.”

More Work is Needed

This is an exciting first step in repairing the damage done by this and other policy attacks on immigrants, but it will not immediately reverse the harm done to immigrant families nor eliminate their distrust of our nutrition and health safety net.

Our Policy & Advocacy and Programs teams will continue the vital work, both in the halls of government and out in our communities, of healing the harm of these policies.  If you’re interested in learning more about policy solutions to include immigrants and their families here in California, sign up for Action Alerts from our partners at Nourish California: Food4All Immigrants Campaign

Vote to End Hunger

September 23, 2020

Who We Elect Matters

We have seen COVID-19 and its economic fallout thrust millions of more families into poverty and hunger. In San Francisco County, for instance, nearly 19% of households struggled to get enough to eat in April and May, up from 5.7% in December 2018, according to the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. here at the Food Bank we have seen nearly twice as many households turn to us for support compared to before the pandemic.

The crisis has only highlighted how vital food assistance programs are for the 40% of Americans who already lack enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense. Amidst the chaos, uncertainty, and unprecedented crises this year has dealt us, it has rarely been clearer that our elected leaders hold tremendous power in shaping our daily lives.

Federally, our Members of Congress reacted quickly to the crisis by passing landmark COVID relief legislation providing much-needed stimulus money, unemployment benefits, and healthcare support for Americans impacted by the coronavirus.  Our state lawmakers pushed for historic budget investments to support food banks and the tens of thousands of newly food insecure Californians through investments in CalFresh, child nutrition programs, and emergency food boxes.

The policies and programs our elected officials support or oppose have urgent, lasting impact on the ability of our neighbors to feed themselves and their families.

Cast Your Vote to End Hunger

Your vote this election cycle can help decide the future of life-saving programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (CalFresh, formerly food stamps), can affect how many kids get access to school meals, and can ensure that putting policies in place to end hunger is a priority for lawmakers.  Join us on National Voter Registration Day, Sept. 22nd, to double-check your voter registration status.

Vote to end hunger. Then, ask a friend or a family member to do the same.

Beyond the Ballot Box

Whether it’s signing onto an email campaign, tweeting at your Senator, showing up to a virtual Town Hall meeting held by your Supervisor, or simply filling out the Census, your engagement in civic life has an impact, and your voice matters.

We believe it will take the combined will of both the public and our elected officials to elevate hunger as a key issue in this election cycle. We’re counting on you to not only make sure you’re registered to vote, but to cast your ballot for candidates who hold our shared values of ending hunger.

State Budget Prioritizes Food Amid Historic Cuts

July 15, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare some of the hardest truths about our communities, our state, and our country. It has shown us where the greatest inequities across our society lie, how quickly trust in many of our institutions can be eroded, and how politics can be used as a wedge to drive our nation’s residents apart.  It has also, however, revealed to us the incredible resilience and compassion of our communities and the leaders they elect. From showing up to volunteer by the thousands to opening hearts and wallets, to sending letters and signing petitions, we have been awed by seeing our neighbors show up for one another.

Nowhere has this support for the most vulnerable Californians been more evident than in the recently passed State Budget. Despite historic reductions in state revenues, Governor Newsom and the Legislature passed a budget that avoids deep cuts to critical safety net programs and even makes several improvements to programs that impact the lives of many in our communities.

Below are five of the most important investments that CA is making in our low-income communities:

  1. Emergency Food: The budget includes $8 million for food banks to purchase goods from California farmers and producers (CalFood), and $50 million for Emergency Food Boxes, unprecedented investments in the emergency food system. These investments will bring much-needed resources to food banks statewide as we continue to respond to the ongoing economic crisis.
  2. CalFresh: The budget includes administrative program changes for which we have advocated for years: using Medi-Cal data to identify eligible CalFresh households and provide pre-populated CalFresh application forms, reduces barriers to access by introducing more client-friendly options, creates a process to simplify required reports to help people keep their benefits, authorizes additional modern means of communication with CalFresh recipients, and seeks potential relief from overissuances. The budget also limits counties’ CalFresh administrative costs in an effort to prevent counties from cutting staff when more Californians rely on human services programs than ever.
  3. Child nutrition funding: Includes $112.2 million for operators of the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Seamless Summer Option, and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) serving meals during school closures.
  4. Supplemental Security Income/State Supplementary Payment (SSI/SSP): Maintains current funding for SSI/SSP grants for older adults and people with disabilities, and rejects the Governor’s May Revision proposal that would have cut the 2021 cost of living adjustment and increased hardship for some of our more vulnerable neighbors.
  5. California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC): Expands the Earned Income Tax Credit to Californians and small business owners with children under the age of six that file their taxes using Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITNINs). We know that this program has a tremendous impact on reducing childhood poverty and hunger.

While we celebrate these budget wins, we also know that the need is still staggering. We will continue to work with our state and national partners to advocate for increases to CalFresh benefits to help keep our communities fed during this crisis.

Long-Term Change to End Senior Hunger

May 28, 2020

Food In Crisis, and Every Day

We’ve all seen the images of cars lined up for miles, waiting to get groceries.  We’ve witnessed thousands of our neighbors, standing six feet apart, waiting in lines snaking around city blocks in our neighborhoods to pick up food for their families.  We’ve read with disbelief the unemployment numbers, growing by millions with every passing week. We’ve rushed to aid our senior neighbors and relatives, sheltering in place and unable to access resources safely.  We know that we are in a moment of historic highs for hunger in our community.

But here at the Food Bank, we have known that hunger has been a crisis for thousands of our fellow San Francisco and Marin residents long before the COVID-19 pandemic.  That’s why we not only provide free weekly groceries to people experiencing an acute need for food in the moment, but also have invested in long-term policy advocacy to combat hunger at the systemic level.

CalFresh is a Proven Solution

As a proven positive public health intervention and powerful economic stabilizer, CalFresh has a critical dual role to play in California’s immediate and long-term COVID-19 response. Yet, only 19 percent of eligible older Californians (age 60 or over) receive CalFresh, the lowest participation rate of any state.  Here in California, the average monthly benefit for a senior is $158, making it especially worth their while to apply. Yet seniors represent the population with the greatest gap between their eligibility for SNAP and their enrollment in the program, due in large part to the administrative hurdles of applying for the program as a senior.

Legislation for Change

We’re working to change that and make it easier for eligible older Californians to get the benefits to which they’re entitled.  We’re co-sponsoring a bill in the CA State Senate (SB 882 – Wiener) that would simplify the CalFresh application for many older adults and people with disabilities, while also making permanent several key changes to increase access to CalFresh during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The current application is 18 pages long!  When is the last time you had to fill out an 18-page application for anything?

SB 882 would eliminate burdensome, ongoing reporting requirements that cause many households to lose nutrition assistance, even when they remain eligible. SB 882 would also ensure that all applicants and participants can complete the application and recertification interview processes by phone, including submitting the required client signature. This is crucial for older adults with limited mobility and access to reliable transportation.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to make clear, meeting the nutritional needs of low-income households is an urgent and ongoing need. No one should go hungry in California, and it is our collective responsibility to use all the tools we have to make it easier to access our most powerful anti-hunger tool, CalFresh.

Ensuring Immigrant Food Access During COVID

May 20, 2020

All Are Welcome Here

Here at the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, we believe that access to food is not a privilege granted based on the country of your birth, but your right as a human being. Our food pantry programs are open to all, regardless of citizenship status. During the COVID-19 crisis, our immigrant neighbors face increased hunger and financial hardship because of their exclusion from unemployment insurance benefits and Federal stimulus payments. We are working to help them gain access to the food they need to get through this difficult time. 

California Takes Action to Support Immigrant Neighbors

To help support undocumented Californians excluded from federal stimulus funds, Governor Newsom has created the Disaster Relief Assistance for Immigrants Project. The project will distribute $75 million in state funding to 12 organizations throughout California. Families can apply to receive up to $500 per adult. The Governor shared, “We feel a deep sense of gratitude for people who are in fear of deportations but are still addressing the essential needs of tens of millions of Californians. In the healthcare sector, in the agriculture and food sector, in the manufacturing and logistics sector, and the construction sector. This is a state that steps up always to support those in need, regardless of status.” Applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-serve basis starting on May 18, 2020. 

Local Leaders Step Up

We celebrate Supervisors Shamann Walton and Hilary Ronen for proposing the Emergency Family Relief Fund to provide financial assistance for immigrant families during the crisis. As Sup. Ronen said, We believe that our immigrant communities in San Francisco are as deserving as the rest of us for help during this crisis. We will step in strong and loud as a local City and County where our federal leaders have failed to help our immigrant population.”   

The City of San Francisco has also set up an immigrant resources page on its website, where immigrants can find the help they need during the crisis. 

Food For All

We are all in this together. That means we are all harmed when immigrants are excluded from life-saving programs or when they fear going to the doctor or accessing vital nutrition benefits because of the Administration’s changes to public charge policies.  One of the most powerful lessons we are learning from this crisis is that our own wellbeing is bound up in the wellbeing of our neighbors.  We are committed to ending hunger in San Francisco and Marin and providing food for all who need it in our communities. 

Feeding Our Kids During the Pandemic

May 13, 2020

Hunger Intensifies for Families With Kids Out of School

Before the pandemic, over 40,000 families in San Francisco and Marin had children who received free or reduced-price meals each day at school. This helped ease the financial burden on hard-working low-income families and ensured that kids were getting the nutrition they needed to thrive in and out of school. 

Since schools closed, these families have been scrambling to find resources to feed their kids when work has become scarce and support networks have been strained. We see so many of these parents picking up groceries at our Pop-up pantries while they wait for unemployment insurance or CalFresh benefits to arrive. 

New research explores how dramatically the economic collapse has deepened food insecurity, with nearly one in five children not getting enough to eat. That rate is three times higher than in 2008, at the height of the Great Recession. Our pantry programs help, but we need a stronger social safety net to help families in crisis. 

Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) Can Help

Thanks to fierce advocacy from anti-hunger groups including the Food Bank, families whose children typically receive free school lunch will now be able to receive up to $365 per child on a debit card to purchase food through a new program called Pandemic EBT (P-EBT).  Enacted in March in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, P-EBT was created to help compensate for those missing school meals.  Families whose children receive CalFresh, Medi-Cal, or are in foster care will automatically receive this card in the mail between May 8 and May 22.  For those who don’t automatically qualify, a short application will be available on May 22. 

Families will be able to use this money to purchase groceries at most grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and at select online retailers. Receiving P-EBT does not jeopardize a person’s immigration status and is not included in public charge determinations. Families are also still encouraged to pick up free to-go meals from school meal sites in their neighborhoods. 

 More Action is Needed to End Hunger

This will be a tremendous help for many struggling to put food on the table, but it is insufficient to fill the staggering need among families in our community. As the saying goes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and it will take all of us to urge lawmakers to prioritize policy solutions to feed our children, too. 

Please, call your lawmakers (202-224-3121) and urge them to include new investments in SNAP that will help the economy rebound from the impact of the pandemic and ensure the well-being of millions of children. Ask them to: 

  • boost the SNAP maximum benefit by 15%; 
  • increase the minimum monthly SNAP benefit from $16 to $30; 
  • suspend any administrative actions that eliminate or weaken SNAP benefits.