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.

 

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.

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. 

 

Food Insecurity Town Hall

April 29, 2020

Last night, we were proud to participate in a digital Town Hall Meeting on food insecurity during the COVID19 crisis, hosted by San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener. Over 2,200 people watched on Facebook and Zoom as our Executive Director, Paul Ash, joined leaders from fellow Bay Area non-profits working to ensure no one in our community goes hungry during this difficult time. 

Food Providers Adapting To Meet the Growing Need 

Senator Wiener was joined by the leaders of Meals on Wheels SFSt. Anthony’sSecond Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley, and the CA Association of Food Banks. Each organization is reporting exponential growth in the number of people in need of food assistance since the crisis hit. In the face of significant challenges — including operating with only 60% of their workforce and fewer volunteers, having to rethink how to prepare thousands of meals while keeping cooks 6 feet apart, and compensating for closed pantries — the organizations are continuing to step up to feed more of our neighbors facing hunger. As Executive Director Jose Ramirez of St. Anthony’s shared, “We’re really leaning on each other and learning what it means to be a community.” 

“We should not go back to the ‘old normal'” 

The Town Hall also focused on the ways that COVID-19 has helped advocates advance policy recommendations that improve food access. The crisis has actually allowed us to secure improvements to the CalFresh program for which advocates have been fighting for many years. These include the expansion of online purchasing using CalFresh benefits, allowing for the application process to be done entirely over the phone, and waiving the interview requirement. 

The Food Bank is co-sponsoring a bill in the State Senate, authored by Senator Wiener, that aims to make some of these program flexibilities permanent.  SB 882 – CalFresh: Simpler for Seniors – would make it easier for eligible low-income Californians to sign up and stay connected to CalFresh, particularly older adults and people with disabilities, many of whom have been hit hardest by the COVID crisis. 

We are In This Together 

As our colleague Jose from St. Anthony’s shared last night, “This is an opportunity to reflect on our priorities as a city, as a community, and as a country. We have to address food insecurity as the crisis that it is. It’s about human connection and compassion – putting people first, leading with compassion, and letting the rest fall into place.” 

You can catch the townhall here.

Feeding Kids During COVID19

April 21, 2020

Schools May Be Closed, but Hunger Persists 

Last year, 9,000 kids in Marin and 30,300 kids in San Francisco received free or reduced-price meals every day at school.  When their schools shuttered last month to combat the spread of COVID19, families were left wondering how they would be able to feed their children while they were at home. 

Child Nutrition Advocates Push for Policies to Feed Our Kids 

In response, we advocated for policymakers at all levels of government to act quickly to ensure that children would not suffer from hunger during this public health crisis.    

Here are three of the advocacy wins that are helping children continue to access the food they need to grow and thrive, even during these challenging times: 

  1. Children of all ages can access grab-and-go school meals during COVID-related school closures.  The Families First Coronavirus Response Act allowed the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) flexibility in cutting through some of the administrative red tape that typically governs child nutrition programs. Now, schools and other participating sites can provide grab-and-go meals and home-delivered meals to eligible children while their schools are closed. In San Francisco, the Food Bank is also working with the Unified School District to locating our Pop-Up Pantries at school sites that serve free to-go school meals. The “CA Meals for Kids” mobile app is available to help families find participating sites. Read more about our emergency pop-ups here.  
  2. Low-income families will receive money to buy food through Pandemic EBT. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also established a new program called Pandemic EBT, which will offer a quick and easy way to get food to school-age students by providing funds on a credit-like card for children who are eligible to receive free and reduced-price school lunch. The California Department of Social Services is working with the California Department of Education to efficiently deliver benefits to all families who qualify without anyone having to submit an application. 
  3. Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) Program gets a boost. WIC is a federal nutrition program helping pregnant people, new mothers, and their children access vital nutrition in their formative years.  The Families First Act provides $500 million in additional WIC funds to ensure that the program can serve more people as the economic downturn worsens, and also loosens regulatory requirements during the pandemic.  California was granted flexibility in reducing the administrative and regulatory burdens typically placed on WIC recipients, including temporarily halting in-person meeting requirements and blood tests, as well as expanding the foods that families can buy with their WIC card. 

#InThisTogether: Policymakers Support Food Banks

April 16, 2020

Advocacy in the Age of Shelter in Place 

Every April, our Policy & Advocacy team joins advocates from food banks statewide in Sacramento to meet with our elected leaders.Typically, our Capitol Action Day is an exciting time to gather with fellow advocates and elected champions to rally around our shared anti-hunger priorities and push for policies and programs that help our communities. In our new COVID-19 reality, we continued the tradition but shifted our meetings with lawmakers to video chats. 

The Need is More Urgent Than Ever 

With food banks across the state and throughout the country seeing unprecedented demand for food in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, our legislative priority was clear: fund food banks. When disasters strike, food banks find themselves on the front lines of response. Last week, we served 40,000 households, 10,000 more than just a few weeks ago, and our lines are only getting longer. We asked our State Senators and Assemblymembers to support our budget requests for additional state funding to help continue to serve the increased need. 

#InThisTogether 

During this crisis,  San Francisco and Marin State policymakers have shown incredible support for the Food Bank and our mission. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been pleased to host many of our Assemblymembers, Senators, and County Supervisors at our Pop-up pantries. They have rolled up their sleeves, donned masks, and shown up to help feed their communities. We couldn’t do what we do without their ongoing support, both in their districts and in Sacramento. 

 

Advocates Respond to COVID-19

April 1, 2020

Government Action Offers Some Relief, but More is Needed to Prevent Widespread Hunger

For the 37 million Americans who were struggling with food insecurity before this crisis unfolded, and for the millions more who were just barely making ends meet, COVID-19 has meant an unfathomable increase in hunger and hardship.

While our Programs and Operations teams work tirelessly to launch new pop-up pantries to respond to the growing demand for food in our community, our Policy & Advocacy team has been collaborating with elected leaders and social safety net administrators to ensure that all our neighbors can feed themselves and their families during this challenging time.

Federal Response

The Food Bank, along with anti-hunger advocates at the national and state level, has been in regular contact with our members of Congress since the beginning of the crisis to push for essential resources and nutrition assistance for our communities. We applaud our federal leaders for swiftly passing measures to provide direct aid to individuals and families.  Without strong economic security measures, food insecurity will only intensify.  These bills also include key investments for:

  • food security through SNAP (formerly food stamps);
  • food for kids who usually rely on free meals at school;
  • USDA commodities for food banks through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).

Details of the first three stimulus bills are linked here:

Despite these investments, we believe that lawmakers missed a critical opportunity to serve the dual function of stimulating the economy and feeding hungry Americans by increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 15% and increasing the minimum benefit to $30. Every $1 of SNAP benefits spent generates between $1.50-$1.80 in economic activity.

State & Local Response

The stimulus bills passed by Congress also removed much of the administrative red tape that comes with operating federal nutrition programs like SNAP, WIC (Women, Infant, and Children), and Free and Reduced-Price School Meals.  These federal programs are administered at the local level, so California’s safety net program administrators have been working around the clock to ensure a smooth rollout of these administrative flexibilities to provide food relief for those impacted by the pandemic.  We are working closely with our state and county partners to prevent any of our vulnerable neighbors from falling through the cracks.

Earlier this month, Governor Newsom issued an executive order that eased rules for applicants to social service programs, including CalFresh, Medi-Cal health coverage, welfare through CalWorks, and in-home support services.  The state has also taken action towards eliminating known barriers to accessing CalFresh, including waiving the interview requirement and pursuing online food purchase using EBT. These changes come as an unprecedented wave of new CalFresh applications are being submitted each week.

While the state Legislature is on recess through April 13th, our state Senators and Assemblymembers have been supporting our efforts here in the community. Supervisors in both Marin and San Francisco counties have been engaged with our response effort and have worked to elevate our efforts in the community. We’re grateful for the support of our elected officials who have also stepped up by volunteering at our Pop-up pantries, sharing resources and referrals with their constituents via social media and newsletters, and championing state budget requests to shore up food bank emergency infrastructure.

 Take Action Now

It will take a concerted effort from advocates, community members, impacted individuals, and elected leaders to prioritize policy solutions that help all Californians put food on the table during this crisis. We can #EndHungerTogether.

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 are critical to ensuring the well-being of vulnerable people. Ask them to:

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