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. 

Safety Nets Creating Stability: Lisa’s Story

September 6, 2022

Lisa is a lot of things. She’s a Pisces, a gamer, and a voice in her community. A resident of the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation’s (TNDC) Kelly Cullen Community in San Francisco, she also attends their educational classes and volunteered at their People’s Garden before the pandemic. “I do a little of everything,” she laughed when we spoke to her outside the building’s weekly food pantry.

Right now, she’s living on her own with three small dogs. She has friends on her floor, a computer to game on, and a multifunctional pressure cooker that cooks rice, sautés vegetables, and air-fries meat she gets from the food pantry downstairs. “I like the pantry because I can get my extras here, the things I wouldn’t be able to buy from the store,” she told us. “Right now, I have everything. I’m stable, I’ve got housing. I don’t have any worries, so to speak.”

But it wasn’t always this way. For Lisa, a combination of government-funded safety nets and community support led her to this stability – and now she’s able to offer helping hands to others as well.

Safety Nets Are Necessary

For seniors and folks with disabilities like Lisa, government policies on food assistance have had a checkered history. Originally, people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) were ineligible for SNAP or CalFresh. But that changed in 2019. “Advocates from the SSI and anti-hunger community, including our Food Bank, all worked really hard to overturn that policy. And then activists conducted outreach across the state to connect SSI recipients to the resource,” said Meg Davidson, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Food Bank.

Lisa felt the effects of policy changes firsthand. “In the beginning, when folks on SSI weren’t allowed to collect food stamps, I found that really stressful. It’s easier now,” she said. She explained that expanded CalFresh benefits during the pandemic were also a boon. “I get a little extra on top of what I usually get, and I can set myself up better. If they stop the extra [food assistance money], I’m still good now because I have my staple foods in my pantry and meat in my freezer.”

Community Support is Integral

Lisa’s current situation wouldn’t be possible without the support she received, both from the government and her community. “A young lady named Lynn turned me on to classes with TNDC [where I live now]. She has helped me grow.” And with that growth came a desire to help others in the Tenderloin: so far, she’s advocated for pedestrian safety and a dog-friendly park in the neighborhood. “I learned a whole lot about myself, and I learned about community organizing,” said Lisa.

She also reaches out a helping hand to folks in the Tenderloin, as others have done for her. “Talking to people is my way of giving back. I can tell them places to go, and if they need my help to sign up for anything I’ll help them,” said Lisa. “It’s hard to change your life when nobody’s helping you, but when you get support, it’s easier. That’s my game plan. I’m gonna bring y’all in.”

Sandy’s Story | Grocery Delivery Makes the Difference

July 30, 2020

Before the pandemic, Sandy performed as a fiddler at festivals. And before that, as a young woman, she was an activist. She’s a mother and a grandmother with a zest for life.

She also knows what it’s like to experience hunger.

When she was a child living in Northern Ireland, there were times she and her brother would have to split what little food they had.

“I remember a time we split one scrambled egg,” she recalls. “Hunger has always been something. Not ‘I missed lunch,’ but true hunger.”

And now after 48 years in San Francisco, living through so much of this city’s rich and vibrant history, she is experiencing the challenges of living on a fixed income amidst the rising cost of living in the Richmond District.

“I’m living on my savings and I also get retirement. The rent here is $840 a month. I thank God it is only that. And my check is about 800 and…,” she pauses to think. “It’s close, I mean they are right next to each other.”

COVID-19: A Challenge for Seniors

Even before the pandemicone in seven adults between the ages of 50 and 80 nationwide were food insecure. For many low-income seniors, the Food Bank was a lifeline, helping ensure they weren’t choosing between affording food and paying rent.

COVID-19 suddenly threw a new impossible choice into the mix: choosing between risking your health to pick up much-needed food or go without it. To guarantee they wouldn’t have to make that choice, we started grocery delivery to 12,000 low-income seniors in our community every week.

To aid in these efforts, the USDA also granted a waiver that allowed Amazon to deliver senior boxes from the Supplemental Food Program (SFP), which provides a monthly box of mostly shelf-stable food to seniors living at or below 130% of the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.

While we look forward to bringing seniors back to the community centers, churches, and other weekly pantries locations, the recent spike in COVID-19 cases makes it clear: seniors like Sandy are still vulnerable.

Grocery Delivery Makes All the Difference

When Sandy’s husband was still alive, the couple relied on the monthly SFP food boxes. But her health challenges made picking up the SFP box difficult, and after her husband was killed, she stopped coming.

Even after she stopped picking up her SFP box, she kept in touch with Shirley Chen, senior program manager at the Food Bank. And in March, Shirley was able to connect her with our CalFresh team who signed her up for benefits, enroll in our Pantry at Home program, and even help her get her SFP box delivered straight to her door.

Unfortunately, the USDA ended the waiver allowing us to deliver SFP boxes for seniors shelter at home in June, making her Pantry at Home deliveries and CalFresh benefits even more crucial.

Thanks to the Food Bank, and the help of its caring staff members and volunteers, Sandy said she hasn’t been so well fed in a long time. “Do you know how long it has been since I could buy a rolled pork roast? My family came over and shared it with me. It fed 5 of us.”

In a time when we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring, the generosity of the Food Bank staff and her neighbors who make these deliveries means a lot. “I’m terribly grateful.”

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 Bank Opposes Latest Cuts to Food Stamps

December 4, 2019

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank Opposes Federal Rule Change that Will Take Food from ~755,000 Americans

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture finalized a rule change that will result in significant cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly food stamps and known as CalFresh in California). SNAP is a vital anti-hunger safety net, helping low-income residents make ends meet in high-cost areas like San Francisco and Marin. Currently, over 64,000 San Francisco residents and nearly 10,000 Marin residents receive monthly SNAP/CalFresh nutrition benefits to help meet their basic food needs. This rule change jeopardizes the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable neighbors by imposing arbitrary and harmful time limitations on nutrition assistance. Simply put, this rule change will result in some 755,000 people losing SNAP benefits, exacerbating hunger across our state and throughout our communities.

Rule Targets People Unable to Secure Sufficient Employment

This change will punish workers who are struggling to find steady employment by taking away their food assistance, which won’t help them find a better job or find work faster. Imagine your last job search.  Now imagine doing it on an empty stomach and no idea how you will pay for your next meal. It harms vulnerable people by denying them food benefits at a time when they most need it, and it does not result in increased employment and earnings. The people targeted by this change already face multiple barriers to work, including limited access to adequate transportation and affordable housing, criminal records that impact job eligibility, and undiagnosed physical and mental illnesses.

Food Bank Remains Steadfast in Commitment to Provide Food for All

The publication of this rule comes despite the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which had strong bipartisan support and explicitly rejected these cuts to the SNAP program. The Administration’s publication of this rule goes against Congressional intent, our mission as a food bank, and our shared belief that no one deserves to go hungry in America. The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank remains committed to working to end hunger in our service area.

While published today, the rule is not yet in effect and is pending a 60-day waiting period. The rules, however, have not changed – and individuals impacted should continue using benefits as usual. We urge CalFresh clients and community members who are concerned about the impact of this change to call our CalFresh hotline at 415-767-5220 or visit sfmfoodbank.org.

 

 

Newest Trump Administration Proposal Would Leave 3 Million Americans Hungry

August 1, 2019

Every day, our staff helps working parents, seniors, and adults with disabilities apply for the federal food stamp benefits they need to make ends meet.  That’s why we are we are deeply troubled by yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to take direct aim at our country’s most important and effective anti-hunger program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps; now called CalFresh in California).

Existing Policy Supports Working Families
This newest attack on the food stamps program targets a policy called Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility. This policy lets states adopt less restrictive requirements for household assets –  so families, seniors, and adults with disabilities can see modest increases in income and savings without losing their food stamps benefits.  The Administration calls this a “loophole” that permits those with higher incomes and assets to get public assistance who don’t necessarily need it.  But research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities finds that the policy actually helps support low-income, working families by preventing them from falling off the “benefit cliff” as their income rises slightly and allows them to start saving for the future.

Hunger Would Spike for 3 Million Americans
By changing the way states determine who qualifies for SNAP, the administration would effectively kick more than 3 million people – including thousands in San Francisco and Marin – off the SNAP program – basically telling these millions of vulnerable people that they’ll soon have to look elsewhere for vital nutrition every month.  This attack joins earlier proposals from the Administration to slash benefits for unemployed and underemployed adults, make massive cuts to the program in the federal budget, and move the goal line by arbitrarily changing the way poverty is calculated.  This is a coordinated attempt to erode our social safety net, and will succeed only creating a poorer and hungrier nation by denying Americans the assistance they need to lead healthy, productive lives.

Join Us and Fight Back

The San Francisco-Marin Food Bank remains firmly committed to using our voice to elevate the importance of nutrition programs like SNAP which are a lifeline to our neighbors in need.  Please stand with us and raise your voice in opposition to this proposal.

Food Policy Spotlight | Protect CalFresh/SNAP

February 13, 2019

Thousands of CalFresh (food stamp) recipients in our community are at risk of losing their benefits and going hungry. We need your help to protest proposed changes for SNAP/food stamp eligibility.

YOUR VOICE MATTERS

Will you take a moment right now to join us and voice your opposition to this harmful proposal?  We only have until April 2nd to step up and protect our neighbors before the rule can be considered final. By adding your opposition to the Federal Register, you’re letting the government know that you won’t support a rule that will increase hunger and poverty in your community.

This proposal would punish workers who are struggling to find steady employment by taking away their food assistance, which won’t help them find a better job or find work faster. Imagine your last job search.  Now imagine doing it on an empty stomach and no idea how you will pay for your next meal.

UNEMPLOYED AND UNDER-EMPLOYED NEIGHBORS AT RISK

The USDA recently announced a proposed rule that would cut off SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits for people who are struggling to find steady work. Regardless of how hard they are looking for work or how few jobs that match their skill sets exist in their area, they could become ineligible for SNAP- after just three months – if they are deemed “able-bodied working adults.”

The proposed rule could also hurt people who have jobs, like this CalFresh client from San Francisco:

“I have a job, but my boss cut my hours and I barely had enough money to make my rent. CalFresh allowed me to eat regularly over the past six months, and I wouldn’t have been able to survive without it.”

CalFresh can often be part of the solution to helping people who are in between jobs by helping them take care of a basic need like food while they are looking for work.  In fact, more than 80 percent of participants are working in the year before or after receiving the benefit, which suggests that it’s helping them stay afloat when they hit hard times.

 

Hailey’s Story | The Helpers Need Help Sometimes 

November 13, 2018

Someday, UC San Francisco medical student Hailey hopes to save many lives – but for right now, she is the one who needs a little bit of saving.

The 25-year-old has her sights set on becoming a surgeon. But living in San Francisco and attending one of the most prestigious medical schools in all the land has its drawbacks – specifically, the cost of living.  “I don’t have an income right now – it’s all student loans – so every month is a struggle when it comes to paying rent and surviving,” she says.

Hailey recently learned she was eligible to enroll in CalFresh, formerly known as food stamps. The Food Bank has an entire team of employees, dedicated to helping eligible individuals enroll in the program. One of the most successful locations, in terms of sign-ups, is the UCSF Parnassus campus.

Now, Hailey gets $190 from CalFresh to spend on groceries.  “It’s given me flexibility in my monthly budgeting and has allowed me to make healthier choices every day.”

She’s not alone. Since the beginning of the year, the Food Bank has worked with campus officials and the San Francisco Human Services Agency to make CalFresh a part of UCSF’s overall financial aid strategy. Enrollment events were held once or twice a month during the fall semester, and the program is really starting to take off.

“Since we started working with UCSF early this year, 186 students have been approved for CalFresh through our events, resulting in over $34,000 a month in benefits,” says Food Bank CalFresh Outreach Manager, Francesca Costa. “We are so grateful for UCSF’s partnership in supporting students through the CalFresh application process. The tearful hugs and deep gratitude from students we have helped enroll make it clear that we are meeting an important need here on campus.”

 

Sarah’s Story | Second Chance with CalFresh

May 1, 2018

Sarah breaks out her CalFresh (food stamps) EBT card at a neighborhood supermarket and gives a relieved smile because she is able to purchase the healthy, fresh vegetables that she needs to maintain and improve her health.

Every year, the Food Bank helps hundreds of neighbors like Sarah enroll in CalFresh because we know that accessing healthy food is essential for low-income neighbors who are striving to overcome challenges.

Bad luck and broken dreams

It was several years ago when Sarah suffered a pair of episodes that cast a dark cloud over her life.  In 2011, while walking up a flight of stairs on a rainy night, she slipped and tumbled over the banister, free falling two stories to the ground below. “I still have a lot of pain and range-of-motion issues, not to mention some emotional scars, from that fall,” She recounts.  Then, not even a year later, her father passed away after a long illness.  The pain from her fall, and the pain of losing her father combined to launch Sarah into a state of deep depression. She lost her job and eventually her apartment and became homeless.

Before these misfortunes, Sarah dreamed of owning her own health spa. She grew up in San Francisco’s Marina neighborhood in an upper-middle class home. After high school, Sarah moved to Los Angeles to “make her mark on the world.”  But when her father started having health issues, she moved back to the Bay Area to be closer to him.  Sarah found a job in a high-end health spa in Sausalito and really took to it.  “I had a real knack for working in that place, and I thought I was going to own my own spa business one day,” she says.

Building a better life

Today, lingering health challenges have made it hard for Sarah to find work. But that hasn’t stopped her from striving for a better life.  She recently secured her own apartment, is receiving treatment for her injuries, and is eating healthier thanks to her CalFresh benefits.

“I get about $180 a month through CalFresh, which is a big help by allowing me to buy fresh vegetables and protein and other things,” she says. “When I finally get back on my feet financially, I hope to stop getting CalFresh.  But for now, it really is a life-saving thing for me.”

Take Action for CalFresh

Unfortunately, her worrying isn’t over. Sarah says she’s fearful that politicians will cut much of the funding for CalFresh when they vote on the 2018 Farm Bill. Losing CalFresh could send her spiraling back to her darkest days.

“If I had a chance to tell a politician about CalFresh, I would say it’s working, that it’s helping people like me be better,” Sarah says. “If anything, more money needs to be added to the program, not less, because there are people in this city who are way worse off than me.”

If you are in need of CalFresh benefits, the Food Bank’s CalFresh Outreach team can help; learn more by clicking here.

If you want to help neighbors like Sarah move forward and realize their dreams, sign up for our Policy and Advocacy Newsletter and we’ll send you alerts when we need your help with petitions and phone calls to elected officials.