Addressing Student Food Insecurity with a SNAP

by Kyle Winterboer*

As students return to in-person school, it is an important time to revisit the issue of food insecurity across America’s educational system. Particularly in Higher Education, recent studies suggest student food insecurity levels had reached as high as 38% in Spring 2020 and 5.8 of every 10 students experienced some form of basic needs insecurity. These rates have dramatically increased throughout the duration of the pandemic because students sent home for lock-down no longer had access to the already limited forms of support available in person on campuses.

A common tool used to fight food insecurity is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Despite its successes in reducing hunger and the economic benefits the program introduces to stimulate local economies, SNAP has many limitations and needs reform to better address food insecurity. One such limitation is that policy makers have long denied students access to SNAP. While the past decade has brought some expansions to grant students access, significant barriers remain. Barriers include restrictive student eligibility criteria and mixed messaging that leaves students misinformed of their eligibility. This policy failure leaves students hungry, many of whom would otherwise be eligible for aid if they were not pursuing higher education.

To show the real human impacts of these policy failings, journalist Alejandra Salgado details student stories in an article that appeared in CalMatters and was shared by Civil Eats: Colleges Rush to Sign Students Up for Food Aid, as Pandemic Rules Make More Eligible | Civil Eats

To provide additional context to the policies described in Salgado’s reporting, the below contains insights from Resnick Center Research Assistant Kyle Winterboer in this policy area. This research comes from his time with the student led research advocacy group “unBox”, the assistance of the UCLA CalFresh Initiative, his own application process amidst the pandemic, and from his time implementing a little known policy solution across UCLA departments to better support students in their SNAP applications.

The Resnick Center thanks the unBox Project and the UCLA CalFresh Initiative for readily sharing information for this report, and their continued dedication to the mission of ensuring equitable access to food for all.

Continue reading “Addressing Student Food Insecurity with a SNAP”

Repast – New Episode! Reforming Food Systems with Nancy E. Roman

Listen to the new episode of Repast, a food law and policy podcast from the Resnick Center.

In this episode of Repast, Diana Winters and Nancy E. Roman, President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), discuss Nancy’s journey to her work with transforming the food landscape, and some of PHA’s most significant campaigns.  These include Pass the Love with Waffles + Mochi, a food equity campaign held in conjunction with Michelle Obama’s Netflix show about good food, and its Healthy Hunger Relief initiative, where it is working to improve the nutritional profile at our nation’s food banks.

Nancy and Diana also discussed some of the most important action items Nancy would like to see both in the Biden administration and globally, and looked forward to the upcoming PHA Summit, and the UN’s 2021 Food Systems Summit, a potentially transformative moment in food systems reform.

Diana Winters is the Deputy Director of the Resnick Center for Food Law & Policy at UCLA Law.

Nancy E. Roman is the President and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America.

You can read Nancy E. Roman’s latest blog post on reforming the food system here.

You can register for the PHA 2021 Summit, to be held virtually on May 12, 2021, at 10am PT/1pm EST, here.

You can find more information about the UN’s 2021 Food Systems Summit here.

Op-ed: How to Feed America Better Post-Covid

By Veronica Goodman*

When teachers locked up their classrooms last March, few thought that a year later schools would still be shuttered and that millions of children would lack access to essential services, such as meals, and that millions of jobs would be lost, leaving many individuals and families struggling to put food on the table. America’s hunger crisis is now so acute that a recent analysis found that the number of children not getting enough to eat was ten times higher during the pandemic, while nearly 1 in 6 adults – or close to 24 million Americans – reported that their households did not have enough to eat sometimes or often in the past seven days.  

The sharp rise of hunger during the pandemic is yet another woeful legacy of the Trump administration’s mishandling of the Covid crisis, including trying to deny access to food relief by placing unnecessary bureaucratic barriers on states and even attempting to kick nearly 700,000 unemployed people off of food assistance in the midst of a once-in-a-century public health crisis. President Biden has thankfully made quick progress to address the hunger crisis through executive action and proposed legislation, but there is more work to be done to make our federal anti-hunger policy more resilient going forward for the next crisis, and to address the structural barriers to food affordability and access.

In his first week in office, President Biden signed an executive order that will help alleviate the hunger crisis by increasing benefits of the Pandemic-EBT program (P-EBT) and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), as well as calling for the Agriculture Department to modernize the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the cost of a market basket of foods upon which SNAP benefits are based. Biden’s American Rescue Plan will also significantly bolster food assistance programs around the country. Collectively, these changes should make food aid more generous and better targeted.

However, many anti-hunger innovations were born of necessity during the pandemic, and these should serve as lessons learned going forward to better prepare for a future crisis. The P-EBT program has been a success at bridging the gap in nutrition for low-income children who used to obtain meals through programs at their schools, but who could no longer do so with schools closed. This program should be studied to see if it can be converted to a Summer EBT option going forward. Furthermore, to stay ahead of a future crisis, researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have suggested that Congress “leverage the P-EBT structure to create a permanent authorization for states to issue replacement benefits (similar to P-EBT, and perhaps renamed “emergency-” or E-EBT) in case of lengthy school or child care closures resulting from a future public health emergency or natural disaster.” This would make it easier for states to act quickly and not rely on Congressional action should schools need to close in the future. Finally, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici has introduced a bill that would more effectively allow schools to distribute free meals to students and other community members in need, and to extend meal service for afterschool meals and snack programs. These measures would make our systems nimbler and more responsive should a future disruption, national or local, occur.

America’s hunger crisis did not start with the pandemic, and policymakers should go further to address three key underlying causes and structural barriers to food access and affordability. First, the White House should focus on stricter antitrust enforcement in the food industry. The U.S. food and agriculture industry is concentrated, with a few large firms dominating many markets, which can drive up consumer prices on basic nutrition staples. Second, Congress should enact the HOPE Act, introduced by Reps. Joe Morelle and Jim McGovern and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) which would create online accounts that enable low-income families to apply once for all social programs they qualify for, rather than forcing them to run a bureaucratic gauntlet that makes it difficult for low-income Americans to get public assistance. Third, Congress should take up legislation, such as the bipartisan Healthy Food Access for All Americans (HFAAA) Act put forth by Sens. Mark R. Warner, Jerry Moran, Bob Casey, Shelley Moore Capito, that incentivizes food providers to set up shop in rural and hard-to-reach communities to improve food access for the estimated 40 million Americans living in “food deserts” that lack a nearby grocery store or food pantry or bank.

Food insecurity is not just a moral issue, it also has economic and social costs. Adults who go hungry are less productive and are more likely to suffer from chronic illness. Hungry children are more likely to get sick and fall behind in school. One in five Black and Hispanic households report they are unable to afford food. Poor nutrition and soaring rates of metabolic disease are a drag on the economy and contribute to rising healthcare costs and early deaths in minority and low-income families that are disproportionately more likely to experience poor nutrition and health as a result of food insecurity. And a boost in food assistance programs has even been found to speed economy recovery during a downturn and serve as an “automatic stabilizer”, an added bonus of fighting hunger during the Covid recession.

It’s time for a new national commitment to wiping out hunger and malnutrition in America. The pandemic and the associated hunger crisis have taught us valuable lessons that we should use so that we can be better prepared to face a future crisis and to curb hunger in America.

*Veronica Goodman is the Director of Social Policy at the Progressive Policy Institute. In her role, she develops and analyzes policies designed to help lift more Americans out of poverty and to strengthen the middle class, focusing on social mobility, inequality, labor, and modernizing social services. Veronica earned graduate degrees in economics and public management from Johns Hopkins University, and her undergraduate degree from The George Washington University.

You can find Goodman’s full paper on a comprehensive federal approach to the hunger crisis here.

2021 California Food Legislation

by Beth Kent*

            The California State Legislature is back in session, and legislators have introduced a number of bills related to food and agriculture. Many of these bills address food insecurity, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. A number of bills focus on sustainable agriculture, including phasing out pesticides and protecting agricultural lands. Governor Newsom’s proposed Budget also includes funding for a new approach to pesticide regulation that aims to catalyze the transition to safe and sustainable agriculture.

This is the beginning of the legislative cycle, and bill text and budget priorities are subject to change, but it is exciting to see so many bills that address food and agricultural issues. You can track your bill priorities here, and we will provide an update at the end of the session that summarizes the bills that are passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor.

Food and the Environment

  • AB-350 (Villapudua) would create a grant program to help landowners in the San Joaquin Valley’s “critically over-drafted basins” meet the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s water use reduction goals.
  • AB-352 (Rivas) proposes amendments to the California Farmland Conservancy Program to make the program more accessible to low-income, diverse, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
  • AB-391 (Villapudua) proposes appropriating $5 million from the Department of Food and Agriculture’s General Fund to provide technical assistance and grants to incentivize participation in state and federal conservation programs that integrate pollinator habitat and forage on working lands.
  • AB-567 (Bauer-Kahan) proposes expanding pesticide regulations to prohibit using neonicotinoids (a type of insecticide that is especially harmful to bees) on seeds and makes the use of neonicotinoids a misdemeanor.
  • AB-1086 (Aguiar-Curry) would require the California Natural Resources Agency to develop an implementation strategy to achieve the State’s organic waste, and related climate change and air quality, goals. The implementation strategy may include recommendations on policy and funding support for the beneficial reuse of organic waste.

Nutrition and Food Security

  • SB-364 (Skinner): Introduced by Senator Skinner and co-authored by Senators Eggman, Hertzberg, Laird, Limón, McGuire, Hueso, Newman, Wieckowski, and Wiener and Assembly Members Berman, Carrillo, Chiu, Cooley, Cooper, Cristina Garcia, Eduardo Garcia, Levine, Nazarian, Quirk-Silva, Reyes, Robert Rivas, Rodriguez, Santiago, Stone, and Villapudua, SB-364 proposes to establish a California Universal School Meal Program, which would continue to make school free breakfast and lunch programs available to all children beyond the COVID-19 public health crisis. It would also establish the Better Out of School Time (BOOST) Nutrition Program to prevent child hunger when schools are not in session.
  • AB-221 (Santiago, Chiu, and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Santiago, Chiu, and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Assembly Members Burke, Carrillo, Cristina Garcia, Gipson, Grayson, Kamlager, Luz Rivas, Stone, and Villapudua and Senators Rubio, Dodd, Durazo, and Wiener, AB-221is an urgency statue that would make food assistance benefits available to low-income California residents across the State, regardless of their immigration status. The bill also commissions a study to identify permanent solutions for low-income food assistance programs to address food insecurity throughout the State.
  • SB-108 (Hurtado) would declare that every human being has the right to access sufficient healthy food and require state agencies to revise and adopt policies accordingly.
  • AB-941 (Bennett and R. Rivas): Introduced by Assembly Members Bennett and Robert Rivas and co-authored by Senators Limón and Dodd and Assembly Member Medina, AB-941would establish a grant program to create farmworker resources centers. Resource centers would provide farmworkers and their families information and access to services related to education, housing, payroll and wage rights, and health and human services.
  • AB-1009 (Bloom) would establish the Farm to School Food Hub Program, which would incentivize the creation and permanency of farm to school hubs. Hubs would function as nonprofit aggregators and supply chain intermediaries to distribute food products from farms or ranches to public institutions and nonprofit organizations. The goals of the program are promote food access and to increase the amount of agricultural products available to underserved communities and schools.
  • SB-20 (Dodd) would increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/CalFresh Benefits for low-income community college students by requiring the Student Aid Commission to notify students of their CalFresh eligibility. These requirements are intended to educate students about the availability of CalFresh benefits and to help address food insecurity among low-income community college students.
  • AB-543 (Davies): Introduced by Davies and coauthored by Dodd, AB-543 would require California universities to provide information about CalFresh to all incoming students as part of campus orientation.
  • AB-508 (L. Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez): Introduced by Assembly Members Luz Rivas and Lorena Gonzalez and coauthored by Assembly Members Kalra, Bauer-Kahan, Boerner Horvath, and Eduardo Garcia, AB-508 would expand school meal programs by requiring school districts and county superintendents to provide free meals for students who are eligible to receive reduced-priced meals.
  • AB-558 (Nazarian) would create the California School Plant-Based Food and Beverage Program, which would provide reimbursements to school districts that provide plant-based options as part of free and reduced-price school meal programs. This bill could have positive health and environmental benefits by increasing access to plant-based food.
  • AB-368 (Bonta): Introduced by Assembly Member Bonta and coauthored by Assembly Members Chiu and Wicks, AB-368 would establish a pilot program to provide prescriptions for medically supportive food. Eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries could receive vouchers to redeem specific foods that can alleviate or treat medical conditions, such a diabetes and hypertension.

*Beth Kent is an Emmett/Frankel Fellow in Environmental Law and Policy at UCLA School of Law for 2020-2022. She earned her J.D. from UCLA School of Law with a specialization in Public Interest Law & Policy from the Epstein Program, and she actively participated in UCLA Law’s environmental and food law programs.

Food Policy with Senator Tom Harkin – a Repast Interview

We are so pleased to share this terrific new episode of Repast, where Michael Roberts interviews Senator Tom Harkin on his years in Congress and his significant impact on food policy, the Harkin Institute and its focus on wellness and nutrition–including the Institute’s upcoming symposium on food as medicine--and the opportunities Senator Harkin sees for food policy with the Biden administration.

You can listen to the episode here.

Resnick Center Launches Covid-19 and Food Law Resource Guide

Today, the Resnick Center in conjunction with the UCLA School of Law Hugh and Hazel Darling Law Library launched a Covid-19 and Food Law Resource Guide.  The guide will provide resources on the intersection of Covid-19 and food law and policy for scholars, researchers, and officials, which comports with the Resnick Center’s mission to provide cutting-edge legal research and scholarship in food law and policy.

This library guide will consist mainly at its start of substantive popular press articles, links to various open-access repositories of media reports, and helpful government sites. Over time, this library guide will be populated by legal scholarship and reflective, analytical publications relevant to legal scholarship that will be organized by subject matter and in some cases annotated.

If you come across interesting material at the intersection of Covid-19 and food law and policy, please submit it to be considered for this guide to the Resnick Center.

Street Vending Decriminalized in L.A.

Just a note to follow up on our guest post by Joseph Pileri on October 3, 2018, discussing new legislation legalizing street vending across California.  This week, the Los Angeles City Council finalized an ordinance legalizing and regulating street vending, ahead of the state law discussed by Pileri that takes effect on January 1, 2019.  The city will implement a permit system, granting site-specific permits to vendors.  This system will take a year to develop, and until then, Los Angeles will regulate street vendors by requiring them to comply with certain rules and standards.

 

Perspective: California Takes Important Step to Decriminalize Microenterprise

By: Joseph Pileri, Contributor

Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation legalizing street vending across California. This bill prohibits California localities from outlawing street vending outright or treating any violation of street vending regulations as a criminal offense, limiting penalties to administrative fines payable only on an as-needed basis. The law also requires prosecutors to dismiss any currently pending prosecution brought under street vending regulations.[1]

This bill follows years of efforts by advocates in Los Angeles to legalize street vending in the city. For years, street vending was illegal in Los Angeles despite the near ubiquity of fruit carts, taco stands, and hot dog vendors. There was a blanket ban on street vending that exposed any street vendor to potential fines and criminal violations.[2] Advocates recently renewed their push to change this law so that thousands of immigrant street vendors would not find themselves facing deportation because of operating a street vending business.

Los Angeles was not alone in its treatment of street vending. Municipalities around the country have criminalized street vending or the violation of street vending regulations. This is an example of what I term “the criminalization of microenterprise” – local jurisdictions completely outlawing street vending and other business activities or treating violations of licensing rules as a criminal offense. I am working on a project to survey municipalities around the country and study their treatment of street vending. The results, thus far, are surprising. Though many localities require street vendors to be licensed and may impose fines and civil penalties for violating these licensing requirements, cities from Detroit[3] to Houston[4] treat the failure to comply with street vending regulations as a criminal violation. Washington, DC attempted to criminalize street vending in 2014.

These laws have disproportionately negative effects on would-be entrepreneurs who already face barriers to entering the formal economy. Immigrants, those with legal status and those without, individuals returning from incarceration, and individuals with time-consuming childcare and family obligations often look to start microenterprises like street vending to provide for themselves and their families. When these types of businesses are criminalized, vulnerable individuals may be deterred from starting these enterprises or may face severe penalties, including deportation or incarceration, for what would otherwise be a simple licensing violation.

Concerns about public health and safety – particularly when it comes to food – are understandable. The public has a right to know that food, even when bought and consumed on the street, is safe. The California law, however, does not force Angelenos to take health risks with every bite of their al pastor taco. This legislation explicitly permits cities to pass ordinances related to public health and safety. Cities may even have an easier time regulating the safety of food sold by street vendors now that proprietors of these businesses no longer face potential criminal penalties.

Much work remains to understand the extent to which cities and states criminalize street vending and other microenterprises. California has taken an important first step that both protects the health of the public and allows individuals to support themselves and their families. Angelenos who love grabbing a pupusa or a bacon-wrapped hot dog on the go will also be appreciative. By criminalizing microenterprise, cities raise barriers to entry for vulnerable entrepreneurs, unduly burden those entrepreneurs most at risk, and detract from the vibrancy of communities. I hope that California is only the first to reverse this trend.

 

[1] 2018 Cal. Legis. Serv. Ch. 459 (S.B. 946) (WEST).

[2] L.A., Cal., Municipal Code Section 42.00 (1994).

[3] Detroit, Mich., City Code § 41-6-2 (2017).

[4] Hous., Tex., Code of Ordinances § 22-91 (2018).

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