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This Week in Poverty: Food Policy, EITC Expansion and Financial Security for All | The Nation

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Greg Kaufmann

Poverty in America: people, politics and policy.

This Week in Poverty: Food Policy, EITC Expansion and Financial Security for All


Four-year-old Nathan Hobbs, who lives in a homeless shelter with his mother, sits in a stroller with one-dollar bills he received for his birthday pinned to his chest in Los Angeles, Wednesday, September 14, 2011. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

This is what a real food policy conversation looks like: In contrast to the rubbish that passes for a conversation about food and hunger in Congress, last week’s Forum on the Future of Food in New York City offered substantive talk from six mayoral candidates about how to create a healthier, fairer, more sustainable and economically stronger food system. Bill de Blasio, Christine Quinn, John Liu, Sal Albanese, Anthony Weiner and John Catsimatidis all participated; William Thompson was a late cancellation due to an unspecified emergency.

The forum was moderated by Marion Nestle, an award-winning author and the Paulette Goddard Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Over 730 people packed the auditorium and two overflow rooms, 1,300 people watched the live webcast and #nycfoodforum trended nationally.

The candidates discussed a range of issues and ideas, including: utilizing 5,000 acres of unused land within the city limits for urban farming; ensuring living wages for food workers—14 percent are currently on food stamps, and 90 percent earn below a living wage; boosting school meals—including universal breakfast in the classroom, and grab-and-go carts—to reduce child hunger; revamping city procurement to promote local and regional agriculture; incentivizing green markets to operate in more low-income neighborhoods and establishing transparent benchmarks on SNAP participation, free school meals, urban farming etc. to measure concrete progress in the effort to improve the food system.

“The food movement here is strong enough to have gotten six candidates to show up, take it seriously and answer questions,” said Nestle. “Don’t lose the momentum. This is just the beginning.”

“The massive turn out and heavy media coverage for this event should be a wake-up call to our national leaders,” said Joel Berg, executive director of New York City Coalition Against Hunger, one of twelve organizations that co-hosted the forum. “The reality is that the food and hunger movements are growing in political power and will hold politicians accountable for their actions on these issues.”

ACLU v. Morgan Stanley, on behalf of black homeowners in Detroit: A judge ruled that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) can move forward with its case alleging that Morgan Stanley discriminated against black homeowners in Detroit, financing high-risk, predatory loans in economically vulnerable neighborhoods. The lawsuit is the first to connect racial discrimination to the securitization of mortgage-backed securities. The ACLU is also calling on the Department of Justice to investigate whether other Fair Housing Act claims are available to hold other Wall Street banks accountable.

‘Where You Grow Up Matters’: (via Theresa Riley at BillMoyers.com) “A new study shows that your potential for climbing the income ladder in the United States is largely dependent on your hometown. ‘Where you grow up matters,’ Harvard economist and study author Nathaniel Hendren told The New York Times. ‘There is tremendous variation across the US in the extent to which kids can rise out of poverty.’

“Geography matters much less for the children of well-off parents—who tend to do well across the board—but for those at the bottom of the ladder, growing up in poor neighborhoods in Atlanta or Chicago often means that the chances of achieving higher incomes later in life are significantly lessened.” Read more here.

ACCESS to Financial Security for All: Launched by PolicyLink, a national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity, ACCESS to Financial Security for All is designed to help advocates, policymakers and organizations share information, learn about promising policies, connect with allies and advance progressive policies to close the racial wealth gap and promote financial security for all. The site provides information on the latest research, recent media coverage and blog posts, and events from the asset-building field—all with the goal of promoting solutions to the racial wealth gap.

Dual tracking in Minnesota: “Dual tracking” occurs when a homeowner is foreclosed on while still negotiating with a bank for a mortgage modification. This practice and other mortgage servicing abuses were supposed to be brought under control by the National Mortgage Settlement, but—shocker—the Settlement Monitor gave the big banks failing grades for compliance with basic standards.

In Minneapolis, Jonathan Ceballos reports that he and his family went to their local JPMorgan Chase Home Mortgage Center on Tuesday with revised loan modification documents that the bank had requested. But the next day, thirty sheriffs’ deputies attempted to evict the family from their home—breaking down the door, arresting two people and boarding up the house. But seventy-five community members—organized by Occupy Homes MN, and including members of Ceballos’ union, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota—gathered and protested during the eviction. As soon as the deputies left—to chants of “don’t come back”—the Ceballos’s supporters pulled the boards off and reclaimed the house.

When the Minnesota Homeowner Bill of Rights goes into effect in October, borrowers who are victims of dual tracking will have legal recourse. But until then, you can support the Ceballos’s effort to remain in their home of twelve years here.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers: has redesigned its website. The Take Action page is especially convenient—an easy way to get involved with the most amazingly effective, creative and courageous organization I’ve ever covered.

Over the past twenty years the CIW has worked from within its own community of Immokalee to end longstanding human rights abuses and twenty years of declining wages in the tomato industry; organized (and won) the first-of-its-kind Taco Bell Boycott; signed agreements with fast food giants McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway and Chipotle, supermarkets Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods and four of the country’s leading food service providers; and reached a groundbreaking agreement with the Florida Tomato Grower’s Exchange that paved the way for the implementation of the Fair Food Program in over 90 percent of the Florida tomato industry.

If you don’t know the CIW, you are missing out. Check ‘em out and sign up for their newsletter today.

Federal Investments in Children Down Three Years in a Row: First Focus, a child advocacy group dedicated to making children and families the priority in federal policy, released “Children’s Budget 2013,” a detailed analysis of the more than 180 federal investments in children.

The analysis finds that total spending on children has declined for three consecutive years. Since its peak in 2010, total spending on children has dropped by nearly $55 billion, or 16 percent after adjusting for inflation. The share of the federal budget invested in children is also down 8 percent from 2010, and children have suffered a disproportionate share of cuts under austerity policies like sequestration.

“America can’t afford to overlook children as we make the budget and policy decisions that will shape their lives,” said former Republican Congressman Michael Castle.

Expanding EITC for childless workers: The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most successful antipoverty programs in the United States. It supplements the earnings of low-income families by as much as $6,000 a year, and lifted 6.6 million people out of poverty in 2011.

But childless workers barely benefit from the EITC, if they benefit at all. For example, a childless adult working a full-time, minimum-wage job wouldn’t qualify for the EITC because his or her earnings would exceed the income limit established for workers without children.

“As a result, childless workers are the sole group that the federal tax system taxes deeper into poverty,” writes the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

So it’s important that New York City is launching an $11-million, four-year pilot program that will offer up to $2,000 a year over a three-year period to participants with earnings up to $26,800 per year. The pilot will include 6,000 participants—3,000 eligible to receive the expanded EITC and 3,000 forming a control group. It will be implemented and evaluated by MDRC, an education and social policy research organization that examines policies and programs affecting low-income people.

Massachusetts campaign for paid sick days and raised minimum wage: Nearly 1 million workers in Massachusetts—almost one-third of the state’s employees—are at risk of losing their wages and/or jobs if they have to stay home to care for themselves or a sick relative. On Wednesday, Raise Up Massachusetts, a statewide coalition working for earned sick time and an increase in the minimum wage, officially launched efforts to bring these two issues to the November 2014 ballot.

The ballot initiatives would raise the minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour, and offer minimum wage workers forty hours of earned sick leave. It would be the first time that paid sick days would appear on the ballot as a statewide initiative.

Food Policy Action: I didn’t know about this group/resource, and I like it. From Food Policy Action: “Our mission is to highlight the importance of food policy and to promote policies that support healthy diets, reduce hunger at home and abroad, improve food access and affordability, uphold the rights and dignity of food and farm workers, increase transparency, improve public health, reduce the risk of food-borne illness, support local and regional food systems, treat farm animals humanely and reduce the environmental impact of farming and food production.”

Thank you: RESULTS, for honoring me this past weekend with the Cameron Duncan Media Award. It’s especially appreciated given your great history and track record of effectiveness—including, most recently, a terrific twenty-eight op-eds or letters to the editor regarding SNAP placed in local media by your volunteers—in just over a month!

Web Action

Tell your Senators: Ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Clips (compiled with Samantha Lachman)

African Americans are still concentrated in neighborhoods with high poverty and still lack full access to decent housing,” Algernon Austin

Ohio Diverts TANF Dollars to Crisis Pregnancy Centers…” Sheila Bapat

Inequality, Mobility and the Policy Agenda They Imply,” Jared Bernstein

Thoughts on the War on Poverty,” Jared Bernstein

Implementation Strategies: Riding the Wave of Sick Days Laws,” Liz Ben Ishal

$10.20 Per Hour Needed to Survive Even in America’s Cheapest County,” Jillian Berman

Responses to ‘Congressional Hunger Games’,” Mariana Chilton, Peter Edelman, Billy Shore, Jim Weill, Deborah Weinstein

Job Gains for Women in Recovery Are Mostly From Low-Wage Work,” Bryce Covert

Food stamps are vital to lifting people out of poverty,” Sharon Davies

To Rescue Local Economies, Cities Seize Underwater Mortgages Through Eminent Domain,” Peter Dreier

On Paying for College, Family Income ‘Not Keeping up,’” Philip Elliott

The Importance of Strengthening our Country’s Safety Net for Our Children,” Emily Firgens

Fast-food workers planning to expand protests in 7 cities,” Michael A. Fletcher

McDonald’s and Visa Conjure Fantasy Budget for Low-Wage Employees,” Daniel Gross

Poverty rate still high among U.S. children,” HealthDay News

For Five Mayoral Candidates, a Sleepover in City Housing,” Javier C. Hernández

On Strange Bedfellows: Coathangers, Gridlock and Redistricting,” Lisalyn Jacobs

In Climbing Income Ladder, Location Matters,” David Leonhardt

The Minimum Wage Doesn’t Apply to Everyone,” John Light

EITC Could Be a Pathway to Opportunity for Young Men,” Chuck Marr

The president’s speech shows he’s better at the ‘whereas’ than the ‘therefore’ part of the resolution,” Lawrence Mishel

Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man,” Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

60 Percent of Women’s Job Gains in the Recovery Are in 10 Largest Low-Wage Jobs,” National Women’s Law Center

Impact of Sequestration Cuts on Head Start, Child Care and Early Education,” National Women’s Law Center

227,000 Names on List Vie for Rare Vacancies in City’s Public Housing,” Mireya Navarro

Abandoned in Indian Country,” The New York Times

When the Right to Shelter Isn’t Quite Right,” Ralph da Costa Nunez

Senate Approves College Student Loan Plan Tying Rates to Markets,” Jeremy Peters

Pro-Baby, but Stingy With Money to Support Them,” Eduardo Porter

Senate HUD Funding Bill Reverses Harmful Sequestration Cuts in Housing Assistance,” Douglas Rice

Is Dying by Hunger Better Than Years of Humiliation?” Michael Seifert

Get Ready for Unfounded Attacks on the War on Poverty,” Arloc Sherman

Uncensored: The Historical Perspective,” Ethan Sribnick and Sara Johnsen

Early education: money well spent,” StarTribune editorial

House legislation would slash education funding,” Valerie Strauss

Indy janitors want living wage jobs,” Fran Quigley

America’s One-Child Policy,” Brandy Zadrozny

New moms in Britain get royal treatment,” Jeanne Zaino

Studies/Briefs (by Aviva Stahl and Samantha Lachman)

Wanting More but Working Less: Involuntary Part-Time Employment and Economic Vulnerability,” Rebecca Glauber, Carsey Institute. Although the overall unemployment rate has fallen from its 2010 peak, involuntary part-time employment has not similarly improved. This report examines the “economic hardship and vulnerability” correlated with involuntary part-time work. About 25 percent of involuntary part-time workers live in poverty, as compared to about 5 percent of those employed full-time. Individuals in part-time employment tend to receive lower wages, fewer benefits and be less job-secure; for example in 2012, involuntary part-time workers were five times more likely than full-time workers to have faced significant periods of unemployment (three-plus months) in the past year. The study concludes by recommending “policies that improve the quality of part-time positions and lower the number of Americans in involuntary part-time employment.” (Summary by Aviva Stahl)

Diverse Children: Race, Ethnicity, and Immigration in America’s New Non-Majority Generation,” Donald J. Hernandez & Jeffrey S. Napierala, Foundation for Child Development. By 2018, more than half of American children will be of color, and already 25 percent of children come from immigrant families. This report draws from nineteen indicators of child wellbeing to compare outcomes across white, Hispanic, black and Asian race-ethnic groups, and examines disparities within groups between children whose parents are and are not immigrants. It also makes policy recommendations to remedy these inequalities. All children with US-born parents—regardless of race—were more likely than those with immigrant parents to be born at a low birthweight or die as an infant. Revealing the depth of structural discrimination in this country, Black children with US-born parents fared the worst across the board, followed by Hispanic children with immigrant parents. (Summary by Aviva Stahl)

Serving Maryland’s Children: The Afterschool Meal Program,” Valerie Zeender and Clarissa Hayes, Maryland Hunger Solutions. This report explores the impact of Maryland’s federally funded Afterschool Meal Program, launched three years ago. Maryland is one of only thirteen states (and the District of Columbia) to receive federal funding to provide after-school meals. The report shows that the program’s reach has expanded—during the 2011–12 school year, an average of 11,433 children received meals throughout the state. Though participation has increased, there remains much room for growth. The program plays an important role in combating hunger and keeping children safe and supervised, and the meals can help combat both obesity and poor nutrition. The report details the various strategies a coalition of organizations are engaged in to increase participation and help end childhood hunger, and found that the most effective expansion strategy was targeting sites already serving snacks and encouraging them to also serve supper. (Summary by Samantha Lachman)

Vital Statistics

US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent. (US Census Bureau 2012)

People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million

Children in poverty: 16.4 million, 23 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children, 37 percent of American Indian children, 34 percent of Hispanic children, and 14 percent of both Asian and Pacific Islander and non-Hispanic white children.

Deep poverty (below half the poverty line, less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, one in fifteen Americans, including more than 15 million women and children. Up from 12.6 million in 2000, an increase of 59 percent.

African-American poverty rate: 27.6 percent.

White poverty rate: 9.8 percent.

Ratio of black unemployment to white unemployment, 1963-2012: 2 to 2.5 times higher every year.

Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than one in three Americans.

Children below twice the poverty level: 45 percent, 32.7 million children.

People in the United States experiencing poverty by age 65: Roughly half.

Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.

Jobs in the United States paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.

Jobs in the United States paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.

Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.

Hourly wage needed to lift a family of four above poverty line, 2011: $11.06.

Federal minimum wage: $7.25 ($2.13 for tipped workers)

Federal minimum wage if indexed to inflation since 1968: $10.59.

Federal minimum wage if it kept pace with productivity gains: $18.72.

Families receiving cash assistance, 1996 (pre-welfare reform): sixty-eight for every 100 families living in poverty.

Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: twenty-seven for every 100 families living in poverty.

Impact of public policy, 2011: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.

Impact of public policy, 1964–1973: poverty rate fell by 43 percent.      

Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.

Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.

Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.

Average SNAP benefit, individual: $4.45 per day.

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Quote of the Week

“We’re not getting behind each other’s agendas enough. The work that we need to do is to accept that power has the potential to be on our side. But whether or not we are able to utilize it requires us to come together. To let a few things go, and pick a few things that we’re actually going to move on, to do that systematically.”
   —Angela Glover Blackwell, at the Economic Policy Institute’s Unfinished March Symposium.

Samantha Lachman co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” section. She and Aviva Stahl also wrote the “Studies/Briefs” summaries.

This Week in Poverty posts here on Friday mornings, and again at Moyers & Company and AlterNet. You can e-mail me at WeekInPoverty@me.com and follow me on Twitter.

House Republicans are trying to destroy the US Postal Service. Can the American Postal Workers Union successfully reform it before that happens?

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