No picnic: Grand county women experience food stamp budget
Hunger in Colorado
Just over 50 percent of eligible Coloradans participate in the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, and about one in four Coloradans “do not have enough food to meet their basic needs.” Other statistics:
• Nearly 1 in 7 Coloradans struggled with hunger in 2013, facing times when there was not enough money to buy food for their families or themselves.
— USDA, Household Food Security in the United States in 2013, September 2014
• More than 1 in 8 Coloradans lived in poverty, including 1 in 6 kids, during 2013.
• More than 1 in 5 Colorado households with children (22 percent) reported food hardship, facing financial challenges to put food on the table.
— Food Research and Action Center, Food Hardship 2008-2012: Geography and Household Composition, September 2013
• More than 1 in 4 working families in Colorado do not have enough food to meet their basic needs.
— Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2011, September 2012
• Colorado has the third-fastest growing rate of child poverty in the nation, with more kids living in poverty during 2012 than the worst of the Great Recession.
— Colorado Children’s Campaign, 2014 KIDS COUNT in Colorado!, March 2014
• Compared to other state participation rates, Colorado ranks 25th in school breakfast participation and 48th in SNAP/food stamps participation.
— Food Research and Action Center, School Breakfast Scorecard, January 2014; U.S. Department of Agriculture, Program Access Index 2012, February 2014
Many people have probably never considered what it’s like to try to subsist on what used to be known as food stamps. Last week, some people in Grand County decided to experience it.
Helen Sedlar, Jen Fanning and Sally Ryman were among those who participated in the Food Assistance Challenge, which entailed feeding themselves and their families on the equivalent of receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and other food assistance available in Grand County.
“My dog ate better [than us],” said Ryman, program coordinator for the Grand County Rural Health Network.
Ryman’s family of two adults was allotted $34.50 to purchase food for five days from Sept. 22-26. Both she and the other women in the Challenge supplemented their nutritional needs through food available in the workplace and what would be available at food banks such as the Mountain Family Center (MFC) in Granby.
“I ran out of money,” said Sedlar, executive director of the MFC. She also had a budget of $34.50 for a family of two adults.
“It was hard,” she added. “I was hungry and it made me moody.”
“It took me an hour to go shopping for food that was cheap,” said Fanning, executive director of the Rural Health Network. “We ran out of toilet paper on the last day.”
Fanning’s family of three had a $47.50 budget.
The Challenge was mounted as part of Hunger Awareness Month. Fanning said one of the reasons she decided to participate is that September was also National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
As director of the Rural Health Network, she said she’s aware of the connection between obesity and poor dietary habits, some of which are abetted by less than ideal foods available through assistance programs.
“It’s directly linked to their ability to eat well,” she said.
“We’re paying for it in the long run,” she said, through increased health care costs and sub-par educational performance among children who suffer from food insecurities.
The ‘Cliff Effect’
The women used social media to engage various people in conversations during the Challenge. A common theme, they said, was observers suggesting recipients find more or better work to get themselves off of SNAP.
One problem many people on SNAP face, said Fanning, is known as the Cliff Effect. SNAP eligibility is determined based on income, and it’s an either-or proposition: People are either eligible or they’re not. There is no such thing as partial eligibility.
So, getting a job or a raise can actually mean individuals or families having less money for food because they “fall off the cliff” when their SNAP eligibility abruptly ends.
“We’re stunting their ability to advance,” said Ryman, who noted that some people turn down raises or increased work hours because it would mean an end to their eligibility.
Fanning pointed out as well that the average duration in SNAP is about 10 months. It’s “situational,” she said, not permanent.
Sedlar noted that about 40 percent of the students enrolled in Grand County schools are eligible for reduced-cost or free lunches.
“I think that’s very reflective of the need in the county,” she said.
She also said many of the people who come to the MFC for assistance are working but cannot make ends meet. Nearly half of them must choose between paying rent and utilities or buying food.
People and institutions donate about 2,000 pounds of food per month to the MFC, Sedlar said. The only requirements are that the food not have expired code dates and that it be “shelf stable,” or non-perishable.
The problem is, many such foods are not among the healthiest, though there are exceptions. Fanning has a simple suggestion for improving the quality of food bank items.
“Donate what you would eat,” she said.
Sedlar said the Center accepts donations anytime during regular hours Monday through Friday. The Center can be reached at 970-557-3186.
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