For Returning Participants [PDF]

| Updates | Focus | Framework |

Dear Returning Congregation/Family/Friends/Co-workers Groups:

Welcome back!... And thank you for your continued concern about the issue of hunger in our community. To refresh your learnings about hunger in our area, read the Facts on Hunger and Problems Defined sections of City Soup Philadelphia.

Set the Stage:

Unfortunately, the hunger numbers in Philadelphia have not improved. Over the past 3 years, the number of persons using food cupboard supports has tripled to over 500,000 persons in Philadelphia and nearly 1 million persons in the region. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) usage has increased to over 440,000 people, with another 180,000 persons eligible but not receiving benefits. The number of working families, children and seniors impacted by food worry has increased.

That's why our continued study of this issue, and becoming well informed hunger advocates is essential! So this year we ask those of you who took last year's journey with us, to continue your study, advocacy and action.

Policy/Advocacy Updates:

One important area of advocacy we undertook in City Soup yielded the following results:

The Child Nutrition Act

In December 2010, Congress reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act (CNA), the major federal legislation that directs school food policy and resources. The first CNA was signed into law on October 11, 1966 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, created as a result of the "years of cumulative successful experience” under the National School Lunch Program to help meet the nutritional needs of children. The Act is reauthorized every five years, therefore 2010 was an important time of opportunity to help shape the near-future of school food policy, particularly in light of the federal government's goal to end Childhood Hunger by 2015.

During late 2010, City Soup advocates sent over 5,000 postcards to Congress, encouraging Congress to reauthoriz the Child Nutrition Act. CNA supports school lunch programs as well as programs that bring farm fresh food to impoverished communities and fight childhood obesity. Download the fact sheet on this critically important piece of legislation here (pdf).

CNA was successfully re-authorized with strong improvements to school feeding programs included, but in order to fund and implement the CNA, funding was temporarily reduced from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program).

SNAP Asset Test

SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) is again being threatened with cuts. Beginning in May of 2012, people will need to prove that their assets (including savings' accounts and second cars) are below $5,500 ($9,000 for seniors) in order to receive food stamp benefits. As soon as it was announced there was widespread criticism of the plan. The Interfaith Justice Coalition, which includes representatives from the Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant faith traditions, has argued that this is putting an unfair burden on people just trying to survive through these hard economic times.

Those in the hunger serving community predict this policy change will drive more people into already-overburdened soup kitchens and food pantries. And, business leaders have spoken out about their loss of revenue when there are fewer SNAP dollars to be spent.

Political leaders such as U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter, former Pennsylvania Govenor Edward Rendell, and Congressman Bob Brady have argued that asset testing just doesn’t make economic sense:  SNAP is funded by the federal government, so the state is not saving money. In fact, the state will have to sped money to implement the new guidelines.

Some might think that the new asset test policy might be in response to abuse of the system.  But Pennsylvania has one of the lowest rates of fraud in the country — less than 1 per cent, according to the USDA. In that regard, it is unnecessary.

All in all, tightening the eligibility for food assistance is going to hurt those who are already hurting — the elderly, the poor, those who are unemployed and trying to get back on their feet. The Pennsylvania Legislature will probably have hearings about this new policy in March and April of 2012.

What you can do: Watch for future action alerts. Subscribe to the action alerts/newsletters listed in the "Weekly Action" section.

Witnesses to Hunger: For a list of the policy changes and issues identified and requested by "Witnesses to Hunger," mothers of hungry children in Philadelphia, click here.

This Year's Advocacy Focus:

We will write and urge public officials to get about the work of coordinating efforts and monies, convening the right talent and treasures, and commencing the planning efforts needed to relieve, and then end, hunger in Philadelphia within this decade. 

Know that City Soup Philadelphia organized the Orange Card Postcard campaign during late 2011. The Orange Card Campaign was an advocacy effort created to demand improved city-wide planning for hunger alleviation. Campaigners distributed over 40,000 postcards to regional congregations, universities, campus ministries and organizations, with tens of thousands of signed postcards being delivered to Mayor Nutter in City Hall. The postcard asked the Mayor to convene the political/community will and imagination needed to change the hunger dynamics of this city. The request for a better organized, "solutions oriented" plan is what thousands of Philadelphians resonated to and acted upon. The Orange Card Campaign is believed to be one of the largest postcard advocacy efforts ever undertaken in Philadelphia. We await, in determined anticipation, the Mayor's reply. Other US cities are already organizing for future success... see below!

Know that the U.S. Conference of Mayors decided (January 19, 2012) to launch a food policy task force, which will share information on food policy projects that work, as well as help ensure that federal food policy supports local food efforts. Starting in 2009, Baltimore, Maryland developed its own food policy initiative involving city departments of health, planning, sustainability and development and an advisory group of more than 30 organizations. “It’s starting to become a growing movement, which is exactly what we would like it to be,” said Holly Freishtat, director of Baltimore's Food Policy Initiative.

Take Action: Write letters to leaders who have the power to influence outcomes, commission solutions-oriented plans and convene community talent. Click here to get involved.

A Framework for Returning Congregation’s Study or Gatherings:

Click here to find an outline of activities to guide your weekly gatherings. We encourage returning congregations/groups to commit to experiential learning this year. Get out and see important films, community organizations, people and programs that challenge and encourage us to fully engage in the journey to end hunger in our communities.

A Four Week Study/Experience Guide. Enjoy!

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