Hunger and food insecurity continue to plague Alabama’s children. In some countries, 30 percent of the state’s most vulnerable citizens, its children, suffer food insecurity according to Urban.org.
Nearly a third of Alabama’s children in some counties go to bed hungry, wake up hungry and live their lives without adequate food, a cycle that repeats itself daily and even generationally.
While hunger and food insecurity are closely related, “they are distinct concepts,” according to Feeding America. “Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the household level.”
The Feeding America network is the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief organization, working to connect people with food and end hunger.
In Perry, Wilcox and Greene Counties, over a third of all young people lack adequate food resources according to a report by Urban.org and food insecurity effects children in all of Alabama’s 67 counties.
Other studies find the state has the fourth-highest rate of child poverty in the country, and more than 300,000 Alabama children live in poverty. This is especially true among minorities, as African American children are twice as likely to live in poverty as white children, and Hispanic or Latino children are three times more likely to live in poverty as white children.
Earlier this month, the Trump administration moved again to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps which is a fundamental resource for those who suffer from food insecurity.
The Agriculture Department is proposing changes that would slash $4.5 billion from the program over five years, cutting benefits by as much as $75 for one in five families, according to a report by The New York Times.
In Fiscal Year 2017, 804,000 Alabamians, or 17 percent of the state population (1 in 6), received SNAP benefits, according to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
CBPP found that more than 73 percent of SNAP participants are in families with children.
Six years ago, then-Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey served as spokesperson for a campaign “Ending Child Hunger in Alabama,” led by Auburn University’s Hunger Solutions Institute.
“Seeing the face of hunger confirmed in my heart and mind that we must take action. If we do not, we stand to starve our state of healthy and productive citizens,” Ivey wrote in May 2013.
Many of Alabama’s children are still starving according to every measure of food insecurity, even in Ivey’s home county.
The Trump Administration’s move to trim SNAP benefits is reportedly to lower the national public debt which is currently more than $22 trillion — the highest in the nation’s history.
Cutting benefits on an estimated 19 percent of households receiving SNAP is one way the administration is planning on wrangling the debt it has incurred.
In August, U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Selma, led a group of 19 senators and 120 U.S. representatives urging U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to rescind his department’s rule to restrict SNAP assistance to families who depend on the program.
“This plan would disproportionately punish working families who are already struggling to put food on the table and make ends meet,” the lawmakers wrote. “Families with children are more likely to face food insecurity, and in 2017, the number of families facing food insecurity rose for the first time since the Great Recession. … Additionally, schools rely on SNAP enrollment when determining eligibility for free school meals, so households could be penalized twice: once with the loss of household SNAP benefits and again with the loss of free school meals for children. In fact, USDA estimates 500,000 children will lose their automatic eligibility for free school meals.”
Alabama’s Republican Senate candidates worry about the ever-increasing debt and hope to push against the rising federal deficit by cutting welfare programs like SNAP and other federal programs that primarily aid children, the working poor and seniors.
APR recently queried several candidates vying for the Republican senate nomination. Each offered different solutions with Rep. Bradley Byrne and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore pointing to reining in federal welfare sending.
“Medicare, Medicaid and socialist programs like Obamacare will only worsen the problem to the detriment of the American public who continue to see outlandish inflation and a deterioration of our national sovereignty among the world powers,” Moore said.
“The biggest driver of our debt is mandatory spending, specifically welfare programs that are allowed to continue to grow without any constraints,” said Byrne. “We have forgotten that these programs were designed to lift people out of poverty, not keep people down. I’m committed to reining in these programs, taking them off auto-pilot, and making sure we are actually succeeding in helping people get out of poverty. These welfare programs amount to almost $1 trillion, so getting control of them and cutting their cost will have a substantial positive effect on the deficit.”
Even as the country enjoys the second-longest economic growth since the post–World War II boom days, the annual federal deficit continues to climb at a rate not experienced since the 1940s.
While some Republicans support trimming Medicare and Medicaid as a way to address the mounting deficit, Sewell and House Democrats don’t want to see the debt paid for by eliminating food assistance that goes primarily to the working poor, elderly and children.
The following data shows the counties most affected by food insecurity:
- Marengo County, AL – 27.3 percent
- Clarke County, AL – 26.8 percent
- Wilcox County, AL – 34.8 percent
- Monroe County, AL – 28.8 percent
- Conecuh County, AL – 30.7 percent
- Lowndes County, AL – 30.7 percent
- Macon County, AL – 26.3 percent
- Bullock County, AL – 27.8 percent
- Barbour County, AL – 29.4 percent
SNAP, Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) are seen as effective programs to reduce food insecurity by providing either cash or food assistance. Local food banks are also an essential resource for those who experience hunger and food insecurity, but even with all these assistance programs, feeding Alabama’s youth remains a reoccurring problem.
Feeding America’s website offers a search engine to access local food banks across the nation.
“Kids who don’t get enough to eat — especially during their first three years — begin life at a serious disadvantage,” according to Feeding America. “When they’re hungry, children are more likely to be hospitalized and they face higher risks of health conditions like anemia and asthma. And as they grow up, kids struggling to get enough to eat are more likely to have problems in school and other social situations.”
Urban.org found an estimated, “12.5 million children—struggle with food insecurity, meaning they can’t afford an adequate diet. Federal nutrition programs and charitable meals make up the first line of defense, but solving this challenge will require communities to go beyond food to disrupt the root causes of economic distress.”
New unemployment claims continued dropping last week
There were 8,679 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, slightly fewer than the 8,848 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor.
Of the claims filed between Sept. 13 and Sept. 19, 4,465, or 51 percent, were related to COVID-19. That’s the same percentage as the previous week.
Unemployment benefits could change for some Alabamians
ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3.
Some Alabamians receiving unemployment benefits could see changes in those benefits after the Alabama Department of Labor conducts a required quarterly review and redetermines eligibility, the department said Friday.
The Alabama Department of Labor said in a press release Friday that no action is required by those receiving regular unemployment, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation.
ADOL will begin the review when the current quarter ends on Oct. 3.
“Some may remain eligible for PUA or PEUC, OR they may be required to change to regular unemployment compensation. Weekly benefit amounts may also change. This depends on eligibility requirements,” ADOL said in the release. “Those claimants whose benefit year ends prior to October 3, 2020, will have their claims reevaluated.”
After the review, if the claimant is determined not to be eligible for regular unemployment compensation, those who qualify may still be able to be paid under PUA or PEUC, and that determination will be made automatically and payment will be issued, the department said in the release.
Claimants must also continue to certify their weeks.
Many claimants are not receiving benefits because they fail to file their weekly certifications, i.e. requests for payment. ADOL cannot pay benefits for weeks that have not been properly certified. Certifications can be done online at labor.alabama.gov or by calling the appropriate number:
- Montgomery – (334) 954-4094
- Birmingham – (205) 458-2282
- Not in Local Area – (800) 752-7389
PUA recipients must file their weekly certifications either by telephone or on the PUA app, at pua.labor.alabama.gov.
Alabama Gulf Coast beaches remain closed for now
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced that beaches will remain closed for now due to ongoing repair and cleanup efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.
“Working closely with Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft and Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon, as well as Commissioner Billy Joe Underwood, the governor has agreed to keep Baldwin County’s beaches closed until Friday, October 2nd,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “This will allow those communities additional time to get their beaches ready for public enjoyment in a safe, responsible manner.”
Mobile County beaches might open earlier than that.
“Likewise, the governor has been in touch with Mayor Jeff Collier, and she is prepared to amend the beach closure order for Mobile County when he signals that Dauphin Island is ready to reopen their beaches,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “At the present time, all Alabama beaches remain closed until further notice.”
Hurricane Sally came ashore near Gulf Shores on Sept. 16 as a category two hurricane with 105 mile per hour winds. Numerous homes, businesses and farms have been destroyed and many more have seen serious damage.
“As of Wednesday night, approx. 37,000 cubic yards of Hurricane Sally debris (equivalent to roughly 1,700 truck loads worth) has been picked up in Orange Beach since Sunday (4 days),” the city of Orange Beach announced. “Kudos to our debris contractor CrowderGulf.”
“I spent Sunday afternoon meeting with senior staff and I believe we will need some time to get our buildings safe for children to return,” said Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Eddie Taylor in a letter to parents. “We live in a very large county. Power may be on in your area and your school may not have any damage, but we cannot open schools unless all schools can open. Our pacing guides, state testing, meal and accountability requirements are based on the system, not individual schools.”
“We have schools without power and for which we do not expect power until later this week,” Taylor said. “In this new age, we need internet and communications which are currently down so we cannot run any system tests. We have physical damage at our schools including some with standing water, collapsed ceilings and blown out windows. We have debris on our properties and debris blocking our transportation teams from picking up students. All of this must be resolved before we can successfully re-open.”
“If everything goes as planned, I expect we will welcome back students on Wednesday, September 30,” Taylor said. “Prior to returning students to school, we will hold two teacher work days to get our classrooms and our lessons plans back on track.”
SNAP replacement benefits coming to three counties hit by Hurricane Sally
Thousands of SNAP recipients in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties are set to receive automatic replacement benefits as a result of Hurricane Sally, the Alabama Department of Human Resources announced Thursday.
Recipients who received their benefits Sept. 1 through Sept. 16 will receive a replacement of 50 percent of their regular monthly benefit. Those who received supplemental pandemic maximum allotment payments will receive a replacement of 30 percent of those benefits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the replacement benefits today at the request of DHR. The benefits are intended to replace food purchased with SNAP that was lost to widespread power outages caused when Hurricane Sally made landfall on Sept. 16.
“Our priority is to remove the very real threat of hunger for the many Alabamians who are struggling from the devastation of Hurricane Sally,” said Alabama DHR Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “The first step toward that goal is to replace the food that so many Alabamians lost to the storm. We are actively working to obtain additional resources to provide much-needed relief for the region as it recovers.”
Hurricane Sally caused over 265,000 households to lose power for at least four hours in Mobile, Baldwin and Escambia counties, where approximately 54,000 households will receive SNAP benefits totaling an estimated $8.5 million.
Those recipients should expect to see the replacement benefits automatically loaded onto their EBT cards next week.
The Food Assistance Division of DHR administers the SNAP program in Alabama.
More information about the program can be found at dhr.alabama.gov/food-assistance.