Coalition to End Hunger January 2019 Archives - Coalition to End Hunger

Category: January 2019

‘Cliff Effect’ leaves people unable to afford an income raise

Keleigh Pereira | Family Self-Sufficiency Director, Greenfield Housing Authority
Member of Coalition to End Hunger Policy Team

“The Working poor” is a term that is commonly used in the world where I live and work. I run a self-sufficiency program that supports vouchered tenants for two housing authorities, and a public policy task force for the Franklin County Resource Network. I participate on many other coalitions and community groups, including the Communities that Care Coalition and the Coalition to End Hunger. I am also a commissioner for the Franklin-Hampshire Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

Through my work, I’ve come to realize that the term “self-sufficiency” is kind of a lie. Who is truly self-sufficient? Not me. I rely on my family, my partner and a few dear friends when things get rocky in any aspect of my life. While raising two children, I have used the very systems that I help others in the community obtain — and I am not alone in this. Many of the staff working in programs that serve a low-income population in western Massachusetts, actually qualify for their own benefits. Some of us only make it because we have learned how to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” or we have resources in relationships.

The working poor isn’t just an anecdotal term we throw around. It’s a clear and true existence for many people who rely on resources like SNAP benefits, heat assistance programs, food banks, and cash assistance programs. Many of us come home at the end of the day uncertain how we will afford an increase in the cost of our insurance or electric bill. We’re forced to make decisions about affording a medical procedure. We have to consider whether to pay for our child’s soccer cleats because they grew out of the pair we purchased a month ago.

Unfortunately, there is an inaccurate perception that poor people don’t work, people on food stamps aren’t employed, and people who live in subsidized housing are lazy free-loaders. The truth is that most of my programs’ participants do work, yet still need all of those benefits — and more. In fact, it’s common for me to have someone in my office who asks me to help them determine if the 50 cents raise they’ve been offered is going to negatively affect them. This is what we refer to as the “Cliff Effect.” It’s this period of time (which could be years for some, or forever for those that don’t receive raises in income) where people have to start paying out-of-pocket for things like childcare or health insurance, making such a huge negative financial impact that they can’t actually afford the increase in pay.

Make no mistake, keeping people in poverty is systemic and part of our culture. It’s the way that we force income inequality and barriers to success and then blame the people who suffer from it. These cliffs can be very steep or can be gradual for people earning income AND using benefits that have helped them to stay afloat. Often times when more than one system has been supporting the security of a family, these cliffs can make people feel powerless. They find themselves earning too much to maintain stability, yet not enough to cover the loss. For example, if I lost $200 in food stamps, I would need to find that in the pay increase, which may not actually be seen in my paycheck. If the supports have been hard to get and have long wait lists (such as housing assistance or child care) people feel reluctance to work more, or may feel like working is actually hindering their families’ financial security.

Many federal assistance programs were designed to help people who are not currently employed, and may never be. I am thankful to work in a community with both social service systems and legislators who recognize this issue, and are working to combat the impacts that keep from incentivizing our community members to reach their goals of independence.

I participate in the Coalition to End Hunger where we are supporting policy legislation for a pilot program that will make a sustainable difference in this issue.

Moral Compass

Andrew Morehouse | Executive Director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts
Member of Coalition to End Hunger’s Policy Team

As 2019 begins, I am reminded of the importance of the values that guide me and all of us in our daily lives. We constantly make decisions and formulate opinions based on the information at hand. In a world increasingly oversaturated with conflicting information, it’s easy to lose sight of our most precious values that serve as our moral compass. All religions, and secular humanism, share many core values, especially empathy, responsibility and charity to help those who are less fortunate. I believe that here in western Massachusetts we strive to embrace these values — including reciprocity, fairness and honesty to name just a few — that buoy our sense of community and our desire to live in a healthy and productive society.

Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we are falling far short of this mark. Hunger prevails across our region. Tens of thousands of individuals either experience or are at risk of hunger every week in cities and small rural towns in the four counties of Western Massachusetts. They are food insecure; they often don’t not know where or when they will have their next meal. Far too many children go to school hungry every day.

Far too many elders make excruciating choices between paying for their medicine, heat or for food. Far too many veterans and people with disabilities depend on us simply to survive when they could be giving back to society in meaningful ways if they didn’t have to live with food insecurity. Even many hard-working households struggle to put food on the table because they are earning minimum and near-minimum wage incomes.

At The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, our core value is that everyone has the right to healthy food, regardless of their circumstances. Yet we know that hunger is a symptom of many underlying causes, including but not limited to inadequate affordable housing, childcare, transportation, higher education and job training. As a society, we must invest much more in these resources if we are ever to achieve our potential as a region in an increasingly competitive world. Deeper structural economic and social barriers also exist, ranging from insufficient jobs at incomes that support households to racism. We cannot ignore these seemingly intractable barriers and think that they will not do us harm. Yes, it will take time to find solutions, but we must persevere if we want to thrive as a society.

When we stray from our moral compass, we are unable to reach our potential as a community. As a result, we are forced to bear the cost in so many ways that make it feel overwhelming at times. The Food Bank, as the leading provider of healthy food to almost all the local food pantries and meal sites in our region, is committed to feeding our neighbors in need every week of the year along with our partners and the community at large. We are also committed to working toward long-term solutions to hunger. We invite you to learn more about how you may get involved:

Whatever your New Year’s resolutions may be, seize this special time of the year to take stock of your moral compass and decide how you choose to contribute to a healthier and more productive Western Massachusetts for all.

The silent challenge of academic success

Judy Raper, Ed.D. | Associate Dean of Student Development, Greenfield Community College
Member of Coalition to End Hunger’s Communication & Education Team

Despite amplified criticism that higher education is “elitist,” nearly every state has cut funding to higher education since 2008. Once viewed as an engine for social mobility, there is now a growing perception that college students are coddled, demanding and among society’s “haves.”
For the past three years, the Wisconsin-based HOPE Lab has conducted a nationwide survey focused on food and housing security among college students. In the most recent Massachusetts survey administered in 2017, 44% of community college students and 33% of four-year college students reported low, or very low, food security during the previous 30 days. Forty-nine percent of community college students reported housing insecurity in the past year, and 38% in the past month. Among four-year college students, these statistics were 32% and 20%, respectively.

As an employee of Greenfield Community College (and previous employee of five other four-year universities and colleges) these statistics are not shocking to me; and they hardly paint a picture of college students as “elite.” While many colleges and universities are attempting to respond to the reality of our students’ complicated lives, shrinking resources create numerous challenges.

GCC was one of the first colleges in the country to establish a food pantry, relying on the generosity of the GCC community (which, to date, has been robust). In 2011, just 15 colleges nationwide registered as having food pantries. Today 641 reported having them.

I believe higher education should be accessible to anyone with a desire to pursue it. Reaching educational goals is a challenge under the best of circumstances. College students should not have to worry about basic needs while pursuing their academic goals in a country as wealthy as ours. The citizens of this country are creative and intelligent problem solvers. Unlike other countries, the U.S. has the resources to house and feed all our citizens. Our will to solve this problem will be directly proportional to our success. It is imperative that we address the stigma related to food insecurity. College students are among those that don’t fit the stereotype for hunger. But this robust, nationwide study informs us that many of our citizens, with great potential to contribute to society, are indeed struggling with access to healthy food.


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