Episode 4. Food for Thought - Facing the Facts About Food Insecurity
Michelle Rathman: Hi, everyone, and welcome to a new episode of the Rural Impact. I'm Michelle Rathman, and I really mean it when I say I'm really grateful that you joined us for another conversation where we're going to explore broad challenges and issues. And with the help of researchers and leaders and advisors and a panel of experts, we are here to connect the dots to the policies and programs that impact for better or worse, America's rural places and populations.
I want you to know too, that with every chance that we get here, we also aim to have conversations to help convey how non rural places, metro places are also impacted by what's happening in well over half of the counties in the U. S. Okay, with that said, let's get into today's topic because I have a question for you.
Do you know that millions of people in rural communities face hunger? That is why we are dedicating this new series, which like the previous series, we'll have three episodes to cover the topic, food insecurity. This is happening in far too many places and it's a growing crisis.
But before I share with you, who's joined me for this rural impact conversation. I just want to share a few insights with you about food insecurity when it comes to rural. And this comes to us from an organization called Feeding America. Food insecurity rates, this is a stat that we cannot ignore, are higher in rural areas than in urban areas. And according to the USDA in 2021, I wonder what it would be today, 11% of rural households were food insecure.
In the Feeding America, our map, the meal gap, their report found that 9 out of 10 counties with the highest food insecurity rates are rural and rural communities make up 63% of all U. S. counties. Wonder if you knew that? 87% of those counties with the highest food insecurity rates are in fact rural.
Also, something that I think is really relevant for us to discuss during this particular episode is to talk about the fact that people of color living in rural areas are far more likely to face hunger due to long term inequalities. And this is a topic that we shouldn’t be shying away from because in 2020, black people in rural counties were 2-5 times more at risk of hunger than white, non-Hispanic individuals in rural counties. And equally disturbing is that Native Americans living in rural communities experience some of the highest rates of food insecurity of any racial or ethnic group. And the root causes are, just so incredibly important for us to dig in deep to and just go beyond the headlines.
Lastly, I do want to share with you, I mean, I know this firsthand that with all its splendor and how beautiful the rural places are in this country, living in a rural community comes with unique challenges. And when it comes to food insecurity, one of those challenges is that food is just simply unaffordable.
I want to share with you that a few years ago, I, as I do every year, I go to the National Rural Health Association Policy Institute. And we, a bunch of us, you know, from all over the country, we go to the Capitol, and we meet with our members of Congress. And I happen to be talking with a delegate from the state of Colorado who worked in a rural community that served a pretty high tourism population.
And this is, I've done this work out in Oregon and in other states, in Washington state, where there's high tourism because of the nature and the beauty and the attraction of all of that. At the same time, one only needs to go to their local grocery store if they are fortunate to still have a full-service grocery store and all you have to do is look at the shelves and you can see that, for example, a small jar of peanut butter.
I remember the brand name. I won't share, but a small, tiny jar of peanut butter was like $8. It's just simply unaffordable. And so that's what we're going to be talking about today. Food security and insecurity, the programs that are designed to help alleviate that and help people thrive. In particular, we're also going to be talking about children and food insecurity where that's concerned.
So now that I've equipped you with some stats and given you a lay of the land of what we're going to be talking about today, I am really happy to share with you the two guests. Yes, plural 2 guests that I've invited to have this conversation with me to kick off our series and both of them are from Food Research and Action Center. I was so fortunate to speak with Crystal Fitzsimons and she is the Director of School and Out of School Time Programs. Now, Crystal leads FRAC's work on the Child Nutrition Programs that serve school aged children. Also analyzing policy to advocate for legislative and regulatory improvements to increase low-income children's access to nutrition programs, while also developing, All-important strategy and direct field efforts to achieve program improvements, providing technical assistance, conducting training and develops materials for national, state, and local organizations.
Also, from FRAC, thrilled to have join us Gina Plata-Nino and Gina is the SNAP Deputy Director. An incredibly important role and her work, Gina is working with the SNAP team to seek ways to improve SNAP's reach and support for low-income households, including people and families working their way up the economic ladder.
And I can't think of anything more important as they are working their way out of that poverty status that to make sure that they have food security. And so, with that, she helps to produce and direct hands on support to national, state and community-based organizations, state and local government agencies, private non-for-profit organizations and activists while also providing legislative and technical assistance to strengthen SNAP's access benefit adequacy, reach and quality customer service. All very, very important. So, I'm pleased to share with you. This is my conversation with Gina Plata-Nino and Crystal Fitzsimons.
Michelle Rathman: Crystal and Gina, thank you so much for joining us here today kicking off our new series focused on food insecurity in rural America. And you are really here to help us do a masterclass, kind of set the stage for what the issue is, because I think we can talk about it in abstract terms.
You know, we talk about no kid left behind and lots of programs out there to address hunger. But the work that you do, I think it's so fascinating because you are getting into so many of those behind those doors that people don't have usually opportunities to open and dig deeper into. And if it doesn't affect you, we don't think about it.
You know, they say out of sight is out of mind. And this is one subject in particular. I think it has to be on top of our minds because as people who listen to this podcast and know my work know. I'm very focused on improving health outcomes for rural communities. And one of those social determinants of health, as we know, is food.
And so, I'm really excited again to have you here. And I'd like to just jump right into it. If we can, Gina, I want to start with you because our listeners might not be familiar. I found you through. Many, many channels are doing this work, but they might not be familiar with Food Research and Action Center, or FRAC, as we all love our acronyms.
So just give us a bit of a history and a snapshot of what the organization is doing, and then we'll get more specific about your work.
Gina Plata-Nino: Sure, so the Food Researcher Action Center, or FRAC as we're known, has been leading in addressing poverty related causes of hunger for over 50 years. We focus on various aspects of it, from birth to cradle, to different stages of life, and engage in policy ways to support both our decision makers, but also at the state level to implement those policies.
To ensure that these vulnerable populations are getting the resources that they need in order to tackle food insecurity.
Michelle Rathman: In the introduction, I shared just a few facts, if you will. And I'm just going to pull one that I found from Feeding America, and there's no lack of information, but getting it, you know, dialing it into what it is today, but this is according to Feeding America, and also reporting the Daily Yonder, which is a source that I often lean to for rural, while 63% of our counties in the US are rural, 63, so that's Well, over half, 87% of those counties had the highest rates of overall food insecurity.
And as you know, because we aim to provide greater context to these issues, I think it's important for us to understand what food security is. Cause some people go food insecurity in rural, that's where food comes from. So, if you could just kind of define for us food insecurity and the nuances that go along with that.
Gina Plata-Nino: That's a very good point because the food may be growing there, but it's not necessarily staying there. I'll define it in a second, but also take a step back because one of the reasons why we see food insecurity in rural areas is because the lack of grocery stores that are being able to sell the produce there, right?
So, it may be growing there, but it's going an hour to two hours away. And so, transportation plays a key factor, particularly in rural areas where there's no public transportation of lack of access of public transportations that can get individuals. Food insecurity is defined as the inability to be able to have constant available food for an individual to be able to feed themselves.
As a whole, food insecurity has very negative impacts on individuals and their families, but the way that the U. S. defines food insecurity is the inability to have access, constant access to food.
Michelle Rathman: nutritious food. Because food is sometimes food insecurity is, we will get into this at a different episode in this series, but, when we think about grocery store closures and what replaces them, you can't find a balanced meal. Last I checked at a gas station or a Dollar General or one of those kinds of stores.
And I, so I think that's another important thing to talk about. And we know, like you were just saying, some of the root causes of food insecurity but we know that there are other factors that are involved. And I think that a lot of the research shows it in terms of just equity. And let's talk a little bit about hunger in America with respect to the programs that are designed to bring equity, you Gina are very much involved with the SNAP program. So why don't you just talk a little bit about your work there. And I, again, I never assumed that everybody knows what SNAP is and who it serves and why it's there. And maybe you can give us a, if you will, snapshot of that really important work that you're doing in the interface with rural communities.
Gina Plata-Nino: Sure, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, or as it used to be called, Food Stamp, provides food security for individuals to be able to access resources. It's supposed to the key word is supplemental, but for many people it is their whole budget in an average SNAP covers about $6 a day for meals, which it really is not a lot across the country and it's even worse and certain more expensive counties and states as the whole SNAP is for those who are incredibly low income.
You know, it varies by states, but in general, in some states, it's for those who are about 135% of the poverty level and in some states up to 200% of the poverty level. A majority of people on SNAP are children, the next second followed by older adults, and then followed by people with disability.
Majority of people who are on SNAP are underpaid, have, are working. It's just that with their wages, because very few places have living wages, it is not enough to feed their families, especially when shelter costs are so incredibly high. So, these are working families who are trying to feed their families that are trying to make sure that their children their older adult counterparts have enough resources in order to be able to thrive and not just survive.
And so, they get about the minimum, it's about $23 a month for benefits in order to be able to feed the feed their families and supplement their groceries.
Michelle Rathman: For everyone who's listening, I just would ask you to get serious about thinking about those numbers. $23 a month. Not that doesn't go a long way. Before we bring you in Crystal, I just want to just touch a little bit about COVID. And I know people would wish that we could stop having the conversation, It's just, it's exasperated by so many other conditions and one of the things I read, there is a piece that was written by a gentleman named David Elliott for Voices for Human Needs and there was a contribution from FRAC in that piece and one, I'm just going to read a little bit here, the title was, Food Insecurity is Already a Huge Problem for the U.S. in 2023, It May Get Worse.
Now, that was in December 2022. And, as we talk about how COVID has kind of shed a light for some people, they were food insecure for the first time, maybe ever in their lives, and this certainly impacted rural because of their remoteness of it, if you will. But one of the things I read was, is that, obviously under back then, under the less positive note, under current law, SNAP recipients receive extra aid as long as the COVID-19 public health emergency remains in effect.
That's. That ship has sailed in March of this year and Crystal, I'll bring you in just a moment, but Gina, could you just talk a little bit about your perspective of now. We're three. What? Three or four months after the emergency ended was declared over. But what's that look like today? Is it as they predicted?
It's going to be worse.
Gina Plata-Nino: It is worse. So, it's over on paper for by the individuals who are still underemployed for the individuals who are still not getting enough wages. It's still not enough. So, we went from getting someone getting the maximum benefit, especially older adults losing about $82 to $89 a month and saying, Oh, I have a social security.
And now my benefits have been cut down to $23. How do I pay for my medicine? How do I pay for my shelter? There was a recent report that economists have estimated that this emergency allotment sending also has a deep impact on the economy. There's an estimated 2-billion-dollar loss from grocery retailers.
Because what SNAP does is that it's a way to support the local economy to create additional jobs. And I think the most important impact is that we are facing the same height of food insecurity that we were at the height of the pandemic. But these services that were there to help individuals are gone.
So, people are now in worse shapes. There was another report recently about two weeks ago that show that 70% of users are having to choose between paying their rent late and being able to feed their kids. So, as we face a housing crisis, we're going to see things getting worse because it's either, are you going to see your child cry to say, mom, I'm hungry?
Or are you going to pay the rent and pay it late? So many individuals were already paying late and just trying to figure out how to get another fourth, fifth job in order to be able to provide for their families. But things are pretty dire for individuals.
Michelle Rathman: it just feels like when you the image I have is just the walls closing in and there's just no way. It's just it's not even a cycle. You don't even have a chance to go through a cycle. It's just every day all day every of the week of the month of the year. So Crystal, I'm going to bring you in because there are some I think deserving lights to shine on some of the programs because we are about connecting the dots between policy and the things that are affecting rural communities and in your work, you focus on school and out of school time programs and in, previous podcast I was hoping hosting, I spoke with folks from the Duke endowment, for example, and they saw food insecurity needs when people were schooling at home.
And through the summer. And so, they came in and a lot of faith based organizations stepped in and food pantries. But there are very specific programs that you focus your attention on that need attention 24/7 and funding 24/7, which is the school breakfast school lunch and after school summer programs.
Can you go down the list of those programs and just give us a broad-brush perspective of what they are and who they're serving and kind of dial in on rural as well?
Crystal FitzSimons: Oh, yeah, absolutely. So, we have a school breakfast and school lunch programs, which are designed to feed kids while they're at school. And so that really does translate into providing breakfast and lunch to kids about 180 days during the year because schools usually operate for that. So, if you think about that kind of support.
For families, making sure that their kids have access to nutritious school breakfasts and school lunches that can really help ease the household food budget and the pressure on it. So, school breakfast and school lunch are probably our largest child nutrition programs. The school breakfast program actually reaches just over half of the kids who participate in school lunch.
So, we have a lot of work to do to increase participation in school breakfast. A lot of communities will do breakfast after the bell programs, and in rural areas, sometimes they'll even do breakfast on the bus, because a lot of rural kids have long transportation to school, you know, long bus rides, and so they may not be really hungry when they first wake up, even if food is available in the house.
But at the time they get to school, they really are hungry. And so, making sure that kids have access to that on the bus or when they first get to school and that rural kids are not missing out on school breakfast because it was served before their bus arrived at school. Like there's a lot of really creative ways to make sure that kids are able to access school breakfast and a lot of work to do there.
And then for school breakfast and school lunch during the pandemic, schools across the country, including in rural areas, we're able to offer free meals to all students, and we really think that is the best and the right way to operate the school nutrition programs. There is stigma sometimes with participating in school breakfast and school lunch, and we actually see kids opt out of it as they get older and become more aware of that. And so offering meals at no charge to all students is a great way to help alleviate that. And stigma can be such a huge issue
Michelle Rathman: Stability can be debilitating.
Crystal FitzSimons: Yeah. I mean, you know, families not wanting to fill out the school meal application, even if they are eligible because they don't want the school secretary to know that they're need free school meals. And there are, strong confidentiality protections for the school nutrition programs and applying for them. But it doesn't really always help overcome that because there is research that says that families, may not apply because of concerns about other people knowing that they're eligible.
And the eligibility for free meals. isn't high enough. There's plenty of families who are struggling who do not qualify for free school meals. You have to for a family of three, you have to make just over $32,000 a year.
Michelle Rathman: You have to really be struggling. I mean, instead of just instead of like setting a bar thriving, you have to really, really need it in order to get it. And let's just pause here and talk a little bit about the stigma. I think for me, that is a call for us grownups, the adults in the room to talk about how we create an environment and a culture where food security is not a negative thing.
Food security is about, I mean, if we associate it with, we know, right. grades and reading comprehension. And if you're hungry, it's hard to learn. It's hard. That's why, we talked about the word, hangry, right? As adults, we get it, but kids don't have that option. And you shared a little bit about what some of the obstacles are, if the programs, when the programs are there and you are eligible, the need to be able to have the knowledge and the navigator, if you will, to get you there. And I think about my home state of Minnesota. And I wonder when you heard the news that Governor Walt Tim Waltz it was the third state and I didn't even realize that the third state to require schools to be served a free lunch and breakfast, free lunch, and breakfast to all students, regardless of income.
What were your thoughts? Because I know that this stirred up some I guess controversy about it, but. What are your thoughts about that? Is that so innovative that it can't be done elsewhere?
Crystal FitzSimons: thrilled. We actually worked with our partners in Minnesota, Minnesota Hunger Solutions and a number of other partners and tried to help Port that effort as much as we could. So, we were thrilled when Minnesota came into the program and created permanent healthy school meals for all. Now we have seven states that have done it.
So, we're really excited about that. We have about 20 states that have some kind of legislation introduced. to do healthy school meals for all. So, we are working with a lot of our state partners to help support those efforts. And it is incredible when states are able to step up and do that. The only thing I would say, though, is that not every state is going to be able to provide the additional funding for it.
And school breakfast and school lunch, they are national programs. We want kids to have access, the same access to school meals, whether you're in Mississippi and South Dakota. or in Minnesota and Colorado. Like, every child needs access to school breakfast and school lunch. They're in school for six and a half to seven hours a day.
Any parent will tell you that they, kids need food in order to make it through their school day. And need to eat if they're somewhere for seven hours. So, we provide textbooks, we provide transportation. Food is a really important support as well. And it was really great to see the Governor of Minnesota sign that bill and one of our colleagues, one of Gina and I's colleagues, Alexis Bylander was actually able to be there at the bill signing, which was really exciting.
Michelle Rathman: With all the little ones standing around, I remember that, you know, and I think about what, what just happened in Missouri where so many, so millions and millions of dollars were just pushed away, for other states to feed children, no less. And so, I would be curious, maybe in a follow up conversation, what are some of the things that we need?
Just advocating for this and getting state legislators to rally around, you know, one issue and say, this is bipartisan. This is a policy that impacts the wellbeing of our children. What might be a couple of these ingredients, if you will. What were the elements that was enough to bring people together to put aside differences and say this makes sense?
Can you think of anything off, off top of your head that was really a sticking point for people to say, no brainer, we're going to do this.
Crystal FitzSimons: Well, I think the fact that schools were able to offer free meals during the pandemic really did make it a no brainer because it was a trial run for free school meals for all. You know, in Minnesota, the governor is a former teacher, and so he knows firsthand how important it is to provide meals to kids at school.
A lot of the successful campaigns that we've worked with have involved students and parents and people who really have the voice to convey how important this is what you talked about with Missouri. That is something that we are really concerned about, because there is a relatively there was a program that was created during the pandemic to provide benefits to families with kids who lost access to school meals during the pandemic. That program has been extended and turned into a summer EBT Program. And so, we did see a handful of states that did not implement the program this year, and we are really concerned about it. But the good news is that program isn't available permanently. It provides an additional $40 per month to families who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. So, you know, next year, Missouri can make a different decision and go ahead and participate in the program and provide benefits to families. That is the great thing about the nutrition programs, is that they are available.
States can change their mind. They can do more. More states can pass Healthy School Meals for All legislation. Congress could take it up too. But we really need to make sure that all the child nutrition programs that we have are really reaching the kids and families who are
Michelle Rathman: Because the need is never going to go away and we have to do things that are, they, we have to do things that are sustainable. And I, in particular, I think about states, including Missouri, who are thinking about, going to four-day weeks. And then what happens to, do we just, no one gets hungry on the fifth day, six, seventh day.
Gina, I, I want to turn it back to you because obviously programs such as SNAP, hugely important. I can't even imagine; I was sharing with Crystal before we started today's discussion, that last episode, I interviewed Joan Alker from the Center for Children and Families, and we talked about the riveting conversation of Medicaid Unwinding.
And, that program, so many children, I was sharing, I think, the number of today's, like, three million people, and so many of them are children, millions of them are children. And so, programs such as SNAP, they’re either supported by, or diminished by those who don't believe in the investments.
And so, the president of your organization Luis Guardia, released statements related to the fiscal year 2024 Agriculture Appropriations Bill, specifically how it would worsen poverty and hunger in America. How so because we're also taking a look at the reauthorization of the farm bill.
And it's a five-year thing, but it's like locking horns and fighting for scraps, if you will.
Gina Plata-Nino: Yeah, pretty much. And I just want to highlight a point that, that Crystal made that, your ability to be able to eat, in school or education should not be different depending on what state you're in. Like, these are the United States, right? And I think sometimes we forget that. So same thing with SNAP, right?
It's more accessible in certain states, depending. And we also know that during the pandemic, many, many states also said we don't want federal money. We don't want, we don't want extra money for people to be able to eat. Right? So, I think that's important as we're looking at the farm bill. We are looking at, appropriations right now, which again more harmful extending time limits, making it more difficult for individuals to be able to access the limited resources that they have. So, it's an alert to let people know, hey, this is important.
You mentioned Minnesota, there's going to be a farm bill listening session in Minnesota in a week, right?
So, it's important to go there and to let the chairman know, like, Hey, we need SNAP because as you said, with the Medicare unwinding it's all interconnected. We as a community are interconnected, right? We know for a fact that individuals who are on SNAP are less likely to go to the ER, right? We know that children who are eating well are less likely to have disciplinary issues.
They're less likely they're more likely to be able to graduate. There are more people don't want to be on these benefits. And so, the whole point is let's give resources so individuals can have what they need and then be able to survive. And what these ag appropriations, as we look at what I just said, inflation, not so great, but insecurity, incredibly high.
Our unemployment rate is incredibly high as well. There are just so many obstacles out there. Can we give these hardworking people a break in terms of allow them to work extremely hard to get access to these resources because it's incredibly complicated to access them to begin with. So that's why that statement that our president made is so pivotal because people need to know that our elected officials need to be held accountable because these are decisions that are affecting, like I just said, who are the majority of staff users, right? Particularly white women with Children are our Children are people with disabilities are people who need this resources in order to be able to live in this country.
Michelle Rathman: I think that everything you just said, so many great points, because one of the reasons I think it's so important to talk about this is because we think about, I used to work in urban health. And some of the things that we're talking about here, there are so many parallels and I, a thousand percent agree with you, your state should not dictate, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation always talks about your, the, your health access to health should matter on your zip code and the same thing is with food and so for both of you, I think this is important.
I was sharing with Crystal too, that I'm headed out on a plane over the weekend to work out in Washington state. And leading a community conversation about what is it? What does a healthier striving for a healthier community look like? And one of the things we're talking about is the fact that on top of that we have hospital closures We have it could take six to eight ten weeks to get in to see a primary care provider in a rural community and so knowing that we've got these conditions.
How can we engage our communities and broader conversations? And I asked the question of the group that I was talking to yesterday. Do you know what percentage of your own county, how many people in your county have food insecurity? And there was a lot of it was a zoom call, a lot of people looking at each other and they didn't know.
I said, wouldn't you be curious to find out? Wouldn't it be interesting, because we have some intake questions, for a new patient in the electronic health records. It asks two questions, right? If you've had something to eat today, or you and are you in fear of not having enough money left over at the end of the month to buy food?
I think that's the crux of the two questions. So that's a long way of saying, how do we expand the conversation with community leaders and influencers? Because you don't have to be in a position of in quote, leadership to influence conversations, it's not enough for the two of you and for the people we have on this podcast to go to state legislators and our representatives in Congress and whatnot and say, these are really important.
I think they need to hear from their constituents. And so, what advice would you give to those who are listening saying, yeah, it may not even be affecting me directly, but I'm, I need to ask you some questions. What would those questions be? And what would you say would be good? Easy ways for individuals to advocate for food security and support of the legislation that makes sure that happens moving forward.
Gina Plata-Nino: Yeah, I'll start off that people don't even know, need to know about legislation, right? We make it super easy at FRAC. We have the resources there where you can just read off it. But I will say is that our elected officials represent us, right? 11 phone calls, 11 phone calls saying, “Hi, my name is Gina. I'm your constituent and I need to make sure that you strengthen SNAP. No more cuts. People are suffering. I need you to make SNAP a priority.”
11 people calling all of a sudden. The aid goes to the elected official and say, “Hey, I had 11 calls. You need to make this a priority.”
Michelle Rathman: Oh, I just want to make sure it wasn't me calling 11 times. They might put me on the do not call list. Okay.
Gina Plata-Nino: But it's not a large number, right? It's not a thousand people. It's who's calling at 11. They okay. Emails are also great. But the fact that you pick up and the aids are really nice. I've yet to meet an aide that's like rude. They're really nice. They're polite. They say thank you. They take the message. 11 phone calls.
And we can do that, right? Within our own family, we know 11 people. Imagine what we can do if all of a sudden everyone who's on the ag committee, everyone who across the country starts getting phone calls and says, “Hey, I hear you're targeting SNAP. That is not okay. People are hungry. We need to be able to take care of our community.”
That is what we are about. This is America. We take care of each other, and this is where the resources need to go.
Michelle Rathman: 11. Love it. I mean, 11 calls. I didn't know that was a sweet spot, but I will be repeating this often. Crystal, what about you? What do you, in terms of the programs that you have? Because listen, I am, and I say this a lot, I am not afraid to talk about any elephant in the room when they're there.
At an age now, and as I shared, six grandchildren, I want to make sure that they are never in a position where because of the place they live and their circumstances, they can't get food. School lunch programs and summer lunch programs need not be controversial. And we know that we've got some situations where we've got school boards, you know, focused on other things.
I would like to see on the 6 o'clock news, how many parents came together to advocate for food for the children. What will you say to those parents and those you mentioned earlier, you talked to so many different organizations that are somehow connected with children in school. What can we share with them that will inspire them to have a new conversation?
Crystal FitzSimons: right. Well, so I mean, the exciting thing about a lot of the Child Nutrition Program. So, school meals, summer food, even after school meals, which we haven't talked about as much they really get designed at the local level. So, the school nutrition department decides to participate or to run a great school breakfast program where it's after the bell and kids are able to eat together in the cafeteria. Or maybe they have a really awesome after school program and they're combining after school suppers with that. But you know, really engaging in a conversation with the school board members about how important these programs are.
School districts are required to have like a school wellness policy committee and that is another great way that parents can think about engaging on it. And Gina did also mention, did mention that, you know, we provide alerts and try and make it as easy as possible. We do, provide alerts when anything's going on at the federal level and then on the state with the Healthy School Meals for All and sometimes Breakfast After the Bell legislation or any kind of piece like that.
We'll work with our partners to get alerts out within that state so that people know to call and weigh in in support of good legislation. So, signing up to get newsletters and alerts from us, I think is a really good way to make sure that you stay informed about what's happening.
Michelle Rathman: Any opportunities for people to, I mean, you're a smaller organization, any opportunities for people to get involved with you on the ground? I mean, I think any chapters, any state work for people to get involved if they want to do more than just make a call, which we know that they have to have 11 calls, anything opportunities for them to be active in their own state.
Crystal FitzSimons: Yeah, well, so in a lot of states, there are really strong anti-hunger advocacy organizations that are working really hard in Minnesota. Like I mentioned, Minnesota Hunger Solutions, they are a great group and definitely engaged with the community to help get the healthy school meals for all legislation passed you know, in Vermont, Hunger Free Vermont.
But lots of states have these really strong anti-hunger groups. We do list some of our partners on our website, so you can definitely take a look at that. But yeah, they can definitely help you with advocacy. A lot of them do advocacy days at the state capitol and you can really engage. And I know Gina's done a lot of work in Massachusetts too on this, so can talk too.
Michelle Rathman: Thank you so much. Gina any things that we should be looking out for in your work with SNAP? Because I mean, we're at a really intense time right now.
Gina Plata-Nino: You said it is an incredibly intense time. We just talked about the emergency allotment sending but also the public health emergency. It starts the clock on college students having to work on top of their full-time course load an additional 20 hours a week in order to be able to access that benefits.
In addition to that, we have that underemployed individuals who can't document sufficient hours of work at least 20 are going to be cut off SNAP benefits if they can't show that they are doing this and so they can only get SNAP for three months in a three-year period. So, it's a pivotal time for us to really call in the farm bill is that say, we need to remove these time limits.
We need to allow these low-income college students who really are, they're not your traditional college students, and some of them are right there. They’re parents trying to go back to school. They're trying to do their best. And on top of that is for you to get this meager $23 or sometimes $50 a month, we need you to work an extra 20 hours a week where research shows that you shouldn't work more than 10 hours when you have a full course load.
So, we're setting up people up for failure to not be able to complete this. So, there are ways right now that we could really activate our network to really say, let's help individuals. Let's help them accomplish. Let's help them be able to achieve their education. Let's don't punish people because of time limits.
Hungry people, it's not going to help them be able to secure more hours faster. So, I will say those are the key points and our website really details all of those key points, but you don't have to memorize them.
Michelle Rathman: We will definitely put them in our show notes. And I just want to say, I think we really do need to connect the dots to health outcomes because we're, we talk, we have the worst maternal mortality outcomes in any developed nation. We are talking about higher rates of incidence of diabetes for younger people, colon cancer for younger people.
And if we don't think it has anything to do with what we're ingesting and or the lack of what we have in terms of nutritious food. We're kidding ourselves. And so, I just thank you both. Crystal FitzSimons and Gina Plata-Nino. I am grateful for your time. You are welcome to come back. And share any new information that you have.
We'll be watching, we'll be advocating, and I will use the 11 call example and anywhere that I can before someone please ask me to leave the room. And with that, I just also want to make sure that I thank Brea Corsaro, who is an associate producer of this podcast. podcast. And of course, Sarah Staub mad creative does all of our graphics and postproduction.
And of course, Jonah Mancino for the wonderful original music that he's provided to us. We really appreciate if you would subscribe to this podcast, that's important for our longevity here. We were trying to bring you conversations, rate us on iTunes, Spotify, Google, you know where to find us. We're also on YouTube.
And you know, as I always say, these are not light topics. They're not light subjects and so we hope that we've enlightened you and we're going to talk to you on a next episode of the Rural Impact where we're going to keep covering food insecurity from a different angle. Thank you so much and we'll see you soon.