Marian’s story: Road to recovery

“I’m in recovery, and Bread for the City has been a blessing to me,” says Marian Leggett, a 48-year-old client in our food program.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“I was hanging out on the street, doing drugs,” she says. In time, she decided she needed a change. “I started praying and going to meetings and surrounding myself by people who were doing positive things,” she explains. Recovery wasn’t going to be easy, but she knew it was worthwhile.

Marian relied on her disability income and food stamps to make it through each month while she tackled her addiction problem and started looking for work. But it’s hard to get by on public assistance alone.

This holiday season, she’s thankful that she has somewhere to turn when her food stamps just aren’t enough to keep food on the table. She says, “There have been times in my life when I didn’t have anything, and Bread for the City has given me the meat and the noodles and the sauce to make a pot of spaghetti to last for two or three days.”

Almost everyone who visits our food program also relies on food stamps to buy groceries each month. Once you’ve used up your food stamps, there are usually at least three days at the end of the month that most families needed to find another source of food. “Now, with the cuts, it’s about a week,” says Leonard Edwards, another Bread for the City client and volunteer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen it comes to her food stamps, Marian says, “I don’t get that much anyway, but I’m grateful for what I get, and Bread for the City fills in the blanks.”

Next week, Marian is starting her first job since she entered recovery. She isn’t going to receive a paycheck in time for Thanksgiving, but she knows she can count on Bread for a healthy holiday meal.

“I wouldn’t have been able to afford this turkey,” Marian says, holding her Holiday Helpings bag, “This is a blessing for Thanksgiving.”

Our Holiday Helpings campaign aims to feed 8,000 families this holiday season. Your support today means that someone in need can enjoy a traditional holiday meal this Thanksgiving in the dignity of their own homes.

Sponsor three families for Holiday Helpings with a gift of $87 today!

 

 

Jeff Bredt: Why I Give Back to Bread for the City

Jeff Bredt - client and volunteerMy name is Jeff Bredt, and I am a volunteer for Bread for the City who has been fortunate enough to be asked to write about myself and my experience at BFTC.

I am a client of BFTC, who, with my wife and daughter, comes down every month to the food pantry to help augment our SNAP benefits. Bread for the City’s Food Pantry helps us to make ends meet on our limited funds — which consists solely of what we receive from TANF and from my school scholarship.

I am currently a student, returning to academia after leaving a very lucrative career in the hospitality industry. For twenty years, I practiced my trade as a sommelier, which (if you don’t know) is someone who is an expert on the subjects of wine, spirits, beers, cigars, and water. It is a great job, requiring me to travel to the wine-growing regions of the world, educating restaurant staff on the niceties of proper beverage service, working at the best establishments, eating the best foods, and drinking the finest wines. Yes, I was a professional drinker. But there is, however, a serious drawback to such a romantic notion as drinkin’ for a livin‘: alcoholism. And, of course, after partying day and night (and getting paid to do so), what came next for me was an addiction to cocaine. Swell, just swell.

In early 2012, I entered rehab (thank you, Whitman-Walker Addiction Treatment Services) and spent the next sixteen months trying to overcome my addictions and, most importantly, rebuild my life. Returning to school has been a major component of this effort. So, too, has been my volunteer work at BFTC, and it has been an honor to give something of my true self back to the community which put up with my shenanigans for so long.

What have I done at BFTC since becoming a volunteer in June? My initial posting was, at my request, in the Food Pantry, as I wanted to help other clients get the food they needed and with the same respect and dignity that I had always received. I know from experience that getting what some would call a “handout” can be an acid bath to a person’s self-respect, and it does not have to be that way.

I recently requested the opportunity to shift my efforts at BFTC to the Housing Assistance Program, which is where I volunteer now. As a paralegal student at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, part of my training has been in conducting initial client interviews and assisting with the filling out of necessary paperwork. Therefore, my participation at BFTC is no longer just for my own personal growth, but it is also helping me to get the real world work experience I will need after I graduate and try to get a job.

Volunteering at BFTC has been one of the best things I have ever done. Not only do I help others in my community get the assistance they need to improve their lives, but I get personal and professional growth.

Everyone should be as lucky as me.

Subscribe button

Tags: ,

Food Stamps Changes Coming Soon

Food stamps (otherwise known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) recipients will likely see a slight increase in their benefits in October, and will definitely see a decrease in their benefits in November.

food stampsThe October change is because certain figures used to calculate food stamps benefits are changing as a new federal fiscal year begins. Some people’s benefits may increase in October, and others will stay the same.

The November change is because part of a federal law called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, also known as the stimulus package) is expiring. ARRA raised food stamps benefits amounts for a few years while the economy was in a deep recession. When ARRA expires on November 1st, the maximum amount of food stamps a household can get will decrease, and so will the minimum.

Right now, the maximum amount of food stamps for a two-person household is $367.  On November 1, the maximum amount for a two-person household will drop to $347—a $20 change. Two-person households who receive less than the maximum level of food stamps will also see their food stamps decrease by an amount between $1 and $20. Eligible households who currently receive the $16 minimum amount of food stamps will see their benefits drop to $15 per month. Everyone will see some decrease in their food stamps benefits in November.

This reduction in food stamps is due to a federal law, and the D.C. government can do nothing to stop the reduction. Nonetheless, stakeholders are working with the D.C. government to get out the word about the change and to plan for questions that food stamps recipients may have. Part of the outreach effort also includes informing the D.C. community about other resources that are available to help them get a little more food each month.

Attorneys from organizations like Bread for the City and advocates from not-for-profits like D.C. Hunger Solutions and the Capital Area Food Bank are working with the D.C. government to help the community prepare for and deal with the upcoming change. The D.C. Department of Human Services (DHS), which runs the food stamps program in D.C., will not be sending notices out to inform families of this change. They are not required to do so, since this is a “mass change” affecting all food stamps recipients. Instead, DHS will be launching a campaign to educate the public, including creating a video and putting up posters around the city.

Bread for the City’s food program will continue to help families with young, elderly, or disabled members, and the legal and social services programs have food stamp estimators that can help clients understand how their benefits are changing. But the next few months will still be confusing and stressful to many low-income DC residents. Congress is also voting on other bills about food stamp eligibility and funding, so even more changes might eventually happen. We are doing our best to prepare our clients for the change, but the whole community will need to get involved to provide education and support.

Subscribe button

Tags: ,

Food Stamp Challenge: The Third Time is No Charm!

I’m on day 7, the final day of my Food Stamp Challenge, and down to a cup or two of frozen collard greens, 4 slices of pineapples, and a box of instant grits. I started the challenge last Monday, and in all I purchased just under $30 of groceries. My groceries included 6 bananas, 1 can of pineapples, two onions, two potatoes, 1 loaf of raisin bread, a dozen eggs, a bag of carrots, and frozen packets of broccoli and collard greens.

GeorgeAll day Saturday I was fixated on one of my favorite meals: a steak dinner with mashed potatoes and a salad with French dressing. I’m happy to report I resisted the urge to order a steak from the local Outback steakhouse. Oh well, just a few hours to go on my 7-day challenge!

The idea of the Food Stamp Challenge is for hunger advocates and those who care about the poor and hungry to try to live off of $30 — roughly the amount food stamp, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), recipients receive each week. I take the challenge to show solidarity with those food insecure citizens living in DC – nearly 76,000 people who struggle with hunger just in our city. Moreover, we take the challenge as a protest to Congress’s periodic and callous threats to cut the SNAP program, such as the one taking place right now.

My wife, daughter and older brother who live with me are not participating in the challenge, but this past week they looked on curiously as I’ve eaten paltry meals cobbled together from my meager groceries. On day six, I ate my last two eggs (boiled), two cups of grits, my last serving of broccoli and a cup or two of collard greens. As you’ll note by my girth, I can probably afford to miss a meal or two; still,  during the last 24 hours of my challenge, I literally felt light headed — I’m certain due to the only 905 calories I consumed on Saturday, day six.

This is the third time I’ve taken the food stamp challenge, and once again I was surprised by the difficulty, both physically and psychologically, I had with each passing day. The combination of sitting by watching my family, my colleagues during meetings and even people on TV eating anything they want was tough. Experiencing the mild pangs of hunger in my stomach underscored in my mind how painful, each day, week and month must be for parents, their children, the elderly and disabled who have low incomes and who are at risk of going hungry throughout the year.

Experts often ascribe children’s behavior problems, behaviors like chronic fatigue, short attention spans and poor academic performance, to the fact that they don’t get to eat the daily recommended diet. After this week, I can attest to two things: (1) there is a real physical and mental toll exacted when you’re consistently hungry and lack food, or as in my case are unable to eat the food in your house; and (2) I’m more determined than ever to fight to make sure every person in Washington, DC can eat 3 meals a day, every day of the year. That’s why I call on all of my family, friends and everyone reading this to tell Congress it must not reduce the funds for the SNAP program. Let’s make sure that all children and their families will not miss meals while we have the resources to ensure that everyone has access to this basic human right.

Subscribe

My Week on a Food Stamp Diet

CEO George A. Jones

Yesterday was the final day of the social justice protest known to anti-hunger advocates as the Food Stamp Challenge, and I have to admit that I am relieved.

As the CEO of Bread for the City, a DC nonprofit that has been fighting hunger since 1976, I felt obligated to join my fellow advocates who agreed to a week-long diet, consisting of foods purchased with a total of $30.  You see, $30 is the average weekly allotment food stamp recipients receive through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); a program, for which the Federal government is threatening to cut between $4 million and $16 million from its budget.  This all in the face of the fact that the food stamp program infuses over $2 million per year into the DC economy, not to mention its economic impact for the remaining 50 states. So I and advocates from across the country have spent the last seven days challenging ourselves to walk in the shoes of those for whom we advocate to bring attention to the fact that SNAP is foolishly on the chopping block.

And as I stated in my initial sentence, I’m relieved that the challenge has come to an end. After only 7days, I am not only hungry; I’m quite humbled by the difficulty I had this week stretching my $30 worth of groceries.

I actually purchased $29.92 worth of groceries. This got me 3 cans of tuna, 1 small bag of frozen corn, 1 small bag of frozen broccoli, 3 cans of tuna, 1 bag of white bread, 1 small bag of navy beans, 1 large can of baked beans,1 16 oz. jar of peanut butter, 1 bottle of apple juice, 1 bag of green apples, 1 box of grits, 1 box of oatmeal, 1 dozen eggs, 1 small plastic bottle of mustard, 1 raw baking potato, 1 raw sweet potato and 4 bananas. When I arrived at the grocery store checkout line, my cashier told me I had to put something back if all I had was $30 to spend.  I put 4 items back: crackers, beef chunk, milk and cereal.

Now let me confess, I am a very hearty eater. So it’s in that context that I report that after only 3 and half days, I had eaten two of my three cans of tuna, all of my apples, 6 of my eggs, all four bananas and nearly all of the baked beans. I had also eaten one serving of grits and one of oatmeal. By Monday, October 15th, with three meals left to negotiate, I found myself left with a jar of peanut butter, dry grits and oatmeal, frozen corn and the remains of a pot of navy beans I cooked for Sunday dinner.  Somehow, all of my white bread – which I don’t normally even eat – is gone. And I have no meats. In fact, I have no food source at all that might be considered a main course.

Hind sight is 20-20 so I’m sure if I started the experiment over, I would purchase different items, and definitely ration them differently. But it’s plain to see that for a person living on a $30 food allowance per week, there is little margin for error.

At the beginning of my week, I was bothered by the fact that I couldn’t afford any of my favorite foods. And I’m not talking steak or even chicken. I was unable able to buy any cereal, milk, raisin bread, and certainly not any desserts.  And by the week’s end I was perpetually anxious simply about the general lack of food I had.

Ironically, one revelation I had during my week of the challenge was that virtually every day, there was at least one free meal that I turned down to remain true to the Food Stamp Challenge: breakfast and lunch at the DCPCA Annual meeting, lunch with a donor, and dinner and lunch at two events sponsored by my own agency. These were meals that I would ordinarily have been afforded simply during the course of my week as one of the nutritional “haves” in our society.

So as sit at my desk writing and eating the last of my oatmeal lunch, I pledge to continue my work at Bread for the City fighting for food justice. And I pledge to call the Senate and the House to urge them to fight against cuts to the SNAP program, so that food stamp recipients can at least afford some oatmeal to feed their families. 

I hope you’ll pledge your support to Bread for the City’s work and will call your representative requesting no food stamp cuts.

Double Value! Making Food Stamps Go Far at Farmers Markets

As Bread for the City continues to increase the amount of fresh produce that we provide to our clients, people’s preferences for fresh food increase accordingly.  Clients often want to know where they can find affordable fresh food — and we do have some good answers for them.

Thanks to the Double Dollars program, our clients can enjoy more farm fresh produce all month long.

Thanks to grants from the Wholesome Wave Foundation, an increasing number of farmers markets in DC not only accept food stamps (including WIC, SNAP, or senior vouchers) but even double their value up to $10 for each visit.

So, for example, if someone wants to spend $10 of their SNAP money at a participating market, the market will give them another $10 for a total of $20 to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables. That goes a long way toward making locally grown, fresh produce affordable for our clients.

Even better: food stamp recipients can double their dollars at as many participating farmers markets as they want, in as many weeks of the month as they want. So if someone goes to two farmers markets a week, every week of the month, and that person spends $10 in food stamps each time, he or she receives an extra $80 that month to spend on fresh, healthy produce!

There are currently at least eight local markets that participate in the Double Dollars program (up from just two when Bread for the City first reported on this program back in 2009). Participating markets include:

WIC, SNAP, or Senior Food Voucher recipients simply go up to the market information table each time they attend, swipe or present their food stamp card, and tell the staff member on-site how much food stamp allotment they would like to spend. The staff member will hand them their dollars, as well as an equal number of “Market Dollar” coupons that they can use at the market. It’s that easy to make food stamps go twice as far!

Last month, Bread for the City hosted a Free “Farmers Market” at our NW Center, where we provided over 150 people with a free bag of fresh produce. This Friday, from 10am to noon at our Southeast Center (1640 Good Hope Road), we’re doing it all over again! We hope that by promoting initiatives like the Double Dollars program at these markets, we can help our clients access fresh, healthy foods all month, every month.

We're ready to give away more fresh, free produce, this time at our SE center!

Taking Action for Language Access

When I met Mr. M, he was a medical patient and social services client at Bread for the City. Mr. M grew up speaking Amharic and is learning English, and he was referred to the legal clinic because he was having difficulty applying for food stamps from the Department of Human Services (DHS)—a sometimes-difficult process made more complicated by language barriers.

Snapshot of the Amharic-language “Know Your Rights” card, via the Office of Human Rights.
I successfully worked with DHS to get Mr. M approved for food stamp benefits. But DHS continued to send him recertification notices and other vital documents only in English, which he was not able to understand. Mr. M was not just frustrated with his own situation; he was also concerned that other Amharic speakers might face the same barriers he experienced. So we filed a complaint against DHS, alleging that it violated the District’s Language Access Act.

The Language Access Act (PDF of the legislation here) is incredibly valuable legislation that sets the District far ahead of most other jurisdictions with regard to accessibility of government services. The Act requires DC agencies and programs to provide oral interpretation to all their limited- or non-English proficient clients, and to provide written translation of vital documents in languages spoken by 500 people or 3% of the people (whichever is lower) who are served, encountered, or likely to be served or encountered by the agency. The District’s Office of Human Rights (OHR) is tasked with providing oversight about language access and handling language access complaints.

I’m pleased to report that my client’s complaint received a favorable determination from OHR. As a result, OHR gave DHS until the end of May to complete the corrective actions it ordered.

Mr. M. was so excited when he learned about his victory at OHR—not just because changes at DHS would make it easier for him to keep his food stamps and medical assistance, but because this finding will have an impact on the lives of other Amharic-speaking District residents.

But even though Mr. M’s language access complaint had a positive outcome, the process gave me real concerns that people are being deterred from filing complaints because of OHR’s complicated procedures for investigation and enforcement. Consider this: there have been only 17 language access complaints since the Act was passed in 2004, and my client’s complaint was the only instance last year in which OHR found an agency out of compliance with the Language Access Act (another case filed in 2010 was just decided, and it too had a decision of noncompliance).

My case was one of only six findings of noncompliance, but through our involvement in the DC Language Access Coalition and our visits to DC agencies, we know that limited- or non-English proficient people frequently encounter language difficulties when trying to obtain services.

On March 3rd, I testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, which oversees OHR, to share these concerns:

Good morning. My name is Stacy Braverman and I am an attorney at Bread for the City, a non-profit organization serving thousands of low-income District residents each year. Many of those individuals have limited or no English proficiency, and I am here to testify about my experience helping one such client with a language access complaint at the Office of Human Rights.

My client speaks Amharic and is learning English. He had a very difficult time applying for food stamps because of a language barrier. I helped him receive the benefits, but he continued to be sent recertification notices and other vital documents only in English. We filed a language access complaint against the Department of Human Services and received a favorable determination from OHR. Of the three language access complaints filed in 2010, this was the only one in which OHR found an agency out of compliance with the Language Access Act. It was just the fifth finding of noncompliance since the Act was passed in 2004. I am concerned that OHR’s procedures for investigating language access complaints and enforcing its determinations deter people from filing them.

The complaint process was complicated and took eight months—many language access complaints, though, take even longer. My client’s complaint was filed in April 2010. He attended an “intake interview” after which an OHR investigator wrote a complaint, sent it to my client for him to sign and get notarized, and then submitted it to DHS. Over two months passed as I attempted to contact the investigator assigned to the case; eventually I learned that DHS refused to answer the complaint because they believed the matter was resolved when my client received benefits. I had to encourage OHR to continue investigating. Although DHS was given months to formulate an answer, my client and I received just five days to rebut it. We received OHR’s decision over four months later, and were glad to see that DHS was ordered to undertake a variety of corrective actions.

The complaint process was made more difficult by OHR’s unclear procedures. Unlike discrimination complaints, OHR does not publish rules or timelines for investigating language access complaints. Last summer, OHR supplied advocates with an unofficial copy of its language complaint procedures, but these varied significantly from what actually occurred in my case. Complainants are dissuaded when they don’t know what to expect or when to expect it. I hope the Council will provide oversight to OHR and encourage them to publish and follow clear rules for adjudicating language access complaints.

Prospective complainants are also dissuaded because decisions are not enforced. In my case, DHS has until the end of May to undertake corrective actions. While I realize that OHR has limited enforcement powers, and I am in full support of the previous witnesses’ recommendation for appeal rights and a private right of action for language access violations, I am concerned that OHR is not even encouraging DHS to comply with its decision. OHR has a role defined by the Language Access Act: to “provide oversight, central coordination, and technical assistance to covered entities in their implementation” of the law and “ensure that the provision of services by covered entities meets acceptable standards.” My interactions with OHR staff leave me concerned that the language access program there is not providing sufficient agency-level services so that official procedures comply with the Language Access Act. Instead, the program seems focused more on resolving individual issues, and doing so in such a way that they are often not formally docketed as complaints. These informally resolved matters are not required to be reported by agencies, and do not lead to the systemic change the Act was designed to accomplish.

The Language Access Act is remarkable; it makes the lives of countless District residents easier every day. The Council shou
ld be commended for passing it. I hope you will continue to work with OHR to make sure that it is properly enforced.

Thank you.

Postscript: We have had good feedback from OHR after the hearing and I hope they will work with DHS to make sure these corrective actions are completed, so that Mr. M’s victory will be even more meaningful.

Federal Nutrition Programs 101

This post is the second in a series from Bread for the City intern Allison Burket exploring the basics of food, hunger, and politics in the District.


As I explored in my previous post, hunger and food insecurity are realities for a startling number of DC residents. Not surprisingly, the ranks have grown in the wake of our economic crisis, and our federal safety net has played an essential part in making sure families can put food on the table during tough times. For that reason, an important piece of building a more food secure DC is making sure eligible DC residents are accessing these programs and that those participants have healthy and affordable options within reach.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the food stamp program, provides food assistance to low-income households across the country. Families and individuals receive monthly benefits on an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card that acts like a debit card and can be used in most grocery stores and retailers to buy food items (excluding alcoholic beverages, household supplies, and prepared meals).

By far the largest of the federal nutrition programs, over 42.9 million Americans received benefits in September 2010, including 128,759 in the District, with average monthly benefits of about $100 per person or about $227 per household around the country. Until recently, all families and individuals with less than 130% of the poverty level in monthly income could apply, as long as they had less than $2,000 in their bank account. “The Food Stamp Expansion Act,” implemented last spring, raised eligibility for DC residents to 200% of the poverty level ($21,600 a year for a one-person household and $44,100 a year for a household of four) and eliminated the $2,000 asset cap. (To apply for SNAP in DC, visit your nearest Income Maintenance Administration office. To find out which service center to go to, call 202-698-3900.)

Healthy Affordable Food For All: DC Food Finder
Uploaded with Skitch!

Several federal programs focus on ensuring that children receive the nutrition they need to support healthy growth, brain development, and eating habits for life. First, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (commonly known as WIC), is a preventative program designed to ensure adequate and consistent nutrition for pregnant women, new mothers, babies and children up to age 5. Participants (17,000 in the District this month) receive vouchers through local WIC clinics to buy healthy foods. Nutritional counseling, health screening and referrals, and other nutrition services are available at local clinics through this program. WIC is funded federally and administered locally through the Community Health Administration of the DC Department of Health.

Millions of kids elementary age and older count on meals served in school as their most reliable daily meal. The National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs are another pair of federally funded child nutrition programs designed to ensure students have enough food in their bellies to focus and thrive at school. Through the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), schools are reimbursed for offering meal options that meet certain federal nutrition standards. Participating schools are required to offer free and reduced-price meals to low-income children and to implement wellness policies that promote healthy school environments. These requirements and federal nutrition standards were recently updated as part of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which also added 6 cents per meal to the level of funding schools receive. In DC, the groundbreaking Healthy Schools Act takes a number of steps to promote better school meals – offering free school breakfast for all students, incentivizing healthier meals, supporting farm to school programs, and more.

Kids can also receive meals at child care and child development centers through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). In DC, all child development centers must serve snacks and supper options that meet certain meal quality standards, or must require that families bring meals that comply with those standards. The CACFP program also funds meals for elderly or functionally-impaired adults at adult care centers.

Beyond CACFP, a collection of additional programs support seniors and persons with disabilities. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) provides eligible seniors with a monthly food package, and the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) offers eligible seniors $30 in coupons to purchase fresh fruits and veggies at farmer’s markets. Other programs such as Meals with Friends, which offers group meals for seniors at local wellness centers, and Homebound Meals are DC-specific programs administered by the DC Office on Aging.

Beyond the Benefits

The good news for the District is that not only do these federal benefits protect families from the detrimental impacts of hunger and undernutrition, but they bring in funds that then recirculate in DC’s economy. According to Moody’s Analytics, every $1 of SNAP benefits spent in the community generates $1.85 in local economic activity. Unfortunately, this means when eligible households are not receiving their entitled benefits, DC misses out twice. As of fall 2009, approximately 18,500 eligible individuals were not enrolled in SNAP. For some, language access is a barrier; many others don’t know that they are eligible, have trouble navigating IMA, or don’t think the benefits are worth the time it takes to apply and recertify.

Ensuring sufficient access to these programs is the work of organizations like DC Hunger Solutions, whose report How to Get Food in DC outlines in plain language
who is eligible for what program and what you have to do to apply. (DC Hunger Solutions also provides print copies of this report – call (202) 986-2200 ext. 3041) The DC Food Finder, a project of several different organizations, includes information on how and where to access and apply for your federal benefits, as well as a searchable map of affordable food options.

Making sure these federal programs guarantee access to healthy and nutritious foods is another story, however. Are the meals that are served truly healthy and nutritious? Can SNAP and WIC benefits be used at farmers markets and grocery stores? How can the DC government improve these programs? Where do we start administratively or legislatively to support a food secure DC? Join me next time to find out!

Hope for the Holidays

This holiday message comes from Patty Anne, a member of Bread for the City’s Client Advisory Board. You can see Patty Anne fighting for her rights in this video from Empower DC.

It’s the holiday season and although again this year I don’t have a lot, I’m grateful to have a roof over my head and my daughter Kerryn, who has been by my side through all the tough times. She’s the reason I’m here today.

I was in an abusive relationship, and I got out of it because I knew I was pregnant. I know some people will stick with a person and take what they can get. My husband had money, he had nice cars, but underneath he was abusive – I didn’t want that for my daughter. So I chose to walk away.

Even after all the troubles with my crazy landlords, having to be homeless for a little while, getting sick from mold in the places we were living, having to move from house to house, I don’t regret my decision. But sometimes it’s hard, knowing that Kerryn doesn’t have what other kids have, knowing she deserves better. I wish I were a millionaire so I could give her it all, but I have what I have, and I am trying to make it work.

Last year when we moved, I had no money to buy her gifts, and Kerryn had no Christmas. There was no tree, there were no lights. She came down the stairs and I know she was looking for something. I just said “Kerryn, I am so sorry,” and she said, “It’s ok Mommy, it’ll be better next year.” Even though things were that way, she never complained. Some kids would get mad. Instead, when I cry, Kerryn will hug and kiss me and tell me it’s alright.

Now here we are at Christmastime again, and I get just $118 a month in Food Stamps, even though Kerryn has food allergies and needs more expensive foods. I’m disabled and on a fixed income, so I’m not sure I can even get her the basics, let alone a special holiday meal. And even as I struggle to put food on the table, the City Council is cutting the budget for programs like Interim Disability Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Some people in my situation would give up. Because I have Kerryn, I find hope when so many people are trying to take our hope away. She is on the Principal’s Honor Roll, and she was just voted Vice President of the student government. I am so proud of her, and I want so much to be a mother she can be proud of. I want to take care of her the way I know she deserves. She gives me joy and peace, and the strength to fight for my rights and make sure my voice is heard.

>Doubling farmers market dollars: food stamp benefits

>The District’s food stamp eligibility rules changed recently, making thousands of households whose income is between 133% and 200% of the Federal Poverty Level newly eligible for benefits.

Bread for the City’s legal clinic interns Zila McDowell, Bryan Evans, and Carrie Johnson recently called the 151 food pantry clients who reported incomes in this range. The clients’ eligibility for benefits depends on several additional factors: their household size, income source (a job versus disability benefits and other unearned income), and certain household expenses. Based on the information they gave us, some of these clients became eligible for food stamps when the changes went into effect.

The interns helped interested clients complete a food stamp estimator, giving them a sense of the level of benefits for which they’d qualify. Carrie says, “clients I called were excited about the change in the food stamp program. Some only qualified for $16 [the minimum monthly benefit for 1- and 2-person households], but they still said ‘something is better than nothing…. I’ll take what I can get.’”

Even $16 in food stamps will stretch a little farther this summer thanks to FreshFarms farmers’ market’s “Double Dollars” program. We covered this program last summer and are pleased to report that this year it’s expanded from one to three farmers’ markets in the District (plus the Saturday market in Silver Spring):

  • 200 Independence Avenue SW on Wednesdays from 2:30-6:30pm

 

 

  • 810 Vermont Avenue, NW on Thursdays from 3-7pm

 

 

  • 625 H Street NE on Saturdays from 9am-noon

 

Food stamp recipients who visit these markets can make up to a $10 charge on their EBT cards, and get twice the value of their charge in tokens to buy food at the market. (Several other markets take EBT cards and the $25 in “Get Fresh” checks provided to WIC and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program recipients, but are not currently participating in double-dollar promotions. A new market at Howard University Hospital is also taking WIC and senior vouchers.)

According to Carrie, “Mr. P was incredibly excited about the farmers’ market double-dollars program. He was excited about being able to buy fresh produce in an open air market.” We’re glad that DC food stamp recipients can now extend their food budgets and access more nutritious, locally-grown food…and happy to have interns who help us share this good news with our clients!