Category Archives: Government Programs

UN World Food Programme 101

UN World Food Programme

Are you guys enjoying the “101” series? I have learned a TON researching for these monthly posts giving a basic rundown of different government feeding programs. If you want to go back and check out the other entries in this series, see: SNAP (food stamps) 101, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) 101, and NSLP (school lunch program) 101.

This month we’re looking outside the U.S. at the biggest food relief program in the world – The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP).

The United Nations World Food Programme’s mission is to “Fight Hunger Worldwide.” From their website: “In emergencies, we get food to where it is needed, saving the lives of victims of war, civil conflict and natural disasters. After the cause of an emergency has passed, we use food to help communities rebuild their shattered lives.”

The WFP was founded in 1961. It was an American idea, and the United States has always been its biggest supporter, paying about 1/3 of the WFP’s annual cost. The other 2/3 are raised by donations from other governments around the world as well as corporate donors. The UN oversees the WFP but does not provide any of the funding.

There are 14,000 people around the world working for the WFP. They provide aid to about 80 million people per year in 75 countries. Much of the aid is in the form of emergency supplies in areas affected by man-made and natural disasters. They also teach farming skills and provide assistance to small farmers in developing nations.

This program, and foreign aid in general, are not without controversy. In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel, Kenyan economist James Shikwati said, “As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice.” Shikwati’s argument is that much of the foreign aid never gets to the people who need it. Instead, the capital is siphoned off by corrupt officials and used to bribe and control the population. Additionally, direct aid floods the market with free goods, driving down commodity prices to the point where local growers are pushed out of the market. Summed up and (undoubtedly) oversimplified, Shikwati’s argument is ‘give a man a fish and fishermen can’t make a living.’ Many respected economists, including Jeffrey D. Sachs of Columbia University, disagree with Shikwati’s assessment, but he raises an interesting argument.

Shikwati’s argument applies best to chronically impoverished developing nations with corrupt leadership. Many of the nations benefiting from the WFP are not always desperately poor. They need emergency assistance because corrupt régimes cut off and starved out segments of the population, invading armies damaged their food systems, or natural disasters devastated their land. The UN World Food Programme provides quick relief at places like refugee camps, where there is no local market to flood, and the aid is generally hand delivered to the population in need, not given to the potentially corrupt government officials who could use it to further their own agenda.

I’ll close with a quote from a man interviewed in “War and Hunger,” from the CBS network program 60 Minutes (Link below. I highly recommend watching the segment, it focuses on the WFP’s work in Syria, though it does contain some alarming and sad stories). The subject remained unnamed to protect his safety and the safety of his family:

“(Starvation) can destroy your soul, your mind, your beliefs, before it can destroy your body. Nobody in this world, no matter who he is, deserves to die from hunger. Nobody.”

Links to sources for more information, including the Shikwati interview, Sach’s rebuttal, and the 60 Minutes video segment:

UN World Food Programme

UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Der Spiegel interview with Kenyan economist James Shikwati (in English)

NY Times Article reacting to Shikwati’s Der Spiegel interview

Charity Navigator assessment of U.S. branch, WFP USA

“War and Hunger” 60 Minutes (CBS) video on WFP and Syrian refugees

National School Lunch Program 101

Lunch Program 101

Whether you and your kids attend(ed) public school, private school, or homeschool, I think we can all agree that it is a comfort to know a free basic education is the right of every child in America. Public schools in America offer more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. Counseling services, career guidance, and physical exercise are also offered up free of charge. Additionally, during the school day the kids are fed lunch. Like choosing private or homeschool instead of public, parents can choose to pack a lunch for their kids instead of taking the hot meal. And like the public school option, it is comforting to know that a free basic lunch is available to those who cannot otherwise afford to eat.

The United States federal government instituted the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 1946. The USDA website does a nice job describing what they do, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here is what they said:

Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School food authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.

Take a deep breath in, push aside the politics, and exhale. Here is the stone cold bottom line. For many kids in America, that free school lunch is the ONLY food they will get today. That’s sobering. Their bodies and minds are growing like weeds, and a bare bones cafeteria lunch provided by the government is the only thing they can count on.

There is a movement right now of chefs, nutritionists, moms, etc. who are working on improving the nutrient density of those cafeteria meals. I’m not going to go into detail on the movement, but I’m attaching a few resources from different perspectives so you can look into that and get involved if you’re so inclined.

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine – “Healthy School Lunches: National School Lunch Reform”
School Nutrition Association – The org representing the people who provide the food to the schools
Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver’s School Food Revolution
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign – dedicated to get kids more active as well as reforming school lunches

What I am going to do is give you the basic information on the NSLP, and information on how you can apply for free or reduced price lunches if your kids need them.

31 million American kids eat school cafeteria lunches each day (2012 statistic). Families with an income at or above 185% of the poverty level (over $43,568/year for a family of four) pay “full price” (the already subsidized price established by the school). Families below 130% of the poverty level (currently under $30,615/year for a family of four) receive free lunches. Families with an income in between the two get a reduced price. In 1966 the School Breakfast Program was added. The qualification process and income guidelines are the same for both programs, though not all schools offer breakfast.

The National School Lunch Program cost $11.6 billion in 2012, and the School Breakfast Program cost $3 billion (the breakfast program has fewer participants). Both are funded and administered by the federal government. For more information on these programs, visit the USDA Food and Nutrition Services site HERE. To apply for free or reduced price lunches for your kids, pick up an application form at their school or on the school’s website. The experience of getting lunch in the cafeteria on a given day is no different for the kids who get free/reduced price lunch than it is for the kids whose parents pay full price, so you don’t have to worry that your child will be singled out or embarrassed.

From the years when my husband served on the PTO board of J’s elementary school, I know that parents who can’t/don’t send lunch money and don’t apply for the free/reduced subsidy are a huge drain on the school. The school feeds the kids anyway, (how could they not?) but they are forced to eat the cost (no pun intended). So please, please, please, if you can’t afford school lunches for your kids, send a bag lunch or fill out the paperwork. Don’t leave our already strapped schools to pick up the check.

WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) 101

WIC 101

A couple weeks ago I posted about the American SNAP (food stamps) program. This week I’m going to give you a 101 look at another American government food program – WIC.

WIC is shorthand for The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It is a program which specifically targets expectant, postpartum (up to 6 months post birth), and nursing (up to one year) mothers, as well as infants and children up to their fifth birthday. Proper nutrition in the first years of life is vital for mental and physical development, and WIC strives to get low-income kids a solid nutritional start.

The primary objective of WIC is nutrition.  They recognize breastfeeding as the best option for infants and support nursing moms during their child’s first year. For moms who can’t or don’t nurse their babies (No judgment here – my tongue-tied baby couldn’t nurse. We all do the best we can…) or who nurse but supplement with formula, WIC provides a high iron formula. If a baby has special doctor-prescribed dietary needs, WIC may provide special formula as well. In addition to formula, WIC provides vouchers for specific food items. According to the FDA website on WIC, “WIC foods include infant cereal, iron-fortified adult cereal, vitamin C-rich fruit or vegetable juice, eggs, milk, cheese, peanut butter, dried and canned beans/peas, and canned fish. Soy-based beverages, tofu, fruits and vegetables, baby foods, whole-wheat bread, and other whole-grain options were recently added to better meet the nutritional needs of WIC participants.” In other words, WIC recipients don’t get an EBT card for any foods they want; they get a voucher specifically for milk, or cereal, etc. WIC moms also get nutritional education, and the kids in the program get health screenings and referrals to other programs as needed.

WIC benefits are given to women and children deemed “nutritionally at risk” who meet residency and income guidelines. The “at risk” tag can be because of low income, medical issues, or other nutritional deficiency. The income scale that determines eligibility for WIC is based on the number of people in a family. Because WIC is available only to those who qualify as “nutritionally at risk,” because it doesn’t provide as much per month as SNAP, and because it offers families more than just money, the qualification scale is more generous than some other programs. For example, a family of four can qualify for WIC with a household income as high as $43,568 per year – as long as pregnant, postpartum, or nursing mom or a kid under five is determined to be nutritionally at risk. Families with a low enough income to qualify for SNAP are automatically considered at risk and qualify for WIC.

The federal government provides grants to help the states, tribes, and territories pay for WIC, both food grants and the Nutrition Services and Administration grant. The combined total cost of those grants was just over $7 billion in 2012, but varies from year to year. It’s not an entitlement program, which means that congress does not set aside funds to make the program available to everyone who fits the income scale. Ninety state, tribal, and territorial agencies administer the program through a variety of clinics, offices, and mobile outreaches around the country. In 2012, 8.9 million people received WIC benefits, and the average cost per person (for the food benefits) was $44.98 per month.

WIC provides more than money for food.  The health screenings, nutritional education for moms, and the nutrition provided during the foundational years of birth to age five have long-term benefits to families. If you or someone you know is struggling to provide good nutrition for babies or young kids, either because of health issues, a lack of funds, or a lack of nutrition education, WIC is a good resource. The income requirements are wider, and families get food vouchers, baby formula (something not covered by SNAP), free health screenings, and education. For information about qualifying for WIC or to find your local WIC office, click HERE.

Most of the information for this post came from the USDA website. USDA is the administrator of the WIC program.

SNAP (food stamps) 101

SNAP 101

People have strong feelings about the American government’s food stamp program, SNAP. There are always calls for reform of the system, with some complaining that there are people who fall through the cracks while others complain of individuals abusing the system. Without getting involved in that debate, I want to give you a basic understanding of the program and how it works. I do not deny that there are abuses in the system, but that’s not the point of this post. I just want to give you an introduction to the American food stamp system. If you want to get involved in the debate elsewhere, this will give you some basic understanding.

SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP beneficiaries receive an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card that works like an ATM card with a PIN, but which can only be used to make approved nutrition purchases. The card replaced the old “stamps” or paper coupon system in all 50 states.

Over 46 million Americans receive some amount of assistance from the program each month (as of September 2014 – the number varies from month to month). Monthly support amounts vary depending on financial need and family makeup, but the average is just $133 per month. The program is paid for entirely by the federal government, but administered by the states. The administration costs are split 50-50 between the state and federal governments. The program cost the federal government $76.4 billion in 2013.

What you CAN buy with SNAP:
– Food for household consumption
(cereal, bread, fruits, veggies, meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products)
– Produce at the farmers market
– Seeds and seedlings for growing food

What you CAN’T buy with SNAP:
– Beer, wine, liquor
– Tobacco products
– Non-food items like pet food, personal hygiene items, and diapers
– Vitamins and medicines
– Foods that will be eaten in store
– Hot food (the idea is groceries, not restaurants)

To qualify, one must meet residency and income requirements, fill out an application, and be interviewed by a SNAP worker. The process varies a bit from state to state, but an application and more information can be found here.

Some sites I used to get the stats in this blog post: