Monday, May 19, 2008

Rising Food Costs Pose Increased Threat to Seniors, Students

Vulnerable populations, including low-income children and seniors, are the hardest hit by economic crisis.

Many seniors have recently found that Social Security is no longer enough to cover their food expenses. “It’s a damn shame,” said Mary Hood, 89, who relies on Haber House Senior Center in Coney Island for many of her meals. “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer…Sometimes I run out of money before the end of the month.” Conditions are similar for Clara Stock, 82, who receives $1,100 in social security a month, which she uses to pay rent, utilities, and $200 in medication through Medicare Part D. “I just want to tell the truth about what is going on,” said Stock. “The most I eat is here at Haber House. And only what I need very, very much, do I buy.” This frustration is compounded by recent strains on emergency food programs, which have forced many programs to scale back the number of meals they serve. Local chapters of Meals on Wheels, a free food delivery service for seniors, have been hit hard by both rising gas costs and food prices, forcing four out of ten local chapters to relegate new customers to waiting lists.

Rising food costs have also threatened the quality of school nutrition programs, as the cost of milk and eggs has outpaced even the overall rate of food inflation. For large school districts an increase of several cents on staple items is anything but trivial. "For every penny on a carton of milk, it costs me $30,000 a year," said Lynnelle Grumbles, food service director at Visalia Unified School District in central California. The federal government offers reimbursement for school meals based on conformity to nutrition guidelines and the income of students within the district. For students whose families earn less than $27,000, thus qualifying for free meals, the government reimbursement rate is $2.47 cents. But many school districts are reporting they are now losing money by serving free meals that comply with government standards. “The declining federal adjustment in school nutrition programs has made it harder and harder for schools to provide healthy and nutritious meals that children want to eat," said California Representative George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

The House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will meet in July to discuss adjustments to federal school lunch reimbursements for the upcoming school year.

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