Speaking of Nebraska: Hunger in Nebraska

Speaking of Nebraska: Hunger in Nebraska


(dramatic music) MIKE TOBIAS: More than 200,000
Nebraskans need help from places like food banks
to put food on the table. We’ll talk about hunger
in Nebraska today on Speaking of Nebraska. (light upbeat music) MIKE TOBIAS:
Welcome to Speaking of Nebraska. I’m Mike Tobias. Each week through
early June we’re here to talk about issues
facing our state. We’ll also share a bit
of Nebraska history. Groups who help feed the hungry use the term food insecurity. If you’re food insecure,
that means you don’t have consistent access
to adequate food because of a lack of
money or other resources. In other words, you’re
struggling to avoid hunger. The new report from
Feeding America, a national food bank network, says more than 12% of
Nebraskans are food insecure. It’s a little lower than
the national rate of 13.4%, and about the same as most
of our neighboring states. The problem exists
at varying levels in every Nebraska
county, but is highest in Thurston, Blaine, and Brown, all with food insecurity
rates higher than 14%. To put a face to these numbers, we visited the
Lincoln Food Bank. These apples came to
the Lincoln Food Bank from a nationwide network. Here, they’re bagged by
volunteers and sent out to different
agencies and programs in 16 Southeastern
Nebraska counties for distribution to
folks who need them. Whether it’s apples,
bread, canned goods, a lot of food
passes through here, about 10 million
pounds last year, enough for almost
10 million meals. It comes here from
a lot of places, like the USDA,
farms, supermarkets, and local food drives. It ends up on the tables
of some of the more than 230,000 so-called food
insecure Nebraskans who don’t have regular
access to adequate food, often because they
don’t have enough money. Lorraine Maddox is one of them. She has a full-time
customer service job, but as a single mom
with three teenagers, including one with a
significant medical issue, it isn’t easy to make ends meet. LORRAINE MADDOX: I definitely
have weeks when I’m writing that budget
that I think, “Okay, where is it going
to stretch this week? “Where am I going to
go to get the fillers?” You’re paying the bills,
barely paying the bills, and extras, and
summertime is always hard. When the kids are out
on vacation it’s hard because they get free or
reduced lunches at school, and all of a sudden
you have three months where there’s no provided
breakfast or lunch. All of a sudden you
have extra people who you have to account for, for two more meals in the day. It makes it rough. I would say during
the school year, you can afford a little
more fruits and vegetables. Eating healthy is
always a struggle, because it’s expensive. During the summer
there’s a lot more peanut butter, and
bologna, and whatever. It doesn’t always mean
that just three meals are healthy meals,
or affordable meals. We’ve done the
backpack programs, and they definitely
have been helpful. We’ve gone, I think, to a
couple of the church pantries, and we’ve done that. Their dad steps up
often, so I don’t have to as much as I know
some families do. I have friends who definitely
struggle way worse. It’s definitely a daily part, or a weekly part of their
routine, is needing to go. I’m grateful that
there’s those programs and that they’re there
when you need them. MIKE TOBIAS: Joining
us now to talk more about this are Food Bank of Lincoln
Executive Director Scott Young and Ryan Bailey who’s
from Blue Valley Community Action in Fairbury. Both folks who in different ways are involved in feeding
the hungry in Nebraska. The food bank, as we saw in
the piece that led into this, is a place that brings
in food and then distributes it places
like Blue Valley. RYAN BAILEY: Yes. TOBIAS: Thank you for
talking to us. SCOTT YOUNG: You bet, Mike. BAILEY: Thank you. TOBIAS: I want to start out and
talk about who people are that fall into this
food insecure category. We heard Lorraine’s
story going in. That’s an interesting
story because it’s probably not the sort of person
that your average Nebraskan would say that’s somebody
who deals with hunger issues. One thing we didn’t
note in the piece is that she’s at this
level that doesn’t qualify for really any federal aid
except for a little bit because she has
a child with some significant medical issues. That’s about 40% of Nebraskans. SCOTT YOUNG: Food Stamp
program is one that would be helpful to Lorraine,
except it’s based on the poverty level set and
designed back in the 1960’s during the Lyndon Baines
Johnson administration, and it really hasn’t moved,
but a lot of other things have moved since then. The poverty level
is very low based on what the federal and
state guidelines are. But it’s still used, and so
people have that cliff effect where if they make just a
little bit too much money they lose all their benefits. Lorraine is a good
example of that. But she’s growing
in her position and has some stability
in her life now, thanks to a number
of things that have come together for her. But it’s still a
continuous struggle. TOBIAS: When you see food
insecure in the Fairbury area and the counties that you
serve, what does it look like, and who are some of the
people you work with? RYAN BAILEY:
It looks a lot like Lorraine. It’s surprising that
in the recent past it has changed a lot. Many people are literally
one paycheck away from complete disaster. So if you have somebody
who breaks a leg and doesn’t have insurance
and is off work for six weeks, there’s that missing
income for six weeks, and then another
couple weeks after that by the time they get back. What we see are folks who
are genuinely working, working hard, working overtime, who do not have enough
money to pay the rent at the end of the month or
buy food for their kids. We see people coming
in all the time with that choice to make. Do we pay? Do we keep the lights on? Do we pay the rent? Or do we feed our children? We don’t want that to happen. We want to fill that gap. So when people come
in and ask for food, that’s usually what we’re doing. Most of the people we serve
are working Nebraskans who are just
struggling to get by. TOBIAS: Talk about the number
of people you serve. BAILEY: It varies. We have a nine
county service area. So between our food pantries
and the Feeding America food and the food that we
get from the food bank, like extra produce
and things like that, during a typical year
it’s usually around 3,000 individual households. Now some of those
households come every week, some of them once a month. So that’s the
unduplicated number. But the amount of
folks that we see, that’s typically
around that 3,000 mark. TOBIAS: For the larger
number of counties, I believe 16 that the Food
Bank of Lincoln serves, you deal with how many people? YOUNG: Our last Hunger in
America research, Mike, showed us that we
were feeding about 8,700 different
people each week, and over 80,000 each year. That is in our 16 county service
area in Southeast Nebraska. That’s a fairly
conservative number. Our child hunger programs
are serving around 4,500 to 5,000 families each
month during the school year. That falls off the table
during the summer months when things become
so disorganized. But there are tens of
thousands of people who are receiving food
assistance from folks like the Blue Valley
Community Action Agency and the food bank’s agencies, and our school partners as well. TOBIAS: I attempted to define
the term going into this, food insecurity. But what does that mean to you and how should people
think about that? YOUNG: There’s a spectrum
of all of this work that Ryan sees at Blue Valley, and we see it at the
Food Bank of Lincoln. There are people who are
going from day to day without knowing where their
next meal is coming from. We have community
kitchens and agencies that serve that population. We have working
families in Nebraska who are just ending up with
more month than there is money and might need a
little extra assistance during the end of the month. We have seniors
on a fixed income who don’t come close any month, but due to pride issues
and things like that for Nebraskans,
they struggle to get enough good on their tables,
which affects health. Hunger is a health issue
as well as a poverty issue. Poverty’s making people
sick in our state and across America. We have that spectrum
of hunger that we serve from the desperately
hungry to the, we need a little extra support
at the end of the month. TOBIAS: One of
the statistics that was also part of this report
that’s just been released in the last couple
weeks talks about budget shortfall for
food insecure Nebraskans. That number is $16.38 per week. What does that mean? YOUNG: To me,
Mike, it means that people
are short of some meals. They are supplying
most of their own meals for themselves, the
average Nebraskan who’s struggling with
poverty and hunger issues. They’re supplying most
of the meals themselves. That would be the
working family, the single mom with
a couple of kids. But there’s like a $16
and change shortfall. That means maybe three
or four meals a week that a family might be short. These are all statistics
that are thrown together into a big jug and
then out they come. So it does vary from
household to household. But it just means that
there are meal shortages. A lot of parents
anecdotally skip meals so that their kids can eat. Those types of stories come
to the Food Bank all the time. There are money resources
that people need, but there are also support
systems that they need, emotional support systems that
they need, social network. Money is the number one thing, but there are a lot of resources that people are short of, and that causes a
lot of struggling. MIKE TOBIAS: Same thing, Ryan? RYAN BAILEY: Yes, absolutely. I hear a lot of parents who,
they have foregone their meals so that their children can eat. Sometimes those meals may not
seem like the most nutritious, but it’s just something
in the kids’ bellies. Soup, ramen noodles, things
like that, that are cheap, but they can go a
little bit of a distance and feed at least a meal. Yep, see that all the time. TOBIAS: Let’s talk a
little more about the scope of the
problem in Nebraska, and especially in the
areas that you serve. Are there any groups,
any types of populations, that are more
particularly vulnerable to being food insecure? BAILEY: Well,
definitely the seniors. Most seniors are
on a fixed income. We have found that that income, now with medical
costs and Medicare and things like that that
a lot of seniors face, there’s not enough
money to go around. So that is a very
vulnerable population because of what you
talked about earlier. They are just right at the cusp, or in the gap area where
they’re not eligible for other benefits like
food stamps or SNAP. Luckily, we have a commodity
supplemental food program that is for seniors
over the age of 60. So that food provides
some supplemental food for a couple months for
those folks to get through so that they can eat that month. There are seniors that come
back and tell the staff, “Without this I
would not have eaten, “and this is the only
thing that allows me “to stretch my money
and make sure that “throughout this month
I’m going to have food.” You hear that from them,
and it’s heartbreaking, but it’s very humbling. Those are the people
that should not have to be in that position. YOUNG: I would also say, mike,
that a big issue in Nebraska and across America is
single-parent households. In Lancaster County, in Lincoln
where our home office is, approximately a third of the
babies born in Lancaster County are born into
single-parent households. America is set up
right now to extract all the income it can out of
a double income household, like my wife and I were
fortunate enough to have. My kids were most
fortunate for that reason. But a single mom or a single dad with a couple of kids
in the household, they’re just not going to
make it in a lot of instances because of wage challenges,
low income jobs, working poor. Single parents, single-parent
households is a huge issue in Lincoln, and in Nebraska,
and across America. I think the number
of babies born into single-parent
households nationally is inching toward 50%. That’s kind of a
crisis, I think, in terms of the
income distribution and the wealth
distribution in America. TOBIAS: One other statistic. While Nebraska’s food
insecurity rate’s around, I think,
12.3%, as we discussed, for children it’s 18%. Why is it so much higher? YOUNG: It’s a lot of
math, is what it is. You take Lorraine,
the single parent with three children
in her household. It’s just the number of
children that people have. Children are always the
highest percentage of poverty in any poverty measure. It’s almost one in five. That number is down a little bit than it was from last year. But when we think about
one in five or six kids in the state of
Nebraska being hungry, we’ve got a real
challenge on our hands in terms of how are those kids going to be able to
show up, go to school, be ready to learn, be ready
to behave appropriately, and have hope. Kids that are struggling
with poverty issues are also struggling with a
lack of hope, I would say. Michelle Obama said in one
of her farewell addresses about hope inspiring hard work. That’s why a lot of people
are able to work hard, because of the hope they have. If they are in what they
feel is a hopeless situation, then working hard becomes
a lot more difficult. Ryan touched on this. These are hard
working folks who are, many of them are working
more than one job just to try and get to
the end of the month. That’s not really an ideal
situation for anybody. TOBIAS: Scott, you’ve been
working on this issue for about 15 years,
I think you said. Ryan, you’ve been working
on it for 18 years at Blue Valley Community Action. Talk a little bit
about what you’ve seen over the years in
terms of how this issue is getting better or
worse, how it’s changing. BAILEY: I think the issue has
definitely gotten worse. It has changed over the years. It’s just amazing to
me how the economy has really affected us. It seemed like it
affected us later, the downturn in economy
that the rest of the nation saw several years ago. It came to us later in the
rural areas, it felt like. What we’re seeing is more
people who are working, who previously could
pay their bills, could pay for their insurance. With all the insurance
changes, that really put a lot of families
at a disadvantage. They could pay their bills. They might just been squeaking
by, but they could do it. Now with the changes,
perhaps their hours got cut, or they got laid off. Or they’re still
working the same job, but their insurance cost
premiums doubled each month. We’re seeing people who are
putting forth the effort, who are doing everything right, everything they’re
supposed to be doing, and just not being
able to make ends meet. I just see so much more
of that than I did. TOBIAS: Not surprising that you
would see peaks and valleys. BAILEY: Yes. TOBIAS: Based on economic
changes. Also right now we’re
seeing a valley in terms of farm income. YOUNG: Yeah. TOBIAS: You’re probably seeing
some impact of that. TOBIAS: We are, Mike. This is a weird anecdote,
but when I started at the Food Bank we had a
lot of posters up that said, “1 in 10 children are
struggling with hunger.” Now it’s one in five or six. A lot of that has to
do with increased gap between what the CEO
is making at a company and what the laborer is making. Wages have been
stagnant or worse for the past 10,
15, or 20 years, while the cost of
everything is going up, including CEO pay. I think this income
inequality issue, which a lot of people
are talking about, but it’s a difficult
thing to tackle, the income inequality
thing has really spiked during this century, since 2001, when I started at the food bank. As long as that
continues to be the case, as we think about
various budget cuts that we’re hearing
about that are going to impact the poor in
pretty profound ways, the more people are
going to struggle. TOBIAS: One of those that we
were going to talk about, and this is very preliminary
in terms of the federal budget, and what’s being proposed. Obviously, it hasn’t gone
through Congress yet. But there is a
proposal out there that would heavily cut programs, the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program, which provides food stamps,
that could potentially be cut by $193 billion
over a 10-year period. Talk a little bit
about, as you see that, what kind of impact
that would have. RYAN BAILEY: Well, it’s
going to make a huge impact. People who, like
I’ve been saying, have just been getting
by with the help of these supplemental programs, are going to be out. They’re not going to have these
resources to fall back on. With the budget the way that
it is now, if it goes through, our Community Action
budget has been zeroed out. Our community service block
grant has been zeroed out. Now, that is our core funding, and I’m not sure
what will happen. But if we don’t have that,
then I don’t know how our Community Action
Agencies will survive. We have an office
in every county, as do most community
action agencies. We are the front line staff. We see the people
as they come in, and we assess their
needs, the food, rent, utilities, weatherization, things that they need
emergency and right now. Without the budget to do
it, I think a lot of folks are going to be at a
great, great disadvantage, especially in the rural areas, where oftentimes we are
the only game in town. It is our agency,
and that is it. So I am concerned. It will make a big impact. SCOTT YOUNG: That’ll
be a crisis for the Food Bank if Blue Valley Community
Action and all of our entities, particularly in the
rural communities, are hurt by budget cuts. That’ll damage our
ability to distribute food to low income people. I read an article
this morning that said 174,000 Nebraskans
might be affected by those SNAP cuts, for example. That’s the third largest
city in the state of Nebraska that might be
negatively affected by that kind of budget cut. A lot of anxiety out there. We try not to let us get to us. But, at the same time, we’re
going to do what we do, as best we can. But the SNAP cuts, the welfare
cuts, the Medicaid cuts, all these things are going to
affect the people we serve. TOBIAS: Let’s talk broadly
about how you solve hunger in the couple minutes
that we’ve got left here. There’s a program
that, for instance, Lorraine was going through that, in addition to getting
some food assistance, which she has some
ability to do, there’s also some
work you’re doing to help her get out
of that situation. YOUNG: Lorraine is one of
our graduates of the Getting Ahead in a
Just Getting By World program at the Food
Bank of Lincoln, which is a program where people examine and
investigate their lives and try and find some ways
to build their resources. We don’t tell them how
they need to change. They tell us how they can
build their resources, and we help them look at the
resources they don’t have and how they might secure
a more stable life. TOBIAS: What else do you
think we need to do? BAILEY: Well, I think
education in the community is a big thing as well. I think that there’s
a stigma, oftentimes, for folks who utilize the
services and who come to us. So some more education
throughout the community so that perhaps
there’s other resources that we’re not aware of. Partnering with
these folks may help be able to provide these
services even more. Our main thing is
getting a hand up. If we can help people,
if giving them some food is going to allow
them to pay for the tires that they
need to get to work, the 30 miles they have
to drive to the factory, then it all adds up
and it all makes sense. If we can keep doing
that, then we just do it one day at a time,
one family at a time. TOBIAS: Final
thoughts, 30 seconds. YOUNG: Two minutes to solve
hunger, Mike, come on. I think what Ryan has
said is exactly right. We need to think kindly of
people who are struggling. We need to know that
all Nebraskans deserve, if they’re working, they
deserve to be able to pay their rent, pay
their medical bills, make their car payments,
and to live a healthy life. That’s what we would
want for all Nebraskans, not for 87% of Nebraskans. I think that would
be our message, Mike. TOBIAS: Scott Young from
the Lincoln Food Bank, Ryan Bailey from Blue Value
Community Action in Fairbury. Thank you both very
much for joining us. BAILEY: Thank you. YOUNG: Thanks, Mike. TOBIAS: Well, here’s what my
colleagues at NET News have been working on. Ben Bohall talked with
a University of Nebraska at Omaha professor
who’s been studying ISIS and the unique
organizational structure of this terrorist group. Next week, Fred Knapp
travels to O’Neill to cover the Public
Service Commission’s latest public hearing
on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. You can listen to or read
all of our signature stories at netNebraska.org/news, and connect with NET
News and our journalists on Facebook and Twitter. Well, for a number of
years, NET has been a partner station for
Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration
focused on the issues of food, fuel, and field. A lot of F’s in there Grant. Grant Gerlock is our Harvest
Public Media reporter here from NET. Want to talk a little bit
first, what is Harvest? What do you do? GRANT GERLOCK: Well, Harvest
is a reporting partnership that includes NET in Nebraska, and a few other stations
across the plains and Midwest. A station in Greeley, Colorado, a network in Iowa, station
in Columbia, Missouri, Kansas City. We all share radio
stories, web stories, and videos that we make around those kinds of ag issues
that you referenced, field, fuel, as in biofuels,
and food, food production. We’ve also branched out to cover more important rural issues
that affect our region. What we’ve found
is that even though we’re reporting those stories
from our own locations in Lincoln, or across
Nebraska, or across Colorado, so many of those issues we have
in common across the region. So we’re able to
share those stories, and really kind of multiply
the reporting power that each one of
these stations has. TOBIAS: Really, a series of
subjects that for the most part maybe are under-covered. GERLOCK: That was definitely
one of the reasons that the partnership was
set up, is to make sure that as stations in the
middle of the country, that we are telling
the stories from areas that a lot of big media
companies aren’t getting to. Well, these are the
stories in our backyard. We want to make sure that
we’re there telling them. TOBIAS: Been doing some
really good work lately on federal policy and ag policy and different things
that are being proposed. One story that you just
have had on in the last week dealt with some
changes at the USDA in terms of rural programs. Talk about that. GERLOCK: Well, the USDA
does a lot of work, obviously, on food policy, food stamps
as we were hearing about, farm programs that
farmers deal with. They also do a lot of work
directly in rural communities, helping from everything from
building community centers to starting small businesses. Most of those types of programs that are in rural
communities are within the Office of Rural Development. As part of almost an
agency-wide shakeup, the US Department of Agriculture is changing
where that department
lives within the USDA. It’s a little bit of a
bureaucratic switcheroo. But it could end up having
a big impact on the ground. They’re getting
rid of the person in charge of that Office
of Rural Development, which is called an
undersecretary at the USDA. They’re putting that within
the Ag Secretary’s office, and the person in
charge of it will report directly to the Ag Secretary. The reason that could
be important is because those departments that
have an undersecretary are in the room when
big decisions are made about how money is going
to be spent at USDA, what’s going to be on
the top of the agenda for how they work
in rural areas. Agencies in Nebraska
and across the Midwest who work a lot on those
rural development issues are concerned that there
will be less attention paid to those small
towns that count on the loans and the
grants that help rebuild rural infrastructure
and make investments in those small communities. TOBIAS: More than just a title
change and a structural change. There’s some concern
about the impact of this. GERLOCK:
You know, the Ag Secretary,
he’s new there, Sonny Perdue. He is a former governor
of Georgia, says that the person in charge
of Rural Development will be right
outside his office, can come in any time
and pitch ideas. But he’s a guy with
a lot on his plate. So that’s the question
moving forward. He says, “Judge me
by the results.” Well, that will be
what we’ll be watching, what a lot of those
organizations will be watching, is what are the results? Are they still doing
the work in rural areas? Or are they getting left behind. A reason that is
important in rural areas is not just because they
need that assistance, but Trump, President
Donald Trump, got a lot of support
from those rural areas. He’s the reason Sonny
Perdue is in that job. One thing that rural
voters often said was that we feel like
we’re left behind by the federal government, that urban areas recovered
from the economic recession faster than we did, and
we’re falling behind. We need more help catching up. We’ll see if that help
will be there or not. TOBIAS:
Okay, a few seconds left. I know you’ve been
doing a lot of work on trade agreements, there
are some other things. Two stories that you’re
working on this summer. GERLOCK: Two stories, okay. We’re going to be closely
watching what happens with trade agreements
like NAFTA. Farmers are very
interested to see where the administration
moves forward on that. I’ll also be watching
and looking more at the economic issues
in rural areas, how farmers are being
affected in small towns. TOBIAS:
Okay, great, thanks a lot. You can check out all
the stories from Grant and the other Harvest
Public Media journalists at HarvestPublicMedia.org. Well, fossils connect
Nebraska geographically, but also to our past. A look at our state’s
rich fossil history in this Nebraska 150 moment. (light music) NARRATOR: Nebraska’s
rich fossil history connects the state’s panhandle to
South Dakota’s Black Hills. It also connects us
to our ancient past. Nebraska is known to have an
abundant source of fossils beneath its vast landscape. Experience the
wonders of Nebraska’s ancient animals, plants,
and microorganisms at several sites throughout
our state, Toadstool Park, Hudson Ming Bison Education
and Research Center, and the Fort Robinson State
Park Trailside Museum, all near Crawford. Agate Fossil Beds National
Monument near Harrison, and the Scotts Bluff
National Monument and Wildcat Hills
State Recreation Area near Scottsbluff/Gering. (light music) TOBIAS: Well,
that’s all for this edition
of Speaking of Nebraska. Next week we’ll talk about
the University of Nebraska with President Hank Bounds. Thanks for joining us. Goodnight. (light upbeat music)

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