December Trends

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Trends and Transitions: December 2009



Making Fresh Food a SNAP

The federal government spent more than $34 billion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, for 28 million people in 2008. And a new report says half of all American kids will live in families receiving food stamps at some time before they are 20 years old. One logical outlet to purchase healthy food—farmers’ markets—is often out-of-reach for SNAP recipients, however. These markets, which provide fresh fruits and vegetables from local farms, often are not able to accept the credit-card like electronic benefits transfer card used to make SNAP purchases.
Farmers’ markets, once an anomaly in many regions, have seen a renaissance in the past 15 years, from a total of 1,755 in 1994 to almost 5,300 in 2008. But low-income populations that suffer from a lack of nutritional food and related health conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, often cannot afford to buy the fresh produce at such markets.

This year, lawmakers in nine states and Washington, D.C., debated legislation to add credit card terminals at farmers’ markets to help SNAP recipients. Indiana, Vermont and Washington passed such measures.

Washington allocated $600,000 for 2010 and 2011 in part to help farmers obtain terminals to process electronic benefits transactions at markets. Indiana and Vermont also enacted laws that require the state to help in purchasing and financing the associated costs of having a terminal to process SNAP cards.

Markets can have a central booth to run an electronic benefits transfer card and then provide tokens or a receipt. The preferred option for vendors and shoppers, however, is to have a terminal at every stand, which is more expensive but has proved more successful in getting SNAP recipients to buy produce.

SNAP users can create a new supply of customers for local farmers. At one market in Pennsylvania, providing each vendor with a card terminal increased their sales to SNAP card holders by between 74 percent and more than 200 percent.
As part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative, $800,000 has been granted to states to use on electronic benefits projects at farmers’ markets.

 Child Nutrition and WIC Programs Renewed

Congress reauthorized Child Nutrition and WIC programs in October. Included were school breakfast and lunch, summer nutrition and after-school nutrition programs, food programs in child and adult day care, as well as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). These programs alleviate hunger and help millions of poor children go to school more ready to learn.

The current difficult economy increases the need for food assistance and makes maintaining the federal financial commitment to child nutrition imperative to states. In addition, the reauthorization provides an opportunity to improve the nutritional quality of school food by updating the USDA standards and applying them beyond the school cafeteria and throughout the school day.

Efforts to improve nutritional quality are welcome if they create a minimum standard but don’t preempt high quality school nutrition rules already in place in a number of states or additional state efforts to improve school food quality. 

Who Wants to Be a Juror?

Finding enough people to serve on a jury always has been a problem. Now the economy is making it even harder to fill a jury box. Only three states require employers to pay workers who are on jury duty. And no one ever got rich serving on a jury. The daily pay in most states is modest, ranging from $4 to $50. The average is just $21.

The result? More potential jurors are asking to be excused because it will cause them an economic hardship. Many workers also fear missing work might cost them their jobs and are ignoring their jury summons.

Some courts have had to increase the number of people they summon because the percentage of no-shows is growing. Without a sufficient pool, cases might have to be postponed or even dismissed. When criminal charges are involved, some judges are determined not to let that happen.

In two recent criminal cases in Colorado and Vermont, not enough summoned jurors reported for duty. Rather than dismissing the charges, the judges issued orders for emergency jury summons to local residents who were of legal age and not exempt by law. Police went to local businesses and handed out the summons to surprised citizens who dutifully reported to the courthouses. Juries were selected, and the cases proceeded.

States are looking at a variety of ways to make sure the wheels of justice continue to turn. More than 200 bills relating to juries were introduced in 2009 legislative sessions, and more than 40 laws were enacted. North Dakota and Wyoming both increased their jury pay to $50 per day. California and Texas instituted harsher penalties for failing to report for jury duty. Alabama, Hawaii, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina and the District of Columbia passed laws to expand potential juror source lists 

Growing Economic Gardening

Tough fiscal times and a focus on local small business development have some states looking at alternatives to traditional economic development programs. One approach receiving renewed attention is economic gardening—encouraging local business growth through greater access to market information.

When most people hear “economic development,” they probably think of tax abatements and other financial assistance that legislators and governors use to lure large corporations, sometimes called “economic hunting,” into their state. The ongoing fiscal squeeze, however, may constrain the states’ use of this strategy in the near future. At the same time, states are eager to do something to spur their economies and create jobs.

Economic gardening provides local businesses already working in the state with market intelligence historically available only to large corporations. These businesses receive sophisticated reports on prices, industries, market trends, consumer behavior and preferences, as well as the location and performance of their competitors. This information, along with business strategy and mentor support, allows businesses to grow and expand their operations.

The first, and perhaps most successful, economic gardening program began in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., in 1987. Thousands of city residents had lost their jobs when an aerospace company announced massive layoffs. In-stead of offering incentives to lure new large companies to the community, the city council set out to work with local businesses to develop good jobs. The result of that focus was the country’s first economic gardening initiative. In the two decades since, the city has added 20,000 jobs, while sales tax revenues increased from $6.8 million to $19.6 million—all without the city spending a penny on business recruit-ment.

These impressive results have led a number of cities, and some states, to try their own hands at economic gardening in the last few years. The success of Littleton’s program, and the alternative it offers of a lower-cost, homegrown approach to development, may encourage even more states to test their own green thumbs.

We’re Feeling Better

Americans’ collective sense of well-being appears to be about back to where it was before the economic crash of more than a year ago, according to the Gallup and Healthways Well-Being Index. The recovery in well-being is apparent across all income and age groups, as well as throughout every region of the country.

The index is a comprehensive measure of Americans’ emotional, physical and fiscal health. It measures such things as job satisfaction, access to clean water and medicine, and having enough money for food, shelter and health care. It also measures feeling well-rested, having health insurance, being satisfied with one’s community, eating fruits and vegetables, exercising weekly and more. The index is calculated on a scale from 0 to 100. Gallup and Healthways launched the Well-Being Index in January 2008.