Food Stamps

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Out of Prison — and Hungry

Aus Jarrar was released from an eleven-year prison sentence with $200. He's got an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor, but until he starts to earn a wage he's relying on charity food-- he doesn't qualify for food stamps.

Aous Jarrar was released from prison after an 11-year sentence with $200. He has an internship as a drug and alcohol counselor, but because he doesn’t qualify for food stamps, he is relying on charity food. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Editor’s note: For nearly two decades, people with drug-related felonies were banned for life from getting food stamps, but that’s all changing now. Starting April 15, thousands of former inmates will be eligible for food stamps and other public benefits.

Until then, how do you feed yourself when you get out of prison with no money and little help? As part of our health series Vital Signs, we hear from Aous Jarrar. He was recently released from prison after serving an 11-year sentence for bank robbery. Now, without food stamps, he’s one charity meal away from hunger. We caught up with him as he rushed around downtown Oakland looking for food.

By Aous Jarrar

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat? Continue reading

Cooking Class Shows Ex-Cons How to Shop and Cook on a Budget

Staff from Transitions Housing Clinic, a health center for former inmates, gathered in San Francisco to learn to cook on a budget with Chef Hollie Greene. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

Staff from the Transitions Clinic, a nationwide network of health clinics for former inmates, gathered in San Francisco to learn to cook on a budget. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

The chef has thrown down the challenge. There are five teams, ten people each, that must make their own version of veggie chili. Juanita Alvarado stirs the secret ingredient into the pot for Team 1. They call themselves the SuperHots.

“Let’s let that caramelize,” she says, tapping the wooden spoon on the edge of the saucepan.

This simmering pot of fresh black beans, zucchini, and carrots is a far cry from what Alvarado ate when she was in prison. Late nights in the bunks, inmates would pool their goods from the commissary to make a prison concoction called The Spread.

“It’s a ramen noodle. It consists of pickle juice, tuna, Velveeta cheese. Sausages, hot chips, some hot sauce, pork rinds, mayonnaise,” she says.

Then they mixed it all together and cooked it – sort of. Continue reading

Food Stamps Cuts Would Harm Vulnerable Californians, Advocates Say

By Elaine Korry

Thousands of Californians could lose food stamp benefits under a plan approved by congressional Republicans last week cutting the federal program by approximately $40 billion over ten years. California already has the lowest food stamp participation rate in the nation. Advocates for the poor are alarmed, and they say the GOP plan would hurt veterans and former foster youth, among others.

An estimated four million Californians receive food assistance through a state-administered program called CalFresh. The bill, which passed by a 217-210 margin, would protect benefits for the poorest households with children (who comprise about 80 percent of food stamp recipients in California), but restrict benefits for unemployed childless adults after three months.

GOP Rep. Tom McClintock, who represents a district stretching from Truckee to the Sequoia National Forest, says he voted on behalf of every California household that pays $720 a year in taxes to support CalFresh. “I think they’ve got a right to ask in return that those who are on the program make a good faith effort to get off it, and that’s what this bill does,” he said.

More than 360,000 out-of-work Californians could lose CalFresh benefits, unless they enroll in vocational courses or a county jobs program. “The bill restores a requirement that able-bodied adults work, or look for work, or at least be training for work in order to receive this assistance,” said McClintock. Continue reading

Want To Get People to Eat More Fresh Produce? Give Them A Little Money

By Marnette Federis

(Marnette Federis/KQED)

(Marnette Federis/KQED)

Collene Kraut says she never misses a chance to tell her 3-year-old daughter to eat vegetables and fruits. So when a farmers’ market launched in March, a block away from her home near San Diego, Kraut was eager to go.

“I don’t like it when people give my kid bad things to eat,” said Kraut. “I just want her to be healthy.”

Kraut receives funds from SNAP (formerly called food stamps), and she learned that she could use those funds at this new market. But Kraut learned about another new program while she was there, one that would help her stretch her dollars further. It’s called Fresh Fund, a grant-funded program which provides matching dollars specifically to purchase produce.

The program’s goal is to help low-income families buy accessible, affordable, nutritious produce.
That extra money is having an impact. Because of Fresh Fund, Kraut says she and other family members are now trying different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Kraut says she especially likes the different varieties of greens she finds, adding that they taste better than what she can buy at the supermarket.

“I brought some [greens] back for my dad, and he was eating it plain without salad dressing, he said it was good,” she recounts.

The Fresh Fund program helps families such as Kraut’s to stretch their food budgets so they have more room to shop for healthier food. The program’s goal is to help low-income families buy accessible, affordable, nutritious produce. Offering matching dollars for produce appears to influence people’s diets. Continue reading