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New Report Finds Children in Rural Communities Face Higher Risk of Food Insecurity

The following post was written with the support of Feeding America staff. Feeding America is one of the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charities. Their mission is to feed America's hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage the country in the fight to end hunger.
Across America, communities continue to experience the impact of high unemployment, underemployment, reduced wages, and high poverty rates, but some communities and populations are disproportionately affected. Map the Meal Gap 2014, an annual report from Feeding America released this week reveals that no community is free of hunger, and that children living in rural communities are disproportionately impacted. Fifty-nine percent of communities that face high rates of child food insecurity are rural. In these highly food insecure counties, more than 1 in 3 children qualify as food insecure.
Residents of rural communities often face multiple challenges to gaining an adequate, nutritious diet; including high food costs, transportation hurdles, and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Food insecure children are less likely to have access to afterschool and summer feeding sites that protect them from hunger when school is out. Their parents may have to travel great distances to get to a SNAP office.
In addition to providing local-level food insecurity estimates, Map the Meal Gap 2014 estimates the share of food insecure individuals who are likely income-eligible for federal anti-hunger programs like SNAP, WIC, and school meal programs. In 94 percent of counties, the majority of food insecure households with children are income-eligible for federal nutrition programs. This finding underscores the importance of programs such as free and reduced-price lunch and WIC that are targeted at households with children. It also emphasizes the importance of increasing access to federal nutrition programs, especially when we know children experience nutritional gaps over the weekends, holidays, or summer. For example, USDA data show that far fewer children participate in breakfast (11.2 million) and summer food assistance programs (2.4 million) than those who receive free or reduced-price lunch (21 million). We can also take steps to support charitable feeding programs that help fill in the gaps for children who lack access to federal nutrition programs; or for children whose families struggle to put food on the table but make slightly too much income to qualify for federal assistance.
Particularly within rural communities, improved program access and innovative delivery models can help to improve participation rates. For example, there are only about 42 summer food sites for every 100 lunch programs nationwide. In addition to increasing the number of summer feeding sites, policy makers should support alternative summer delivery models, such as delivering meals to low-income neighborhoods rather than requiring families to find transportation to a summer site; or allowing families to pick up a week’s worth of meals to eat at home rather than requiring children to travel to the site each day.
Other findings on child hunger from Map the Meal Gap 2014 include:

  • Among the top 10% of counties with the highest child food insecurity rates, more than 1 in 3 children struggle with food insecurity.

  • The South contains nearly 90 percent of high food insecurity rate counties.

  • Racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately at risk of food insecurity.

Both food insecurity and eligibility rates vary from county to county. By providing data about hunger at the state, congressional district, and county level, Map the Meal Gap can help policymakers, service providers, and advocates identify strategies to best reach the families and children in need of food assistance. We encourage you to explore the full findings of the report as well as an interactive map and downloadable state fact sheets are available online at www.feedingamerica.org/mapthegap.

Registration for 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference is OPEN!

We are pleased to announce that registration for the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference is officially open online. The Conference, co-sponsored this year by the Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building at the Alliance for Children and Families and the Center for the Study of Social Policy, will be held July 24-25 in Washington, DC.
This year’s conference promises to share the latest developments in policy, research, program design, and innovation in the fields of neighborhood building and community development. We are excited to welcome an array of practitioners, thought leaders, policymakers, philanthropists, academics, and more to the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference.
Please visit the conference webpage for more information on the conference and to register. Early bird rates are available, so register soon! The webpage will be updated frequently as we plan the details of the conference. You can also follow news and updates on the conference on Twitter using #NRC14. We hope to see you there!

HUD Lauds Chicago-area Program for Equitable Development

A recent article from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Policy Development and Research division focused on the importance of ensuring equity in communities’ smart growth plans. HUD’s definition of “smart growth,” in this case, included intentional thinking and planning to support “safe, healthy, equitable, and prosperous communities.” Regional collaboration in the Chicago area was specifically cited as a model of intentionally supporting equity in housing development.
The Chicago Regional Housing Choice Initiative (CRHCI) officially launched with the help of HUD in 2011, but has been working as a multi-sector collaborative effort to address affordable housing concerns since 1999. HUD supports the CRCHI pilot in part to demonstrate “if mobility counseling and the regional administration of local PHA resources can give families desirable location outcomes while reducing government costs and administrative burdens.” The Initiative consists of eight area PHAs, the Metropolitan Planning Council, HUD, and a non-profit partner.
These Chicago-area partners were motivated to address affordable housing and equity issues because of the region’s growing imbalance between jobs and affordable housing, and fears that these developments threatened the region’s economic competitiveness. Simply put: people could not find affordable housing on the incomes provided by the area’s fastest growing labor markets. The mismatch of jobs, labor needs, housing, and affordability meant that residents could often not afford to live near their jobs and neighborhoods became increasingly segregated by income.
To begin to address these issues, CRHCI encourages families to use Housing Choice Vouchers to facilitate access to different neighborhoods, spurs the construction of mixed-income housing, and provides mobility counseling to families seeking affordable housing. The pilot project has had successes—345 vouchers provide subsidies in 28 communities, with more than 1,700 apartments either in use or in development. CRCHI also uses data from HUD to map the region using an “opportunity index” which assesses neighborhood quality based on housing stability, job access, and transit access. The information helps CRHCI identify “high-opportunity areas” that may be suitable sites for ongoing affordable housing development.
CRCHI’s success demonstrates that with intentionality and planning, affordable housing development can be equitable and financially shrewd. Ultimately, creating a regional collaborative of partners helped keep housing affordable and convenient for many. Rather than isolating lower-income families, CRCHI’s efforts help to integrate all income levels into smart growth neighborhoods that are beneficial for both community building and regional economic competitiveness.

Alliance Now Accepting Workshop Proposals for 2015 Senior Leadership Conference

The Alliance for Children and Families is accepting workshop proposals for its upcoming 46th annual Senior Leadership Conference, to be held February 21-24, 2015, in Clearwater Beach, Florida. With a leadership development focus, the Senior Leadership Conference is committed to providing exceptional learning, networking, and mentoring experiences that not only strengthen leadership skills, but also promote enduring professional relationships. The Alliance seeks workshop proposals that address current nonprofit issues relating to the Alliance’s Commitments of high-impact nonprofits:

  • Leading with Vision

  • Governing for the Future

  • Executing on Mission

  • Partnering with Purpose

  • Co-Creating with Community

  • Investing in Capacity

  • Measuring that Matters

  • Innovating with Enterprise

  • Engaging All Voices

  • Advancing Equity

The Alliance invites you to share your knowledge, promising practices, and solutions with senior leaders from the nation’s premier nonprofit human service organizations. Workshops are typically 90 minutes and often feature audience interaction and ample time for questions and answers. You can find more information on how to submit a workshop idea by reading the full SLC Call for Proposals. Workshop proposals must be submitted by April 1, 2014. Applicants will be notified by May 19, 2014 if their workshop has been selected for inclusion in the conference.

What Early Childhood Development Means for Strong Neighborhoods

The strength of a community depends on the health and wellbeing of its residents. New scientific research also suggests that the wellbeing of an individual may have a lot to do with his or her community. The latest developments in understanding brain science suggest that 90% of brain growth occurs in the first five years of life, so growing up in a stimulating, supportive, and healthy environment is integral to a child’s success.
A recent op-ed from Susan Dreyfus, President and CEO of the Alliance for Children and Families, cites the latest brain science as further evidence of the need for comprehensive early childhood education, such as the universal pre-K proposed by the President. Truly high-quality early education would reach outside of the classroom, to include family-engagement and home visiting. Ms. Dreyfus says, “Without the support of quality early childhood development programs, these children face lifetime deficits in skills and abilities that can have a long-term impact on our communities and our nation's productivity.”
Policies that help children today will help build the neighborhoods of tomorrow. Myriad research suggest the positive impacts that quality early care has on an individual’s educational attainment, lifetime earnings, overall health, involvement with crime, and general livelihood and stability. The data are there that an investment in children now is an investment in our communities for the future.
Just as a child grows up to impact his or her community, fostering a supportive and stable neighborhood environment has a huge impact on a developing child. To further explore the latest science on the interplay of individual development and community development, we are pleased to announce that Dr. Jack Shonkoff will be one of our featured plenary speakers at the upcoming Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. Dr. Shonkoff is a professor, a pediatrician, and the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. His work examines the role of environment and early child care on brain development, and what it means for future wellbeing.
We look forward to welcoming Dr. Shonkoff, as well as numerous other researchers, academics, practitioners, policymakers, thought leaders, and more at the 2014 Neighborhood Revitalization Conference. The Conference will take place July 24-25 in Washington, DC. There’s still time to submit workshop proposals! Keep watching the main Conference website for up-to-date information on registration, speakers, and more.


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by Dr. Radut