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The Biden administration ended one of Trump's most cruel proposals Wednesday, ending an effort to kick 3 million people off of food assistance and end free school meals for about at least half a million children. The proposal was put forward when Trump's efforts to drastically cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2018 farm bill failed.

The proposal would have restricted (SNAP) benefits for households who have savings or other assets. Have a car? It'll be harder to get food. A senior or disabled person trying to save for an inevitable emergency? Sorry. Saving for your kids' school supplies? There go your food stamps. Get a small raise in your hourly wage? No more food help. The current rules for SNAP allow states to adjust the income eligibility limits to adjust for housing and child care costs that take a large share of income, allowing people to have safe homes and even allowing parents to work outside the home and still be able to feed themselves and their families. Because even more people shouldn't be forced into having to choose between having a roof or having food.

The proposal would have also ended free school lunch for at least half a million kids. With the SNAP benefits would have gone the free school lunches, a part of the whole program the Trump administration tried to keep quiet.

This was just one of three proposed rule changes from the Trump administration that would have left millions of people hungry, including work requirements and a cap on the deduction recipients can take for utility costs. The work requirements were struck down by a federal court last October, when food insecurity was a growing offshoot of the pandemic. The Trump administration appealed the decision, but a consequence of the election was the Biden administration dropping the appeal and asking for a dismissal, which the appellate court granted.

The Biden administration has made a point of putting hunger front and center. In April, it launched "the single largest summer child nutrition effort in our nation's history," according to press secretary Jen Psaki. The program will ensure that nearly 34 million children—including kids under six whose families are in SNAP and those who get free or reduced price school meals—will get $375 for food over the summer, through a Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) card. In addition to that, the administration has made free school lunches universal through the 2021-22 school year and has allowed districts the flexibility to provide meals besides lunch and to-go meals.

The American Rescue Plan also include a boost in SNAP benefits to the neediest families, as well as a 15% boost to other SNAP enrollees and an increase in Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits.

From December to April, adult food insecurity dropped 43% according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey. Among the questions asked of respondents is whether they sometime or did not often have enough to eat over the previous week. That decline is significant and worth celebrating, but hunger as a reflection of larger inequality is still a major issue for the U.S. and since so many states are ending COVID-19 unemployment benefits early, some of those gains could be reversed.

In fact, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is finding a "dramatic" recent increase in food insecurity. "Some 19 million adults—9 percent of all adults in the country—reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days, according to Household Pulse Survey data collected May 12–24." That's a huge increase from pre-pandemic levels, when just 3.4% of all adults reported "their household had 'not enough to eat' at some point over the full 12 months of 2019."

That argues for Biden's follow-up plans for creating jobs and increasing family financial security in the American Jobs infrastructure proposal and the American Families Plan. It also argues for ending the filibuster in the Senate that can prevent those plans from being realized. There are limits to what the administration can do alone. Reversing Trump policies is big and important, but it can't erase decades of increased inequality.

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Worker shortage has sparked a rent-a-staffer boom in the food industry

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Desperate to deliver their goods, New York Food suppliers are hiring mercenary truckers from Alabama — and they’re putting them up in hotels in the Bronx because they can’t find local drivers. 

It’s just the latest example of dire measures companies are being forced to take in response to a nationwide worker shortage that is plaguing the food industry. In addition to hiring workers from out of state and boarding them, businesses say they’re turning to middlemen to recruit them — a costly measure that’s also helping drive up prices for consumers, sources told The Post.

“Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we’d be doing this — putting people up in hotels to work for us,” said Christopher Pappas, chief executive of Chefs’ Warehouse, a $1 billion Bronx-based food supplier for restaurants, hotels and other businesses.  

Christopher Pappas, chief executive of Chefs’ Warehouse, says he lost the services of 40 percent of his truckers and warehouse workers during the pandemic.Chefs Warehouse

Pappas said he was forced to start renting some of his workforce “from Alabama and other other states” when the economy starting bubbling up a few months ago.

The company had lost 40 percent of its drivers and warehouse workers during the pandemic, a period that led to some 88,300 US trucking jobs getting slashed last April, the industry’s single largest cutback ever, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Unable to fill the gaps, Pappas turned to Katonah, NY-based Regional Supplemental Services, which rents out truck drivers and other workers to large companies that need them.

It was a solution with a cost. Companies that lend out temps on an “emergency” basis charge a premium. That’s not to mention the cost of keeping the workers housed, Pappas said. 

The food executive, who pays his own workers $20-plus an hour with benefits, declined to say what he pays for the contract workers. But he acknowledged, “We paid a lot, whatever we had to to service our customers.”

Chefs’ Warehouse is hardly alone as US companies struggle to meet rebounding demand amid a severe worker shortage, says Rich Jennings, vice president of trucker outsourcing company RSS.

“I get calls from desperate Fortune 500 companies every day that need to move perishable food,” Jennings said. “It’s most dire in the food industry right now.”

Some supermarkets are facing shortages of warehouse workers.Universal Images Group via Getty

Business has been so brisk that the 30-year-old company posted its best year ever in 2020. And this year, revenues are on track to rise by 600 percent, Jennings said.

“I’ve never seen drivers get paid what they are paid today,” Jennings added. “They are getting well into the six figures and they can easily make $3,000 a week. A [commercial driver’s license] is like a golden ticket right now.”

Indeed, a search for commercial driver’s licenses on Craigslist pulls up numerous jobs offering $2,000 to $3,000 a week, plus signing bonuses. One recent eyepopping add for a full-time job in Illinois dangled a $15,000 sign-on bonus for a candidate with at least “six months of experience and a clean driving record.”

Some warehouse workers, such as those who are able to operate heavy machinery like forklifts, are also commanding six-figure pay, Jennings said. He declined to elaborate on how pay is determined or divvied up except to say that RSS gets a percentage of the agreed-upon wages.

In some cases, truckers can earn as much as $3,000 a week.Universal Images Group via Getty

The labor shortages are quickly translating into higher prices for consumers.

Average producer prices for truck transportation rose 10 percent in April from a year ago — the “strongest growth since just after the financial crisis when it briefly got into double digits,” according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. 

These price increases are especially “meaningful” for food products, Zandi said, as transportation accounts for a larger percentage of overall costs for food than for most goods.

At Chefs’ Warehouse, charges to the company’s customers rose by an average of 7 percent in the first quarter on the 55,000 items it sells, the company reported in April. That’s more than double the typical increase of 2 percent to 3 percent, Pappas said.

The most wild price spikes include a 54 percent increase for 35-pound tubs of canola and soybean fry oil — a staple in commercial kitchens, according to Chefs’ Warehouse. Meat is up by roughly 20 percent while cases of kosher salt, chocolate and olive oil have spiked by 30 percent.

Christopher Pappas, seen here talking at a Chefs’ Warehouse event, says charges to the company’s customers rose by an average of 7 percent in the first quarter because of worker shortages.Chefs Warehouse

“Anything above 2 or 3 percent,” Pappas said, “is earth-shattering in this low-margin business.”  

Amid the labor shortage, TransForce Group of Alexandria, Va., which runs truck-driving schools and rents out drivers, has seen record demand for its services, said Chief Executive Dennis Cooke. Even its newly minted and younger drivers — who are harder to place because of insurance liability issues — are finding jobs across the country, he said. About 70 percent of TransForce Group’s students are military vets.

Of course, drivers were in short supply even before the pandemic. And some of the shortage may simply be due to the grueling nature of the work, which can have drivers pulling shifts of 10 to 12 hours while unloading a backbreaking amount of freight. 

In the food service industry alone, there is a shortfall of 15,000 drivers and 17,500 warehouse workers, which amounts to about a 12 percent vacancy rate per company, according to a recent survey by the International Foodservice Distributors Association.

One driver told The Post that the extra money isn’t worth the backbreaking work of hauling and lifting crates of supermarket goods. Boston Globe via Getty Images

A former driver for FreshDirect who asked not to be identified told The Post he lasted in the job for a year before he found a position as a janitor at Memorial Sloan Kettering hospital.

“It was my first time being a driver and most likely my last,” he said. “It’s physically very demanding work, lifting crates with gallons of water and cat litter.”

“These are hard jobs,” Pappas agreed. It’s one reason he assumes many of his former employees opted to draw on generous pandemic unemployment benefits, enhanced by weekly $300 checks from the government plus stimulus money – or that they left the industry for different jobs.

Filed under Food ,  inflation ,  workers ,  6/20/21

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