While most well known for the SNAP Outreach Project, the work of the Hunger Center extends well beyond this project with a focus on protecting the well-being of low-income Rhode Islanders through a variety of activities. Hunger Center staff work closely with administrators at the Department of Human Services to address issues around statewide policy and administration of SNAP. Hunger Center staff share their expertise with state and community colleagues by serving on local advisory councils as well as national and regional advocacy groups. They also collaborate with many community partners and stay abreast of local events as participants of several local community initiatives. Staff offer expert testimony at the RI General Assembly when issues of public benefits and poverty are being debated.
Staff at the Hunger Center develop materials and frequently make presentations to local civic groups, social service agencies, and faith based communities to assist them in learning more about the issue of hunger in their community.
RI General Assembly
Legislative Session 2014
During the most recent legislative session, Hunger Center staff attended hearings and presented testimony around 4 different pieces of legislation.
Senate Bill 2382 – Requirement for photo identification when using EBT. February 25, 2014. Dr. Gorman testified against this bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see attached for full testimony).
House Bill 7314 – Requirement for photo identification when using EBT. March 5, 2014. Dr. Gorman testified against this bill before the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare (see attached for full testimony).
House Bill 7661 – Public Assistance Act, Fraud Prevention. April 30, 2014. Dr. Gorman testified against this bill before the House Finance Committee (see attached for full testimony).
House Bill 7567 – Joint resolution making appropriation of $100,000 to Department of Human Services. Dr. Gorman testified in support of this bill before the House Finance Committee (see attached for full testimony).
The Hunger Center director chairs the monthly SNAP Advisory Committee meeting. This meeting brings DHS staff together with community members to discuss issues of SNAP policy, DHS procedural changes and SNAP issues arising in the community.
When federal and state policies change the Department of Human Services provides periods of time when their rule promulgation is open for comment. Hunger Center staff provide testimony or comment at these times to share their expertise from working directly with clients. Past issues addressed by the Hunger Center have included proposed changes to replacement EBT card procedures, in office versus telephone interview requirements, and DHS office locations, as well as other issues through informal communications and discussion.
Local Advisory Councils
Since first being established in 1999 the Feinstein Center for a Hunger Free America and the URI SNAP Outreach Project within it have developed a reputation as an expert source of information on issues of hunger, poverty and government nutrition assistance programs. Committees and agencies throughout the state have sought out Hunger Center staff to serve on advisory councils to ensure in depth policy and client expertise are considered in their work.
Hunger Center staff participate in a variety of local coalitions and community meetings. These meetings present opportunities for collaboration with community partners as well as offer an important source of information sharing between and among local and statewide agencies serving similar low-income clients.
Hunger Center staff are regular participants of Westerly Basic Needs Network, Bristol Basic Needs Network, Providence Re-entry Council, Women Ending Hunger, and the RI Community Food Bank community forums.
Community Highlight: Health Equity Zones
Over the past year, 11 grantees across the state of Rhode Island began work to reduce health disparities through the creation of Health Equity Zones (HEZ). A HEZ is a geographic area designed to achieve health equity through community-based strategies. Each of the 11 HEZ projects in Rhode Island is headed by local organizations that collaborate with the Rhode Island Department of Health and The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, as well as community planners, education systems, law enforcement and others to develop and carry out HEZ work plans.
The Hunger Center has been working with HEZ groups in Rhode Island to support efforts to improve community food access and nutrition. Some of the plans to improve food access include increased redemption of SNAP and WIC benefits at farmers’ markets, and working with small grocery stores to expand the availability of nutritious food. In 2015, staff from the Hunger Center worked with HEZ food access groups in North Providence, Newport, South County, and Woonsocket. The Hunger Center will also begin work with the Pawtucket/Central Falls HEZ this summer.
Last year, all HEZ grantees conducted community needs assessments and developed work plans. The implementation of these plans will begin this year and continue over the next three years to move towards health equity.
For more information about HEZs in Rhode Island, visit the Rhode Island Department of Health’s website here!
Community Highlight: Healthy Places by Design
In 2011, The Rhode Island Department of Health received funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to fund Healthy Places by Design. The grant sought to strengthen land use, transportation and urban design policies and local ordinances that guide the decision making process for the built environment to be more supportive of health, particularly as it relates to physical activity and healthy eating. The Rhode Island Department of Health awarded funding to three municipalities: North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and Pawtucket.
Each municipality paired with a nonprofit organization to assist in community engagement through workshops, focus groups, community events, a week-long community summit, surveys, etc. Through this engagement, the municipalities were able to identify its community’s strengths as well as obstacles to healthier lifestyles. Each community then drafted an action plan to address ways to better support healthy living. Part of each municipalities’ action plan included changes to its Comprehensive Community Plan to address changes to the built environment and policies. At the conclusion of the grant in 2012, community organizations and grass root groups (some of where were created as the result of community members’ participation in the grant) helped to continue the purpose of the Healthy Places by Design Grant.
Dr. Gorman served as an initial consultant to the statewide project and co-facilitated forums in each of the 3 communities. Upon completion, she has continued as a task force member of the South Kingstown HPbD work group and recently collaborated with other community members and URI faculty to establish a URI-South Kingstown Memorandum of Agreement (document pending). For more information about these efforts, follow links below.
National and Regional Advocacy
The staff at the Hunger Center play an important role monitoring the impact of both state and federal policies on low-income Rhode Island families and make policy recommendations to elected officials at the state, regional and national level through the Center’s involvement with the Northeast Regional Anti-Hunger Network (NERAHN) and association with the Food Research Action Council (FRAC).
The Feinstein Hunger Center, along with the RI Community Food Bank, represents the state of RI at the Northeast Regional Anti-Hunger Network (NERAHN). NERAHN serves as a coalition of anti-hunger agencies from the seven states that make-up the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Northeast region (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York). NEHRAN was created in 1966 with a two-fold mission:
- to reduce hunger by maximizing resources through collaborative efforts; and
- to work collectively to design and implement action on state, regional and national levels.
Hunger Center staff work closely with national partner, FRAC, throughout the year but also attend a large annual conference and invitation-only, Hunger Leaders meeting in Washington DC each year. Both events allow staff to network with anti-hunger advocates from across the nation, share and learn best practices to improve their work in RI.