Almost 2,300 low-income seniors in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties will no longer receive supplemental food from a government program operated by the Harry Chapin Food Bank starting July 1, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
The state’s decision cuts off 2,284 low-income seniors in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties from receiving nutritious food through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP, a federal program administered by the state agriculture department. The department is eliminating the program in the three counties because the state says its new state “distribution model” has determined they are no longer among Florida counties where the program will have the most impact.
Richard LeBer, president and CEO of the Harry Chapin Food Bank, wants the state to reconsider. “This change is unnecessary and will cause suffering. The (state) Department of Agriculture’s decision arbitrarily eliminates a critical source of food to many of our poorest seniors. We hope they will reconsider.”
The program was implemented for the first time in Florida in January 2015, with Harry Chapin Food Bank as the only sanctioned provider in the state. The food bank currently serves 2,580 seniors through CSFP in its five-county service area of Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades and Hendry Counties. About 300 seniors are on a waiting list. Additionally, the state is requiring the food bank to expand the program in Hendry and Glades counties, agricultural communities with smaller senior populations.
In part because the pilot program at the food bank has been so successful, the federal government is now allowing CSFP to be expanded across the state, to nearly 10,000 cases, except in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, the food bank’s three largest distribution areas.
The state’s decision will affect clients receiving CSFP food at 36 of the food bank’s 150 partner agencies, including Jewish Family and Community Services of Southwest Florida. “This program is vitally important to ensure the seniors who suffer from food insecurity will get healthy food,” said Jaclynn Faffer, president/CEO of JFCS, a non-sectarian human service agency serving Collier and southern Lee counties. “For many of them, this program is the only way they can get staples like beans, rice, canned vegetables and fruit, and other nonperishables.”
Seniors can get food assistance elsewhere, such as Harry Chapin Food Bank mobile pantries, pantries at food bank partner agencies in their area, and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps). But many of the seniors participating in CSFP have few practical alternatives: Many of them are isolated, not physically mobile, ill or lack transportation. Some see a stigma in having to accept food.
Carroll Thomas, a longtime Naples senior who lives alone and has no relatives nearby, signed up for the program because she needed the assistance. She said the food she receives “is a very big help.” Without it, Thomas said she would likely do what other seniors do, “don’t eat. What else is there? (I) can’t afford to order food in, and can’t afford to go anywhere” (Read more about Carroll Thomas here.) While gutting the program in the counties where the food bank serves the most CSFP clients, the state’s new model also calls for the food bank to increase the number of clients receiving CSFP in Glades and Hendry counties from 296 to 1,450 people. If 95 percent of that the increase is not achieved by July, the food bank will face stiff penalties.
How CSFP works To qualify for CSFP, an applicant must be at least 60 years of age and must earn a gross income at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty line. For example, a two-person household with an annual gross income of $21,172 would qualify. Harry Chapin Food Bank volunteers pack the CSFP food into bags totaling about 30 to 35 pounds. Seniors collect the food at the 40 agencies in the food bank’s five-county service area. The agencies include churches, community centers and senior housing complexes. The upcoming cut will take 36 agencies off that list.
Seniors receive the bags per month that include fruits, vegetables, cheese, milk, peanut butter/dry beans, cereal, juice, protein and potatoes/grains. The Harry Chapin Food Bank supplements this government food with fresh produce and other food donated by other sources.
What: 2,284 low-income seniors will no longer receive nutritious food from the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, or CSFP, a program administered through the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
When: July 1 · Where: Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties
Why: CSFP program will be expanded in Florida; state has determined the three counties are no longer among the counties where the program will have the most impact.
Other: 296 CSFP clients remain in Hendry and Glades counties. If the food bank doesn’t increase that number to 1,450 by July 1, the food bank faces stiff penalties.
By the numbers
2,580: Current Harry Chapin Food Bank CSFP clients
2,284: Harry Chapin Food Bank CSFP clients losing food
Lee County: 17 agencies and 1,302 clients
Collier County: 12 agencies and 620 clients
Charlotte County: 7 agencies and 362 clients
Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Office of Communications
Assistant for the Chief of Staff Mike Joyner