May 28, 2009

So long, farewell!

After nearly four years at Bread for the City, it's time for me to say goodbye.

It has been a pleasure to work, learn, blog and grow with everyone here, and I look forward to applying all that I have learned to my new job at the DC Department of Health Care Finance.

The Department of Health Care Finance is a brand new agency within the DC government--established last October--that oversees the Medicaid and DC Health Care Alliance programs. I will be starting out working on eligibility policies and I really look forward to all of the challenges that I know will come with that role. I'm certain that the discussions that I've had with BFC clients and staff will help guide me as I work on these issues.

I know this is not really goodbye to Bread for the City--I'll be back to visit regularly--but to all who I have worked with over the years, thank you for everything! This is a great place, and I look forward to seeing all that BFC will accomplish in the years to come.
PS My job at BFC has been really great...and now it's going to be vacant. It could be yours!

May 27, 2009

Helping other People Help…Us!

Fresh off the internet from the Jewish-minded Sustainable Food Blog JCarrot is news of a great garden-to-pantry program, Ample Harvest. Ample Harvest seeks to connect overly fruitful gardeners with local food pantries.

What’s most exciting about Ample Harvest is that anyone can help connect their surplus produce to pantries, from community gardens, to ambitious backyard gardeners (or front-yard, in my own personal case), to apartment dwellers who use that crazy upside down tomato planter.

Ample Harvest founder Gary Oppenheimer explains the program on JCarrot:

Even people who don’t harvest can help. You can go on the site and see what pantries need. You can contribute by passing the word along to people with gardens or by signing up pantries. We really need help in getting pantries online. My biggest concern is that we’ll have a lot of gardeners with nowhere to donate.

There are some problems in society you can address without spending a lot of money. People are hungry—and food is in people’s backyards. The missing link was getting the food in backyards to the people who are hungry. There might be other problems that can be solved the same way.

[Ed note: We think this is a neat idea, and we’ll look into the registration process – thanks, J-Po!]

This is just one project in a veritable movement of fresh, nutritious food into urban areas that certainly need it. Bread for the City is launching a gleaning program, the Mid-Atlantic Gleaners are providing produce to the DC Central Kitchen (and others), Claggett Farm provides produce and grants to local non-profits, and DC Hunger Solutions is helping to get more produce into corner stores. And just today, the Washington Post reported that a couple of FreshFarm Markets will be matching the value of WIC coupons when used to purchase fresh produce.

It’s not too late to start your garden!

May 26, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 26 May

President Obama's selection of Sonia Sotomayor to be his nominee for the Supreme Court is, among other things, important testimony to the importance of continued funding for public housing projects. Sotomayor, as has been widely reported, grew up in a public housing project in the Bronx, and went on from there to Princeton and eventually the federal judiciary. Imagine, for a moment, what might have happened in the absence of public housing for Sotomayor's family; where might she have ended up? We know that homelessness has an effect on how children learn and how they do in school, and despite the recent establishment of a few schools specifically for homeless children, the continued rise in the number of homeless school-age children suggests the need for a closer look at how public housing is provided.

Constructing sustainable public housing that serves as an asset to community development might be part of the answer, especially since new home construction appears to be at "its lowest pace on record" and home prices continue to decline in most major cities. Tucked into the recently-signed "Helping Families Save Their Homes Act" is $2.2 billion to address homelessness, specifically targeting families with school-aged children; if wisely spent, that money could also be part of the answer. Thinking further outside the box, maybe a whole-scale modification of the elementary education calendar -- particularly one that would help to address the well-established "summer slump" that hits children in lower socioeconomic statuses particularly hard -- is in order?

Last week "localism" emerged as a theme; this week, consider the impact of social media on the problems of poverty and homelessness. LimeLife's "Apps for Good" seeks to use the appeal of mobile gaming to help fund programs giving microloans to female entrepreneurs in developing countries; Debbie Tenzer's "Do One Nice Thing" campaign harnesses the power of crowds to create significant impact, one person and one contribution at a time. Even the federal government is getting in on the act, moving ahead with the Open Government Initiative that promises to use new technologies to involve ordinary citizens in the work of government. Instead of dumping the problem in the lap of some faceless bureaucracy, these campaigns ask us to become personally involved -- but don't demand that we dedicate our entire lives to achieving their goals. Maybe a little, from a lot of people, really can be enough.

May 25, 2009

Work for us!

There's a job opening up in Bread for the City's development office!

Currently occupied for two more days by Valentine Breitbarth (who has just secured her master's degree and is promptly moving on to the DC Department of Health Care Finance), this gig is a good one.

Valentine coordinates our special events, including the Good Hope Awards, Holiday Helpings, and Art with a Heart. Plus she blogs with insight and grace here at Beyond Bread. She will be missed, and hard to replace.

We're looking for someone who has the drive to get stuff done quickly and smoothly, a commitment to social justice, a sense of humor, and a proclivity for chocolate.

See the full ad, pass it along to eligible candidates, and direct applications to

May 22, 2009

On the Radio! Radio!

We met Lady Souldja on Twitter, when she was talking about her food stamps right around the time we were also talking about food stamps, and together we talked about food stamps.

Then, she invited us to guest on her radio show -- to talk about, like, whatever! So, this will be something new for us. Fortunately, we have just the right face for radio. (Heyo! These are the jokes.)

Anyway, tune in to Lady Souldja's BlogTalkRadioOnTheInternet tomorrow at 7pm, or I think also whenever afterwards, since it'll be there on the internet.

Beyond Bread: Nutrition and Rising Homelessness

~Sharon Gruber, our blogging Nutrition Consultant, has been on a spring holiday at the Sustainable Food blog at, producing all sorts of discussions over the Series of Tubes. The subject of her posts are Bread for the City’s Nutrition Initiative--an ongoing effort to improve the health of our community.  One of our major efforts has been providing healthy food including fresh produce to all the low-income residents who utilize our food pantry. A series of cooking classes called Fit for Fun, a Health Peer Education Program, gleaning trips to local farms, and one-on-one nutrition consultations came out of this initiative as well.

~Kathryn Baer let us know about a report published last week by the Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. The report states that the number of officially homeless people in the greater Washington area has increased over the past year by 2.4%. Of the 12, 035 people who are reported as “literally homeless” in greater Washington, 6,228 are living in DC. Also important is this statistic: “Twenty-one (21) percent of these persons report severe mental illness; 23 percent have a chronic health problem and 15 percent are physically disabled.” There are currently 1,426 homeless children in DC, up 24% over last year.

~DCPCA’s CEO (and friend of Bread for the City) Sharon Baskerville was honored with the 2009 Community Achievement Award this week by DC Appleseed.

May 21, 2009

The Human Rights Clinic

Bread for the City launched a new program yesterday: the Human Rights Clinic, a special after-hours medical clinic designed specifically for refugees.

America has a long history of receiving victims of persecution--be it political, religious, racial, ethnic or any of the other reasons why humans brutalize each other. In Washington DC, the collective need for refugee assistance and services is truly great, and for years, many have turned to Bread for the City for food and medical care.

"We see waves of different groups," says our Medical Clinic Director Dr. Randi, who is a member of Physicians for Human Rights. “They come in phases. For a long time, we were seeing just so many Cameroonians. Recently, we've seen a wave of Ethiopians. But we’ve received people from all over the world."

When such refugees arrive in America, they can seek asylum, a special legal status that enables refugees to become permanent legal residents, bring their immediate families to the U.S., and eventually become citizens.

“But refugees are often not allowed to have a job while they apply for asylum,” explains Laura Parcher, who is a partner at Jones Day, the director of their pro bono program, and a Bread for the City board member. She has worked with many refugees during the complicated legal process. “It can take a long time. They can’t afford an apartment or food, let alone a lawyer, doctor, or therapist. Pro bono assistance is critically important for them to be able to present a case to the court.”

To apply for asylum, refugees must essentially prove their claims of persecution – often times through the physical evidence present on their own bodies. This process can entail a lengthy and resource-intensive medical examination, requires extensive, legally-appropriate write-ups, and the doctors might even need to provide testimony in court. Furthermore, they must have the psychological capacity to engage with deep trauma.

"An exam can get extremely emotional," says Dr. Randi. "People are unburdening their souls."

As a result, it can be very difficult to find doctors who are willing to perform this work.

In the course of recent discussions with Drs Katalin Roth and Hope Ferdowsian, Dr. Randi devised the monthly Human Rights Clinic to offer these patients a quiet, safe space, removed from the daily bustle here at Bread for the City, while still connected to our array of integrated services.

“We hope that the clinic will raise awareness among service providers and the public at large about the harrowing experiences of refugees in our community,” says Dr. Roth, who also serves on Bread for the City’s Board of Directors. “It’s a way for medical professionals to donate their skills in support of human rights, right here in our community.”

Bread for the City now seeks additional physician volunteers, in hopes that we can expand the capacity of this program. To learn more about the Human Rights Clinic, contact Amy at

May 20, 2009

Electronic Medical Records: Are They Worth It?

President Obama has been saying that reforming inefficient healthcare technology will save time, money, and (ultimately) lives. Recently, a number of people have been trying to refute the point, saying the projected savings are overblown.

DC’s safety net has become one of the first in the country to try and strategically bring all the different community clinics over to a standardized system, eClinicalWorks. Bread for the City is one of six clinics to switch to eCW, and the reports are just coming in. So do electronic medical records live up to the hype? The short answer is yes.

One of the most notable savings revolves around our volunteers. In the past we relied on a lot of volunteers consistently coming through the Medical Clinic to wade through the endless administrative tasks (creating/finding/filing charts). If a volunteer didn’t show up one day, we were suddenly in a pickle. Though our volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization, relying on an inconsistent workforce to catalogue sensitive data means that there are elements of inefficiency and human error. Since transitioning to eCW, our efficiency has gone through the roof. With our two dedicated administrative volunteers coming in one day a week, we’re able to keep up, and if one of our patients goes to a participating hospital or community clinic, their information can be instantly sent over, saving precious time if there’s an emergency. It’s a miracle!

That savings of time is also a savings of money. The volunteers who used to file charts are now helping with nutrition outreach to medical clinic patients, allowing our healthcare providers to disseminate nutrition information to more patients more quickly. Since our files are more accurate and easily archived, we are able to receive accurate Medicaid reimbursement rates for all of the patients we see—a welcome (albeit small) revenue stream in this tough economic climate.

That’s not to say it wasn’t a huge pain during the transition. For months, our providers’ desks were almost walled off behind massive stacks of paper records labeled “TO BE SCANNED.” On many different occasions I thought Lisa Johnson, who runs the administrative side of our clinic and did a great deal of the work for the transition, was simply going to die. And every new system has kinks. But now that the transition is complete, the benefits are remarkable. Though I can’t speak for the healthcare system in the macro, Bread for the City has undeniably benefited from the switch to electronic records.

Many thanks go out to the DC Primary Care Association for funding this step forward, and to our many generous donors who make all of our work possible.

May 19, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 19 May

It is trite to observe that poverty, homelessness, and economic development are complex and multifaceted issues, and perhaps equally trite to claim that issues of such complexity require a wide variety of solutions. But even so, it is sometimes useful to remind ourselves that the world of politics and policy is not the sort of place where any single initiative -- even something as welcome as a new consensus on fuel economy and emissions standards -- is likely to address all of our challenges at once. Washington D.C. provides a good example of the local complexity: the impacts of poverty and unemployment in the city are persistently associated with particular wards and neighborhoods; foreclosures are clustered into particular areas of the city (and are even affecting renters in those areas); and ethnic and socioeconomic divisions persist among the users of the city's different modes of public transportation (and it's not particularly surprising that Metro riders are more affluent, given Metro's basic design as a system for moving people from the suburbs in and out of the city). All of this local diversity suggests that we have to be extremely careful in forecasting how any given policy initiative will impact the daily lives of people in the area.

Localism also seems to be the order of the day in how people are coping with their present difficulties. Whether at a car show in Alaska or in donations from dairy associations in Des Moines or peanut producers in Atlanta, the emphasis on improving the local situation is pronounced. Witness also the Brooklyn Food Conference, a gathering of activists and organizations in the New York borough designed to produce strategies for improving not just how much food is available to the community, including its poorest members, but also and perhaps most importantly the quality of that food: moving away from the paradigm of "fast, cheap, and easy" and towards, perhaps, a more sustainable model of urban farming. Call this double localism: local actors, but also a turn away from the idea that in our contemporary lives we can simply eliminate distance in favor of convenience, especially when it comes to food provision. Of course, one has to be careful, as the rhetoric of localism is easily captured by large corporations, and what is branded as "local" might not necessarily be local . . . but it's striking that even the idea of the local is gaining currency as a way to make products appealing.

Another thing that localities can do is to equip themselves and their citizens to make smarter choices. Massachusetts has approved a calorie-labeling measure, joining California and New York in doing so; will this trend continue to other states? Can the recently-announced nationwide effort to improve public housing -- an effort that must of necessity involve cooperation with local agencies and stakeholders -- learn from a recent New York City Housing Authority project that public housing and architectural innovation can be complementary? Can the process of public planning be streamlined, so that it might be easier to build a train or establish a homeless shelter? Localism is no utopian panacea; it requires effort. Perhaps precisely the kind of effort that recent college graduates, presently flocking to the Washington D.C. area and to other coastal cities in search of jobs, can provide, especially if they -- and you -- take a few minutes to read over Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp's 2009 commencement address and call to "dive in early" when it comes to working on these socioeconomic issues. I might add: dive in early, and dive in locally.

May 18, 2009

Apps for Democracy: A Yelp for Social Services?

DC was one of the first cities in the country to have a Chief Technology Officer, and CTO Vivek Kundra has displayed some remarkable leadership in his short period of time in office. Last year, he spearheaded a contest called "Apps for Democracy," in which private citizens and public agencies alike created web applications that tapped into DC's extensive public data trove to make some pretty neat web applications (things like a real-time 'location-aware' police alert tool, or a site that matches safe walking routes to popular bars). The contest was hailed as a major success, and they're running it again now.

One proposed idea came to our attention (via Susie Cambria): a guide to public and private social services in DC. Basically, the proposed plan would provide a dynamic map of resources--much like the DC Food Finder--for all kinds of critical services like medical clinics, public agencies, emergency shelters, etc. In addition to all the salient information about how to access a particular site, user feedback could provide a fuller picture of the operational capacity of each site.

In fact, we've previously suggested something much like this here on this blog: think of a Yelp for social services.

Now, it seems like apps built for this particular contest are limited to public data (as opposed to info about non-governmental organizations like Bread for the City) -- and I'm not sure if that is by rule or simply default due to limited participant capacity. But through the FoodFinder we've shown that it is possible to accumulate a city's worth of data about a broad range of NGO services. By crowdsourcing the process, it becomes even more feasible.

I don't want to get too nerdy about this, but it's kind of a big deal. Here at Bread for the City, our staff possess an enormous (though still incomplete) amount of knowledge about how the city works; this is valuable information that, if it could be publicly combined with that of our partners in the field, would create a full view of how the city is working for residents in need. Not only would that help social workers and engaged citizens do their important work, but it would help us all hold our government agencies accountable. So go vote!

From the Sunlight Foundation's t-shirt (which I happen to be wearing today!). They host the Apps for America contest.

It Costs More to Be Poor

The Washington Post reported today on something we know all too well here at Bread for the City:

The poorer you are, the more things cost.
The article acknowledges that this is a subject that the media rarely considers. Like how the poor don’t have the means to get to suburban grocery stores or warehouse chains, like Costco. Also reported are the sapping effects of being “unbanked”: when you must turn to a check cashing store to redeem your paycheck, you’re going to lose a hefty chunk of it in the process.

I asked Bread for the City staffers about other ways that our clients see their precious few resources sapped:

  • Transportation. Low-income people often must travel farther to work. The article noted that this often involves inordinate amounts of time spent waiting for buses, etc. Not reported are changes like the recent bus transfer ticket phase-out, which also have an inordinate impact on the poor: riders now need a SmarTrip card in order to transfer from one bus to the next, so the cards are a new expense and become subject to theft.

  • Energy. Many of our clients live in old buildings with poor insulation, old windows, leakages, etc. Bread for the City offers some utility assistance through FEMA, and we can attest to seeing bills that are far more expensive than our own.

  • Medication. Without good insurance, the cost of prescription drugs alone can sap an entire pension check.

  • Child care. To survive on low wages in an expensive city, most people need to work very long hours at two or even three jobs. In turn, much of a working mother’s pay check is spent on keeping her children cared for in her absence.
Poverty is in so many ways a self-perpetuating trap.

Nutrition Initiatives (Guesting at Sustainable Food blog)

My second guest post is up at's Sustainable Food blog. Check it out!

I do want to highlight one key passage from the post:

[W]e purchase the bulk of our food from the Capital Area Food Bank. They also supply 700 organizations with 20 million pounds of food for more than 383,000 people of food annually.

Recently, as part of their own nutrition initiative, the Food Bank has also been overhauling their menu to feature fresher foods and alternative products. As one of their two biggest purchasers, Bread for the City has a close working relationship with them - and they pay attention to the what's happening in our pantry.

When, in the course of our Nutrition Initiative, we decided that we wanted to carry only low-salt corn and green beans, we worked with the Food Bank to identify these new products and secure the supply lines. Likewise with brown rice and whole wheat pasta: these were items that Bread for the City decided we wanted to offer, and we are now able to receive them from up the chain at the Food Bank.

As a result, many of the Food Bank’s clients now purchase these alternative, healthier products for their own pantries. “It’s really working out well for our other agencies,” says Mark Kiriakou, the Food Bank’s Senior Director of Food Resources.

That's one of the things I'm most proud of from my work here: seeing the effect of our own efforts reverberate throughout the community.

Thanks to Mark Kiriakou at the Food Bank for working with us on the Nutrition Initiative, and on this story!

May 14, 2009

They Lied To Us!

Ain't this always the way?

Look, FOX, let's be frank. When you first called us a few weeks ago, offering us a "great opportunity," we thought to ourselves: It's a trap!

But no, you assured us that this was indeed a "great opportunity!" We'd have national exposure on a hit TV show. And well, okay, we knew it wasn't a hit at all--but it was a TV show.

So, like Faust to the Devil, we said:
What the hay, it's free. BRING IT ON!

We sent over our precious marketing art, and weeks later, chilled wine and hummus dip in hand, we settled back to watch the season finale of Lie to Me. We were ready to blow up.

Right as the show began, shifty swarthy-type characters walked onto a bus-- wow we didn't realize this would happen right at the top of the hour! And then... and then!

A flash of green, a blast.... was that it? No sighting of our trademark bus ad. Maybe a fleeting blurry second in a security camera replay, but mostly just forty four minutes of wan, tedious drama.

FOX. Why did you LIE TO US?

Was it so that we'd tell everyone to watch, giving your flailing show that extra little boost that it needed to get picked up for another season? Well that may have worked, FOX. But at what cost??

It was a trap!

We should have seen this coming. We should have known. We should have heeded those countless warnings to stay out of show business, or at least to get ourselves an agent.

Well, you know, whatever. The show was alright. It was nice of them to offer. We just wish they'd called.

Congratulations to Stacey Smith, MSW

Many congratulations to Bread for the City case manager Stacey Smith, who just received his masters degree from Howard University.
At a celebration here at our Southeast Center, when Stacey received his new business cards with the "MSW" next to his name, Stacey thanked "the large group of people who made this possible - this diploma belongs to all of you as much as me."

Stacey also coordinates Bread for the City's Pre-Employment Program, which offers coaching for job seekers along with generalized lifestyle education.

“I don’t see myself as a social worker,” said Stacey said some time ago in a remarkable staff profile. He went on to explain that his work as a Bread for the City case manager was as much a "spiritual thing.... [that] comes from my heart." And that's a point well-made, but as of this week Stacey's title says otherwise. Congratulations, Stacey!

May 13, 2009

Nutrition and community

We're happy to be guest-blogging at's Sustainable Food blog. Many thanks to Natasha Chart for the opportunity.

Much of what's in this first guest-post will be familiar to Beyond Bread readers, but I do want to share this video here:

As I wrote on Sustainable Food:

[O]ur cooking class... is collegial and supportive. I’ve formed strong relationships with many of the people who attend the classes. Mr. Billingsley, the man featured in the clip, is a regular. He’s made great progress. When he first started the class, he warned me that he was something of a picky eater, but he really enjoyed things like avocado, hummus, and miso soup – and now even incorporates a white bean salad into his weekly diet....

[T]he effect of community modeling on eating habits is pretty substantial. A person in a community of resources is likely to be in contact with someone who is making healthy food choices and thinking about nutrition (maybe even reading food-related blogs). These social interactions are enriching, validating, and inspiring. But in lower-income communities, where fresh and nutritious foods are scarce and often too costly, those social interactions are less common. As a result, even though it is possible (though still too difficult) to have a balanced diet on a low budget, many people are discouraged from making the effort.

We designed our cooking classes with this function of community modeling in mind. As such, we’re able to create a peer support network that, hopefully, not only helps individuals eat well but will then percolate outward into their own communities.

We're excited to be reaching out to the wonderfully active audience.

May 12, 2009

National Poverty News Roundup for 12 May

Amidst what is becoming the ordinary, steady flow of stories about rising demand and lower supply for food banks across the country, and the stories about local businesses pitching in to donate from their (steadily diminishing) surplus stocks and motivated groups and extraordinary individuals doing their part to raise awareness, and the continual reminders that this is a tough job market for everyone, including recent college grads, a few items shone through this week.

First is the increasing media sophistication when it comes to discussing the lives of the poor and homeless in the United States. Going beyond simple sentimentalism, there are increasing number of nuanced treatments of the everyday experience of the economically marginalized, such as this series (the link is to Part One; other parts to follow) on "the new homeless" from the Charlotte Observer. Also noteworthy is a recent NPR Living on Earth story on "food deserts" in urban areas, which draws the connection between poverty and health in a novel and compelling way.

Second is the kind of new thinking that can sometimes arise in a crisis, when researchers and activists step beyond conventional wisdom to tackle problems in novel ways. Witness, for example, recent initiatives in green affordable housing in New York City; Sustainable South Bronx, an advocacy organization solidly supporting such efforts, links environmental justice and economic development in creative ways that perhaps hold the potential to address multiple facets of poverty simultaneously. Or consider the intriguing new research on the neurology of poverty, which continues to look for effects of low and high socioeconomic status on educational outcomes in children in the functioning of specific areas of the brain; while it has not done so, the research has clearly indicated that "language aptitude is . . . damaged by poverty" and that therefore policies need to be designed to "decrease some of the neurophysiological strain of poverty."

Finally, the increasing sophistication of the public policy debate about planning for the future is marvelous to behold. Should fuel taxes pay for alternative transportation with the Highway Trust Fund under considerable strain? one forum asks, and invites a variety of experts to weigh in on the issue. Foreign aid reform is also proceeding. and thanks to online tools like we can now track the progress of bills through committee hearings and floor debates more closely than ever before. It's a new chapter in government accountability, in many ways; will that openness and transparency help to produce more creative solutions?

AmeriCorps: Fixing Student Loans Should be Part of the Expansion

Civil service should come with loan deferment.

We’ve posted before about the Serve America Act (which, among other things, will open up AmeriCorps from 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots nationwide), and the potential for improvements to AmeriCorps for the purposes of fostering civil service in our country. Block grants, as I wrote before, would be a smart step to make sure the funding goes to programs that can put it to best use.

But service still isn’t a viable option for many young Americans – and that needs to change in order to develop a culture of broad civic volunteerism.

One of the most crucial would be to change federal guidelines on student loans. AmeriCorps members are typically just out of college and have racked up a great deal of student loans. Federal Stafford loans can, after a very complicated process, be deferred while a person is in AmeriCorps. Many private loans cannot. Considering that AmeriCorps members live on about $800 a month and have to pay for their own housing, debt can quickly become a problem. Moreover, many students from lower income households are unable to participate in AmeriCorps because the financial investment is so prohibitive.

The deferred Federal Stafford loans can be handled with more consideration as well. Most people leave AmeriCorps having saved no money (for the obvious reason that they’re paid so little). Their first payment on their student loans often comes due right as they’re leaving, when they are looking for a job. As a result, service often poses the wrong kind of sacrifice to volunteers: putting them at risk of insolvency.

If Congress is serious about getting more people involved in community service, one way to show it would be to work with private lenders to allow private loans to be deferred. Streamlining and extending the deferment process for Federal Stafford loans would be another big step forward. This is a way to ease volunteers’ transition back into the job market, and it will inevitably mean more people are able to take advantage of the opportunity to greater positive effect. And as opposed to the expenditures of the Serve America Act, these suggestions would cost little to nothing.

Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Go UP!

This post is from guest-blogger, Lisa Johnson. Lisa has been working in our Medical Clinic as the Clinic Administrator for over a decade.

As of May 1st, Medicaid reimbursement rates have increased! Thank you to the Department of Health Care Finance for approving this increase and thank you to the DCPCA and all who have tirelessly advocated for the long-overdue, much-needed raise.

What am I talking about? Well, for years DC safety net providers have been frustrated by low reimbursement rates for seeing Medicaid and Alliance patients. On average, Bread for the City was reimbursed only about $35 per visit for Medicaid patients--however, an average medical visit costs us over $100. Big discrepancy!

However, as of May 1st, the Medicaid Managed Care rates in the District have increased to match the Medicare rates--this means they nearly doubled. Coupled with a matching increase for Medicaid Fee-For-Service patients effective 4/1/09 and a recent Alliance rate increase to $95 per patient, the Department of Health Care Finance is working hard to attract more providers to serve Medicaid and Alliance patients....and goodness knows, we need them!

While this new reimbursement still does not fully cover our costs, we are very grateful for the increase. Thanks, DHCF, for taking steps to more accurately reimburse providers for the care provided!

May 11, 2009

Budget Time: Contact City Council!

Posting this from a DCFPI email:

With less than 24 hours to go before the final budget vote, the DC Council needs to hear from you! Tell Councilmembers to protect funding for affordable housing and other low-income programs and remind them that these programs still need more support. Call or email the Council before the final budget vote at 10 AM tomorrow, May 12.

Thank the Council for finding:

  • $750,000 for the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP)
  • $750,000 for Housing First
  • $1.5 million for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance
  • $2 million for the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP)
  • Funding to restore cost-of-living increases for Standard Deduction and Personal Exemption

Remind the Council that affordable housing and low-income programs still need additional funding:
  • TANF cash assistance: $1.2 million
  • Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP): at least $3 million
  • Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP): $5 million
  • Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF): currently underfunded by $41 million

What You Can Do
1. Send an email to your Ward Councilmember and Council Chair Vincent Gray. Complete contact information for Council members can be found below.

2. Follow up with a phone call or email to your Councilmember.

Councilmember Emails/Phone Numbers
(Note: If you do not know which ward you are in, you can find it by entering your address here.)

Vincent C. Gray, Council Chairman
Tel: (202) 724-8032

Jim Graham (Ward 1)
Tel: (202) 724-8181

Jack Evans (Ward 2)
Tel: (202) 724-8058

Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3)
Tel: (202) 724-8062

Muriel Bowser (Ward 4)
Tel: (202) 724-8052

Harry Thomas, Jr. (Ward 5)
Tel: (202) 724-8028

Tommy Wells (Ward 6)
Tel: (202) 724-8072

Yvette M. Alexander (Ward 7)
Tel: (202) 724-8068

Marion Barry (Ward 8)
Tel: (202) 724-8045

BFC on TV: Lie To Me

It was only a matter of time until the networks came calling.

This Wednesday, during the season finale of Lie To Me (FOX, 8pm), Bread for the City will make our explosive prime-time television debut. Sort of. It's hard to explain without probably totally spoiling what very well may be riveting drama. (Although it also doesn't seem that anyone at Bread for the City has ever watched this program before, so we cannot vouch for the likelihood of prospective riveting.)

We can, however, vouch that the show is set in Washington, DC, so our cameo will certainly bestow that critical air of authenticity. We are proud to play a role in bringing this fine city to greater national prominence.

So spread the buzz! Plan a drinking game of some sort! Tune in on Wednesday night at 8pm! And be proud: you knew about us before we blew up. Email us with your name and address to receive an autographed, personalized copy of our most recent direct mail solicitation.

Disclaimer: Bread for the City is not currently lying, and never will knowingly lie in the future, to you.

May 8, 2009

Let's Hear It for Donna Packer

A quick shout out to our friend, Donna Packer. Donna is the CEO of Packer List, a company that helps us with our direct mail. Donna is also a volunteer for Art with a Heart, a donor, and a fierce ally of Bread for the City. interviewed Donna yesterday-- you should check it out.

We love you, Donna! (And her hubby, Ed, isn't too shabby!)

Who's Honoring Dr. Randi Now?


Our Medical Clinic Director, Dr. Randi Abramson, just received the 2009 Public Health Award from the Metropolitan Washington Public Health Association. These awards are given to people who have “advanced the public health field through ongoing dedication and commitment as a public servant.” And, yes, for sure, that describes Dr. Randi. This, however, marks the third such award in about six months, beaten to the punch by the DC Primary Care Association and the American Medical Association.

Here in Bread for the City's Devo office, we briefly considered launching a new column that would shine a harsh bloglight upon medical associations that have yet to honor Dr. Randi. (Step it up, HIGPA! Jeez.) But if we're going to actually speak for her, we would have to politely request that all associations momentarily refrain from giving Dr. Randi any more awards this year. Seriously, doc's got patients to see.

May 7, 2009

Helping Other People Help People: N Street Village

This week we have the pleasure of introducing N Street Village, an amazing organization by Logan Circle. They provide a variety of services to homeless women in DC- including food, clothing, showers, and mental and physical health care.

N ST also provides supportive housing, which is critical for helping women attain self sufficiency. John Eskate, Community Outreach Coordinator and Lutheran Volunteer Corps member, let us know about a critical need for one twin sized metal bed frame. He explains that they have lost some of their frames to bed bugs earlier this year.

They are also on a search for a new love seat or sofa for a resident of the Transitional Housing program.

Plus! There is one other way you can, um, support the women of N St. Village. John explains:

We recently came into possession of many large sized bras (42 D & DD) thanks to the participants of the Great Urban Race, but we need bras in the 38 B to C cup range now. Our clients are able to receive one bra a month, which adds up to about 60 bras a month, but that's often because we don't have enough bras and some will hold off some months.

John, and the women of N ST. Village, would be very appreciative if you could hold a bra drive at your church or workplace. (Likewise, for sanitary pads. There is a perpetual need, and it seems they are currently running particularly low.)

Homelessness forces women to suffer too many kinds of indignities. We encourage you to help the N St Village help women travel down the road to health and empowerment. Please e-mail John or give him a call at 202-939-2075 if you want to help.

May 6, 2009

AmeriCorps & Civil Service: There's More To Be Done

Slight tweaks could go a long way.

Jo posted yesterday about an on-going discussion we’ve been having. Bread for the City has seven stipended volunteers on staff, either through AmeriCorps or a Volunteer Corps, doing work in almost every program we offer. And in the wake of the Serve America Act, we’ve been talking about ways these civil service programs could be improved. Though Jo was writing primarily about education awards, there is another part of the equation—the monthly stipend.

The Edward Kennedy Serve America Act plans, by 2017, to open AmeriCorps from its present 75,000 slots to 250,000 slots. Though allowing more people to join will help AmeriCorps, and will therefore help direct-service non-profits like us, this alone doesn’t take sufficient steps to make these service opportunities more enticing, effective, and rewarding.

Most AmeriCorps members can look forward to a monthly stipend of about $800 dollars a month. Even if a person is able to find some type of housing for $500 a month (I’m assuming this person is living in a group home, lives in a region not near a metro, lives in substandard conditions, or a mix of all three), that means all of the other expenses per month have to equal $300. We’ve heard from a number of partner organizations that AmeriCorps members have had to work second jobs, rack up huge credit card debt, or terminate their service year early because they couldn’t make ends meet. This is obviously bad news for the participant, who walks away with a negative experience; and it’s also bad news for the non-profit, since it prevents the AmeriCorps member from focusing their full attention to the work they have a passion for and signed up to do.

One easy fix I can see is to open up AmeriCorps funding to locally directed block grants that can be used to support Volunteer Corps stipends. AmeriCorps already handles all of the education awards for Volunteer Corps, so directing money to stipends is not a far stretch.

In a Volunteer Corps, participants still live very simply – with low enough incomes, as Jo wrote, to qualify for food stamps. But they are provided with housing and a support structure. These local groups are already active, are highly competitive, and (as Jo points out) offer much more support than a traditional AmeriCorps slot. Instead of expanding AmeriCorps slots while Volunteer Corps organizations have to continue to raise their own funds, why not direct some of that money to the pre-existing structures that are better equipped to provide a meaningful service experience? We could create better civil service opportunities, faster, with the same amount of funding.

May 5, 2009

Making Service Work

Like many volunteer service workers, I came to Bread for the City filled with things like hope and idealism; after eight months here, all that has butted up against endless emails to Social Security administrators, frustrating phone calls with landlords, endless paperwork, and a level of income that happens to qualify me for food stamps. But as a result, I have a more complete appreciation for how difficult it is to climb out of poverty. And that has been as valuable to me as any education.

This work is of immense value to the community. Michelle Obama recently acknowledged it when she wrote in an op-ed that, “the nation needs youthful idealism more than ever.” Her article itself was vindication for the work that my colleagues and I have done all year. She was writing in recognition of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which her husband recently signed into law.

The Act has been hailed as a bill that “will change the course of history and civic responsibility in our country." And indeed, it’s a helpful step toward a revival of civic participation in America – but with all due respect, it’s very much a first one.

The Serve America Act vastly increases the number of AmeriCorps “education awards” (which provide debt relief for student loans), but the increase in size of awards is small: from $4,725 to $5,350. Such funding isn’t quite negligible, but even as a recent graduate in thousands of dollars of student debt, I wouldn’t say that an increase of six hundred dollars or so is substantial.

In my experience this funding is not a primary motivating factor in driving someone to service. It’s the “youthful idealism,” rather than the funding, that makes these slots so competitive.

My own service was conducted through the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (which is not technically part of AmeriCorps, though we can receive AmeriCorps education awards). LVC also provides participants with additional financial support, a programmatic structure, and living accommodations within an intentional community. Through this community, I’ve found the support and inspiration to sustain a year of low pay and difficult work. And with the LVC’s support, Bread for the City has provided me the space and trust to try my hand at the work of social justice. As a result, I consider this year of service to have been a privilege.

And yet, that privilege itself is not as widely available and readily exercised by young Americans as it could be. Debt prevents so many from participating, and those who try anyway must struggle to attain loan relief. Even if a year or more of service can be financially feasible, many are daunted without a proper social network or access to a feasible living situation. Opportunities to serve are taken to best advantage when there is sufficient support inside the program.

Supportive living conditions; sustained and sustaining financial support; social engagement – these are the critical components of my successful service. Through improvements designed to foster these conditions, AmeriCorps could become an even more powerful engine of volunteerism and civic participation.

We’ll be discussing these issues in greater depth in the coming week. It’s an exciting time for those committed to service and social justice, and we hope to see more great progress made in the years to come.

May 4, 2009

Budget Update! Funding Found for Critical Programs

We are in the home stretch with the City budget! Each Committee has had hearings for the agencies within their purview and, as of the end of last week, all of the Committees have voted on their Mark-Up Reports.

A number of good things came out of the Committee mark-ups -- overall, it was an encouraging process for the sake of critical safety net programs, especially given the scale of the budget crisis. Last week, Beyond Bread posted about the Judiciary Committee's approval of funding for civil legal services to the poor.

Now, we find out that some other things SOME and BFC care about—access to food, housing, homeless services, and income supports—have support for needed funding as well.

Most notably, the Public Works and Transportation Committee, chaired by Councilmember Jim Graham, moved to generate revenue that would prop up quite a few programs that are essential to the health of low-income communities. (Graham has been working hard at this recently: after budget cuts last fall, he fought successfully for increases to parking meter pricing; but those funds were ultimately redirected to general funding, as opposed to specific social service programs.) This time he put forth another proposal that would generate revenue from DC's Street Sweeper Cam Initiative. The initiative calls for mounting cameras on street sweepers and photographing the license plates of illegally parked cars. Tickets would generate an estimated $6.8 million of revenue for Fiscal Year 2010.

A slew of new $40 parking tickets isn't likely to warm the heart, but look at what the generated revenue would go to fund:

The committee also identified $2.9 million in additional revenue through a previously unnoticed accounting error, and recommends using this money to restore the cost of living adjustment to the standard income tax deduction, since the loss of a cost of living adjustment would be in effect a regressive tax measure. This is another smart, just move that was advocated by the Coalition for Community Investment (in which Bread for the City and SOME are both active members).

We extend a big thank-you to Councilmember Graham for truly diligent work in finding this funding, all of which will help the entire District of Columbia to weather the economic crisis and stay poised for a quick recovery.

These increases are crucial, but they barely scratch the surface of need. Homeless families can tell you that – and it’s not hard to find them, since this year has seen a 25% increase of homeless families in DC.

And, of course, the Committee process so far has only offered forth budget recommendations; now, it's up to City Council to act on them. And it's up to us to hold them accountable. The first vote on the budget by the Committee of the Whole is next week, on May 12th. Express your support for these recommendations by emailing City Council at

You can also use SOME’s Action Tool to write to City Councilmembers to tell them that additional funding is needed. And the Fair Budget Coalition will rally outside of City Council (1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW) in support of affordable housing, TANF, and homeless services, this Wednesday at noon 12-1. It's during lunchtime, and a great opportunity to help out your low-income and homeless neighbors.

Stay tuned for more details as things unfold this week. (And for a more detailed description of the budget calendar, see the DCFPI Budget Toolkit.)

Councilmember Jim Graham, stepping up big-time.

May 2, 2009

Birthday Bash Roundup: Measureable Outcomes

Dr. Randi with with her son Yonah, daughter Eve, and husband Michael Lieberman. She also has another daughter, Hannah, who isn't pictured.

Well, it's the day after our blog's birthday, and yet I would be remiss if I didn't add a couple lines about one more set of things we cover on Beyond Bread--the many things we've accomplished. Though some of them have trickled into our other roundups (notably our large nutrition initiative, breaking ground on our expanded medical clinic, and the huge success of our Holiday Helpings Drive), others deserve equal recognition.

Just before our blog launced last year, we hired Sharon Gruber, our Nutrition Consultant. Working part-time, Sharon has an incredible number of projects she's working on. She worked with Ted to make sure all of the food in our pantry is as nutritious as possible. She's the force behind our most recent gleaning initiative--in fact, it was her idea! She's also the contact for all of the local farmers. She meets with medical clinic patients one-on-one for nutrition consultations, heads up the cooking classes through our Fit for Fun program, AND has been a regular contributor to this blog since we first launched. Her "Nutrition Minute" http:>

We also worked with the Healthy and Affordable Food For All coalition to launch the DC Food Finder--a resource that allows both non-profit staff and low-income residents to find a number of food access sites from anywhere in DC. Our guy Greg, an editor of this blog and BFC's current contact person for HAFA, is currently doing webinars on how to use this hip new tool to greatest advantage.

I would consider it a large oversight if I didn't mention that our Dr. Randi Abramson also won the prestigious American Medical Association's Pride in the Profession Award this year!! This is a huge honor since the Pride in Profession award is very competative--only a handful of people get it every year. Dr. Randi was the first full-time doctor at Bread for the City 19 years ago. Indeed, she was the only doctor on staff until a few months ago when we hired Dr. Joan E. to ramp up for the expansion. Loved by patients, volunteers, and staff members alike, Dr. Randi truly deserved this recognition.

Staff members from multiple departments also helped make our voter registration drive a great success during the election season, and helped us respond early to WMATA phasing out paper transfers.

I guess that wraps up or blog birthday. Thanks again to all of the readers and volunteers who have helped make this a successful endeavor!

May 1, 2009

Birthday Bash Roundup: Information & Education

Weekly Volunteer Jim Frank helps in the NW Food Pantry.*

Our birthday bash continues! I plan to celebrate this momentous day with an extra cup of coffee and a trip to Busboys & Poets to support Book Fruits, an organization that teaches creative writing to children in DCPS. Tonight, authors 8-16 years of age will be reading their work.

Looking back through the year, our archives are littered with in-depth analysis on poverty issues. One of the goals of this blog is to give our readers an insight into why, exactly, issues like TANF, housing, and mental health are so important to us. This means presenting the issues to our readers in an accessible way without diluting the arguments. Though the information below is nowhere close to exhaustive, it does give an impression of the myriad factors that can contribute to perpetual poverty.

Of all of our topics, there is no more complex and misunderstood one than housing. Whether merely defining terms, discussing the Section 8 wait list and the New Communities Initiative, getting the opinions of experts like Jim Knight of Jubilee Housing or BFC's own Margie Sollinger, or (most recently) covering Legal Clinic Director Vytas V. Vergeer's work with the tenants of Marbury Plaza, Beyond Bread covered a lot of material.  And yet we're nowhere near documenting everything there is to know about affordable housing in DC. 

Recently, staff member Valentine Breitbarth (graduating this month with a Master of Public Health) started our coverage of what will continue to be a big story in the upcoming year--the shift in role for the DC Department of Mental Health. Though the transition has been discussed for some time, DMH began the implementation of a plan to switch from providing direct mental health services to an indirect oversight role. Bread for the City's Representative Payee Program will be directly impacted by the DMH shift, so we will have no choice but to monitor the situation closely. 

One of our longest-standing partners is So Other's Might Eat, and one of their Advocacy Associates, Joni Podschun, has been contributing to this blog almost from the beginning. Lately she's been combing through DC's TANF legislation--digging into the nuances of its implementation, comparing our TANF program to those of other states, and exploring the ways TANF helps people.

Bread for the City also advocated vociforously for the expansion of food stamps, the passage of the so-called "Bag Bill" that will help clean the Anacostia River of harmful contaminants, and a more open budget process.  Whew! Expect more information in all of these areas in year two.

Beyond Bread: Law Day Roundup

First a word to DC's many lawyers: Happy Law Day! Started in 1958, May 1st legally became Law Day in 1961. Many groups of lawyers come to DC around this time to lobby Congress for all sorts of things. Our lawyers will spend the day in court as part of the Lawyer of the Day program, through which we take on civil cases when the defendent can't afford an attorney.

We're happy to have eight full-time attorneys on staff covering three types of law: public benefits, family, and landlord/tenant.

~Speaking of the Lawyer of the Day program, City Desk's Jason Cherkis picked up on the good news we reported about civil legal services in DC. Earlier this week, the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to maintain funding for a host of needed legal services. As City Desk reported, 98 percent of respondents in cases filed in the Domestic Violence Unit in D.C. Superior Court don't have representation. They go into court to defend their home themselves. Thanks to Jason for drawing attention to the importance of civil legal funding to low-income residents in DC.

~Leslie Bray was, at one time, a client at Bread for the City. Now she has a vibrant fashion column in the Examiner, donates to Bread for the City monthly, and is a passionate advocate for individual giving. You should read her column about her latest charity initiative.

~Councilmember Graham has a really interesting interview on The Heights Life, talking about development, the need to preserve low-income housing, and how he loves to party at Wonderland.

~The CKP Blog, run by the non-profit Campus Kitchens, has a good discussion about trying to reduce waste. Considering they deliver meals, this is no small feat. Right now many Campus Kitchens are using styrofoam clamshells because they're cheap and efficient. But one of their Kitches has come up with another solution--tupperware! Liz Whitehurst tells us that the kinks are still being worked out, but this is a perfect example of how direct-service non-profits are responding to the national call to reduce waste. Good work, Campus Kitchens!

~DCFPI's blog says the Youth Employment Program needs to heighten accountability if it is going to truly help young people. With 21,000 participants and 23 million in funding, accountability structures must be a mind-numbing thought.