Lifeline Program

This low-cost phone and Internet program wastes millions in federal funding, auditors say, By Brian Fung, June 29, 2017, Washington Post: “A federal program designed to help millions of low-income Americans afford phone and Internet service is riddled with fraud and abuse, with at least $137 million a year going to ineligible, fake or dead people, according to government auditors. The explosive report Thursday from the Government Accountability Office shows that despite efforts to rein in abuse of the sprawling Lifeline program, which serves 12.3 million subscribers on Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits, many recipients of the $9.25-a-month credit are violating program rules…”

Summer Meal Programs – Minnesota

Summer Eats app helps Minnesota kids take bite out of hunger, By Shannon Prather, June 28, 2017, Star Tribune: “For kids who rely on free and reduced-price school lunches, summer break can be a hungry time. But there are nearly 700 sites across the state serving free, healthy meals to kids this summer — no reservations required — and a new smartphone app called Summer Eats Minnesota is making it easier for children and teens to find them. One additional perk of the app: It lists the menu at many locales…”

Child Welfare System – Michigan

Problems continue for Michigan’s child welfare database, By Justin A. Hinkley, Lansing State Journal: “The state’s troubled child welfare database lacked the necessary controls ‘to ensure that all cases are actively managed and all children and families receive necessary services,’ auditors reported Tuesday.  As of March 1, auditors had found 208 cases without a worker assigned to them. Those cases, a fraction of nearly 70,000 in the system, were hangovers from the state’s previous software database and should have been closed out, the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services said in its preliminary response contained in Tuesday’s report…”

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Proposed elimination of LIHEAP funding elicits concern, By David Blanchette, June 7, 2017, State Journal-Register: “President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018 would eliminate federal funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), a 40-year-old grant program that helps low-income households pay their utility bills and avoid shutoffs during winter cold or summer heat. If approved by Congress, the move could affect 6.7 million American families, including more than 330,000 in Illinois…”

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

Federal home heating assistance program is safe, for now, Associated Press, May 8, 2017, CBS News: “The federal program that helps low-income people heat their homes in the winter and, in some areas, cool them in the summer has been saved from elimination in the just-passed federal budget. While that’s good news for people who used the program in the just-finished heating season, next year’s funding will have to be negotiated by Congress as part of next year’s federal spending…”

LIHEAP and Native Americans

Native American tribes fear end of federal heating help, Associated Press, April 15, 2017, Billings Gazette: “Eva Iyotte was waiting on propane ordered under a federal energy assistance program President Donald Trump has targeted for elimination when she lost power at her home on frozen tribal land in South Dakota.  As the January conditions sent temperatures plummeting inside the house, the 63-year-old, her daughter and two grandsons took blankets to their car, where they waited with the heater running until the electricity was restored…”

Lifeline Program and Internet Access

FCC to halt expansion of broadband subsidies for poor people, By Jon Brodkin, March 29, 2017, Ars Technica: “The Federal Communications Commission is dropping its legal defense of a new system for expanding broadband subsidies for poor people, and it will not approve applications from companies that want to offer the low-income broadband service. The decision announced today by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai would halt implementation of last year’s expansion of the Lifeline program. This 32-year-old program gives poor people $9.25 a month toward communications services, and it was changed last year to support broadband in addition to phone service…”

SNAP Program and Online Shopping

Food stamp recipients will soon be able to order groceries online, By Maura Judkis, January 10, 2017, Washington Post: “Beginning this summer, some Americans who receive food assistance will have a new way to feed their families. The Agriculture Department said that it will test a program that allows people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP, known as food stamps — to order groceries online through various retailers. The ability to shop online could bring healthful food into food deserts, low-income areas where fresh food is not readily available…”

Fuel Poverty – England

More than 2.3m families living in fuel poverty in England, By Jessica Elgot, December 30, 2016, The Guardian: “More than 2.3 million families are living in fuel poverty in England – the equivalent of 10% of households, according to government statistics. Almost 60,000 households in Birmingham alone cannot afford to heat their homes. The figures from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy show the West Midlands city is worst affected, with Leeds, Cornwall, Manchester and Liverpool also in the top five local authorities where households face ‘eat or heat’ choices in winter…”

Mobile Banking

  • Dial M for money: Can mobile banking lift people out of poverty?, By Nurith Aizenman, December 9, 2016, National Public Radio: “If you live in Kenya there’s a jingle you hear on television and radio a lot.   ‘Things are now modern!’ they sing. ‘Things are now developed.’ It’s an ad for a type of banking service called M-PESA that’s run entirely through your mobile phone. You set up an account with the phone company. You can send and receive funds by text. Or, if you need to make a cash deposit or withdrawal, you do it through a vast network of agents — small-time vendors in kiosks and shops, for example, that the company has set up…”
  • Here’s why mobile money is dramatically reducing poverty in Kenya, By Robert Gebelhoff, December 22, 2016, Washington Post: “For Tavneet Suri, an economics professor at MIT who grew up in Kenya, much has changed in her home country over the past decade. What used to be an economy relatively closed off to the rest of the world is now a one where the vast majority of people are paying bills and sharing money with one another through cellphones…”

Fuel Poverty in the UK

Fuel poverty: How can UK tackle cold homes and high bills?, By Dave Harvey, November 17, 2016, BBC News: “When the temperature drops and the chill sets in, people in the UK are more likely to feel it in their homes than their continental neighbours. In European surveys comparing 16 countries with similar climates, the UK was near the bottom.  Why? Because it has the draughtiest windows and least insulated homes. For many families that means the moment they turn off the heating, the warmth goes out of the windows…”

Public-Assistance Computer System – Rhode Island

69-page report details failings of public-assistance computer system, By Katherine Gregg, October 15, 2016, Providence Journal: “The hours-long wait times inside Rhode Island’s welfare offices, the inability to get through on phone lines and the deep ‘customer frustration’ with the troubled launch of the state’s new $364-million computer system are documented in a report the Raimondo administration provided to a federal agency on Friday.  The report spells out in detail, over 69 data-filled pages, the real-life problems faced in recent weeks by thousands of Rhode Islanders who rely on public-assistance benefits to buy food and pay for other basics, including one-hour, 40-minute wait times on the phone, and 2½-hour waits to talk to someone in person…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Tech companies expect free high-speed internet for poorer Americans to pay off later, By Cecilia Kang, October 11, 2016, New York Times: “There is an axiom in technology: New products typically go to wealthy customers first, before prices eventually fall to reach the masses.  With broadband now classified like a utility, telecom and tech companies, including Sprint, Comcast and Facebook, are increasingly working to make high-speed internet accessible to every American, not just a luxury. The companies are among those that have set their sights on bringing free or cheap high-speed internet service to low-income and rural populations in the United States, spurred by philanthropy and, for some, the hope of turning Americans who are not online today into full-paying customers in the future…”

SNAP Program and Online Shopping

  • Why SNAP benefits could be going digital, By Christina Beck, September 15, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Online shopping has long been a boon for most Americans, whether they hate the scrutinizing stares of fellow shoppers, the chaos of big stores, or simply can’t get out the door. Soon, modifications to the federal food stamp program, SNAP, might make the benefits of online shopping available to some who could need it most: the many recipients who live in areas where there are fewer healthy grocery stores, known as ‘food deserts…'”
  • Federal food stamp program to test online shopping for recipients, By Greg Trotter, September 15, 2016, Chicago Tribune: “Starting next summer, Illinois residents on food stamps may be able to buy their groceries online through a two-year federal pilot program intended to increase food access for the poor.  Times, they are a’changin’, though faster for some than others. Online shopping has dramatically altered buying habits for most Americans in recent years, and now, the $75 billion federal food stamps program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, is moving toward making that option available to the 43 million or so people across the country receiving benefits…”

Identifying Poverty Areas using Satellite Imagery

Scientists use machine learning to fight global poverty from space, By Lonnie Shekhtman, August 18, 2016, Christian Science Monitor: “Satellites are best known for helping smartphones map driving routes or televisions deliver programs. But now, data from some of the thousands of satellites orbiting Earth are helping track things like crop conditions on rural farms, illegal deforestation, and increasingly, poverty in the hard-to-reach places around the globe…”

Low-Income Households and Internet Access

Comcast expands Internet access to more low-income families, By Pam Adams, July 15, 2016, Peoria Journal Star: “More low-income households, including veterans, senior citizens and adults without children, will have access to low-cost internet service from Comcast.  The country’s largest cable provider is expanding Internet Essentials to all housing programs in its service areas that receive funds for from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program originally was developed in 2011 to provide low-cost internet service for families of grade school and high school students who met eligibility guidelines for the federal free lunch program…”

Home Energy Costs

Where the poor spend more than 10 percent of their income on energy, By Adam Chandler, June 8, 2016, The Atlantic: “From childcare to payday loans, to the difficulty of buying in bulk and beyond, the list of what makes being poor so expensive is long already. And here’s another: energy-related expenses. The threshold beyond which experts believe energy ceases to be ‘affordable’ is 6 percent of a household’s income. But for many lower-income households, even with declining energy prices, paying less than that benchmark is a fantasy. DeAndrea Newman Salvador, an economist and the founder of The Renewable Energy Transition Initiative, a nonprofit, studied the cost of home utilities in her native North Carolina and found that energy expenditures among low-earning households were staggeringly high…”

Internet Access and Unemployment – Detroit, MI

Unemployed Detroit residents are trapped by a digital divide, By Cecilia Kang, May 22, 2016, New York Times: “In downtown Detroit, start-ups and luxury retailers are opening up and new office buildings are being built as the city works to recover from its deep economic problems. Six miles to the north, in the neighborhood of Hope Village, residents like Eric Hill are trying to participate in that progress but are running into hurdles. His difficulties were apparent on a recent Tuesday when he entered a crowded public library to use the computers to look for a new job. With no Internet service at home or on his mobile phone, Mr. Hill had few options to search work listings or file online job applications after losing his stocking job at a pharmacy five months ago…”

Home Energy Assistance Programs

Utility assistance falls short for those in poverty, By Dan Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock, May 15, 2016, Glenwood Springs Post Independent: “Families at low income levels pay more than they can afford for their home utility bills, and energy assistance programs designed to help make up the difference struggle to meet demand. As Lea Anne Shellberg knows, spring can be the most difficult time. Spring is when those power bills from the winter start piling up. A broken back and a recurring battle with skin cancer ended her career as an interior designer. When we first tried setting up an interview with her in mid-March, she was in trouble…”

Internet Access for Low-Income Families

This city is giving super-fast internet to poor students, By Heather Kelly, May 10, 2016, CNN Money: “Around 5 million homes with school-age children don’t have high speed internet, according to the Pew Research Center. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, 22.5% of residents live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 25,000 kids are on the public school system’s free and reduced lunch program. Chattanooga is trying to close its ‘homework gap’ with a pair of programs that help low-income families get online…”