Hawaii AG Joins Coalition to Stop SNAP Cuts That Would Leave Millions Hungry

Hawaii Attorney General Clare E. Connors joined a coalition of 24 Attorneys General and the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York in urging Congress to block the Trump administration’s attempts to cut vital food assistance for millions of Americans.

Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors

In a letter to Congress, the coalition expressed support for provisions in the House-passed HEROES Act that would prohibit the use of appropriation funds for three U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administrative rules. The rules would cut food assistance under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) by making it harder to qualify for SNAP food assistance benefits, reducing State flexibility to continue benefits beyond the three-month limit, and reducing benefit amounts for certain households. The coalition argues that, especially during this unprecedented time of economic turmoil due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Congress should work to protect and expand our nation’s largest anti-hunger program.

“We should be collectively working towards making sure everyone has access to nutritious food,” said Attorney General Connors. “It is imperative, even more so during a pandemic, that we oppose rules cutting food-assistance to millions of Americans.”

SNAP, previously known as “food stamps,” is our country’s most important anti-hunger program and a critical part of federal and state efforts to help lift people out of poverty. The program provides people with limited incomes the opportunity to buy nutritious food that they otherwise could not afford.

The current pandemic underscores the need to preserve SNAP food assistance. In March alone, 40% of American households with incomes below $40,000 lost jobs, and from March 15 to May 15 of this year, 40.8 million Americans filed for unemployment. Unsurprisingly, the number of Americans applying for SNAP benefits has also spiked. As more Americans struggle to put food on the table with each passing day, cuts to food assistance programs that millions need to survive would only compound the suffering of this public health emergency.

In the letter sent to leaders of the House and Senate, the multistate coalition urges Congress to block the Trump administration’s three SNAP rules because they would:

  • Cut SNAP benefits for 700,000 Americans by restricting states from extending benefit time limits: There is a three-month time limit on SNAP benefits for unemployed individuals aged 18 to 49 who are not disabled or raising children—”able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs). However, states can acquire a waiver of this time limit for areas where the unemployment rate is above 10%, or if it presents data demonstrating that the area lacks sufficient jobs for ABAWDs. The ABAWD waiver rule would push nearly 700,000 Americans off SNAP by forcing states to rely on broad unemployment rates— instead of localized job availability for low-income individuals—in order to extend SNAP benefits to needy individuals for more than three months. This rule is currently partially enjoined by a federal court after many states in this coalition brought suit, and Congress waived SNAP time limits during the public health emergency in the Families First Act. That common sense measure serves as a template for future congressional action pertaining to SNAP.
  • Remove 3.1 million Americans from SNAP by making it harder to qualify for benefits: A long-standing policy known as “broad-based categorical eligibility” (BBCE) allows states to make low-income families automatically eligible for SNAP benefits if they have already qualified to receive certain other types of public assistance. Through BBCE, states can extend SNAP benefits to low- income families that slightly exceed the program’s gross income and asset limits if they also have significant critical expenses, like childcare, housing, or education expenses. The Revision of Categorical Eligibility rule would eliminate SNAP benefits for 3.1 million Americans by restricting states’ ability to use BBCE. Currently families are allowed to preserve basic emergency savings while maintaining their eligibility for food assistance under BBCE, but this rule would effectively require Americans to go completely broke before receiving SNAP benefits.
  • Reduce monthly benefits for SNAP households: SNAP benefits are based on states’ calculation of net income; the lower the net income, the higher the SNAP benefits. The Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances rule would change how states can account for the costs of utilities, including home heating and cooling, as they calculate net income for SNAP household benefits. The change will result in 19% of SNAP households receiving lower SNAP monthly benefits and will disproportionately affect Americans who are uniquely vulnerable at this time—seniors and people with disabilities.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Emergency SNAP Supplement Will Bring Households Maximum Benefit

The Hawai’i Department of Human Services (DHS) received approval to provide three months of emergency SNAP supplements to address temporary food needs for SNAP households.

This emergency SNAP supplement will bring all households up to the maximum benefit amount, based on household size, regardless of income. SNAP households who already received the maximum benefit amount will not receive an emergency supplement. There is no action needed from customers to receive these payments. Emergency supplements will be automatically issued to the SNAP household’s EBT card.

Hawaii residents who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the month of March 2020 may be able to receive an additional amount of SNAP benefits if they did not receive the maximum amount for their household size.

The maximum monthly SNAP allotments by household size are as follows:

 The Hawai’i Department of Human Services (DHS) received approval to provide three months of emergency SNAP supplements to address temporary food needs for SNAP households.

This emergency SNAP supplement will bring all households up to the maximum benefit amount, based on household size, regardless of income. SNAP households who already received the maximum benefit amount will not receive an emergency supplement. There is no action needed from customers to receive these payments. Emergency supplements will be automatically issued to the SNAP household’s EBT card.

Hawaii residents who received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the month of March 2020 may be able to receive an additional amount of SNAP benefits if they did not receive the maximum amount for their household size.

The maximum monthly SNAP allotments by household size are as follows:

Hawaii SNAP Program Receives Federal Award for Improved Access to Services

The State of Hawai’i Department of Human Services (DHS) has been awarded a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Bonus of $724,139 for the most improved Program Access Index for fiscal year FY 2012.

EBT Card

“This award is the result of great work by the DHS Benefits, Employment and Support Services Division (BESSD),” says DHS Deputy Director, Barbara Yamashita.  “It’s nice that the Federal SNAP program recognized the staff’s commitment to program integrity and customer service, and Hawaii’s improved performance.”

Between 2008 and 2012, the number of Hawaii SNAP recipients increased from 93,956 to more than 179,700 participants.  The DHS also was operating with a severely reduced workforce and limited program funding.  In some locations, timely application processing rates dropped to about 75%.

The DHS BESSD developed and implemented the Business Process Re-engineering Program (BPRP) in late 2011 to address the applications backlog. The BPRP converted the former Case Management system to a Process Management system. BESSD eligibility workers now consistently review and determine applicant eligibility within the federally-mandated period of 30 days; 7 days for emergencies.

“Through the BPRP and extraordinary staff effort, the DHS has significantly improved the timeliness of eligibility reviews and shortened the waiting period for individuals and families applying for SNAP benefits,” says BESSD Administrator, Pankaj Bhanot.  “Over the past year, timeliness rates across the state have hovered between 95% and 97%, and BESSD continues to exceed federal requirements.”

A Food and Nutrition Service representative is traveling to Hawaii to present an award plaque to BESSD on December 3, 2013.

 

Four More Boys Accuse Farmer of Abuse – Predator Adopted and Fostered Boys in CA and HI

Five of his “sons” now say that he molested them – Victims beg social services, public for help and information – Group runs ad begging “If you saw, suspected or suffered abuse, speak up”

SnapWhat:

Holding photos of themselves at the age they were abused, victims of child sex abuse will:

  • Announce four new child sex abuse and cover up lawsuits against a former Hakalau farmer, and
  • Urge social services officials to post and distribute information about Jay Ram, urging social workers to report any information or evidence they may have.

When:

Tuesday, October 22 at 11 am

Where:

Outside of the East Hawaii (Hilo) Office of Child and Family Service, 1045A Kilauea Avenue (at Mohouli) in Hilo (Social workers with the Office of Child and Family Service worked with some of the boys fostered and/or adopted by Jay Ram)

Who:

Members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, (SNAPnetwork.orgthe nation’s largest support group for men and women who were sexually abused in religious and institutional settings, including a California woman who is the group’s volunteer Western Regional Director

Why:

Four more victims of a former Hakalau farmer are filing lawsuits saying that he sexually abused them after fostering and/or adopting them.

The first victim charged Ram with abuse in March, saying that Ram used him and other boys as “forced child labor” to develop his land and kept them as virtual prisoners on his farm.

Ram, who is also known as Gary Winnick, is also accused of sexually abusing other boys that he fostered and adopted in California and Hawaii. He is believed to be India.

The lawsuits say that Ram used the boys as forced physical labor and that he also sexually abused them. The victims say that Ram threatened them to keep them silent, deprived them of food and refused to let them to engage in regular social activities with their peers out of fear that the boys would report to authorities. Although Ram has been investigated by the police in the past, the victims say that they were threatened with violence and abuse to keep them quiet. The boys were abused between the ages of 8 and 17 during the mid-to-late 1980s and early 1990s.

Ram was involved in agricultural research with the University of Hawaii, Hilo. http://hilo.hawaii.edu/academics/cafnrm/research/documents/11TheNeedforFurtherEvaluation-Ram73-81.pdf

Members of SNAP are reaching out to the social services community in Hilo hoping to finding enough evidence to help law enforcement reopen a criminal investigation against Ram. Many of the boys Ram fostered and adopted were under supervision of social workers in Hilo, who may have felt helpless at the time to do anything about allegations of abuse.

The victims in this case was able to come forward and expose Ram in the civil courts because of a landmark new state law that allows all Hawaii victims of child sexual abuse to come forward and seek justice in the courts, no matter when the abuse occurred.

The victims are represented by attorneys Mike Reck (714) 742-6593 mreck@andersonadvocates.com and Mark Gallagher (808) 779-5012 mgallagher@hawaiiantel.net. Copies of the lawsuit and the leaflet will be available at the event.

Hakalau Farmer Named in Child Sex Abuse Lawsuit

He adopted and fostered boys in Hawaii and California, then victim charges man isolated boys and abused them.  There could be dozens of victims, group says.  New law allows victims to come forward, no matter when they were abused.

Media Release:

What: At a press conference, victims of sex abuse will announce and discuss a new sex abuse lawsuit against a former Hakalau farmer. The lawsuit alleges that Jay Ram:  Sexually abused the victim and other boys for five years, Isolated the boys from family, friends and peers, and Used the boys as forced child labor to develop the land

Victims will also: Urge anyone with information about Ram or his whereabouts to report, and  Beg other victims to come forward and get help

Where: Outside of Hilo’s Third Circuit Courthouse, Hale Kaulike, 777 Kilauea Avenue in Hilo

When: Monday, March 4 at 1 pm

On Friday, a Honolulu man filed a sex abuse lawsuit against a former Hakalau farmer who, he says, adopted him and then sexually abused him for more than five years. He also says the man used him and other boys as “forced child labor” to develop his land and kept them as virtual prisoners on his farm.

Jay Ram, who is also known as Gary Winnick, is also accused of sexually abusing other boys that he fostered and adopted in California and Hawaii.

This is not the first allegation against Ram. In 1992, another foster child came forward to report that Ram had sexually abused him. A little more than a year later, Ram was indicted for child sexual abuse. The charges were dropped in 1994. There were also allegations of physical abuse launched against Ram a few years earlier. Those allegations did not result in charges.

Jay Ram

Because the boys were taken out of his custody to be questioned, Ram went on to sue the State of Hawaii, Department of Human Services for removing the boys from his custody, the case eventually settled.

According to the lawsuit, Ram adopted the victim in California in 1983, when the boy, known as John Roe 8, was 10 years old. The victim had been in foster care for five years. In 1987, Ram moved the victim and other boys to a farm in Hakalau, where, the lawsuit alleges, “Jay Ram isolated the boy and his other adopted children, prohibiting them from visiting friends’ houses, having girlfriends and playing sports.” From 1984 to 1989, the suit also charges, Ram sexually abused the victim and other boys who lived with them.

During this time, Ram was involved in agricultural research with the University of Hawaii, Hilo.

SNAP believes there may be more victims suffering in silence.

“Jay Ram adopted vulnerable boys and used them for his sexual pleasure,” said Joelle Casteix, SNAP Western Regional Director. “Since the boys were so isolated, they had nowhere to go for help and were prisoners in a cycle of abuse they could not escape.”

The group also believes there may be witnesses, including researchers from UH who spent a great deal of time on the farm.

The victim in this case was able to come forward and expose Ram in the civil courts because of a landmark new state law that allows all Hawaii victims of child sexual abuse to come forward and seek justice in the courts, no matter when the abuse occurred.

Ram’s last known address was in Saipan. However, reports claim he may in India

The victims are represented by attorneys Mike Reck (714) 742-6593 mreck@andersonadvocates.com and Mark Gallagher (808) 779-5012 mgallagher@hawaiiantel.net. Copies of the lawsuit will be available at the event.

Contact:

IN HAWAII-Joelle Casteix of Newport Beach, CA (IN HONOLULU), SNAP Western Regional Director, (949) 322-7434 cell, jcasteix@gmail.com

Barbara Blaine of Chicago, IL, SNAP President, (312) 399-4747 cell, SNAPBlaine@gmail.com

Tim Lennon of San Francisco, CA, SNAP Bay Area Director, (415) 312-5820 cell, survivorsnetworksf@gmail.com

 

 

Hilo Priest Accused of Child Sex Crimes Still Travels and Works with Youngsters Today

Holding signs and photos of themselves when they were abused, child sex abuse victims will announce that a long-time Hilo Catholic priest, Fr. George DeCosta, has been accused of molesting two boys, but continues to work for a church group that teaches music to teenagers.

They will also beg Honolulu Bishop Clarence Silva to: disclose why the priest was forced to retire, insist that the music group oust him immediately, personally visit every parish, school and facility where he worked reaching out to others he may have hurt.

Where: Outside of Malia Puka O Kalani Church, 326 Desha Ave in Hilo

Malia Puka O Kalani Church

When: Tuesday, August 21, at 11 am

Who:

One to two members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAPNetwork.org), the nation’s largest support group for men and women sexually abused as children in religious and institutional organizations, including a California woman who is the group’s Western Regional Director

FR. GEORGE DECOSTA is a retired priest of the Diocese of Honolulu, Hawaii

Why:

Last month, two victims of child sexual abuse filed legal claims in New York state charging they were sexually abused by a long-time Hilo priest, Fr. George DeCosta.   Now, DeCosta is the pastor of the Hale Lokahi community in Hilo. He also works with Music Ministry Alive, a MN-based group that trains young people to be liturgical music leaders http://www.musicministryalive.com/mma2012/meettheteam.html.

The victims are coming forward as a part of the recent bankruptcy of the Irish Christian Brothers, the Catholic religious order that runs Honolulu’s Damien Memorial School, where DeCosta was a teacher. http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/16904070/group-says-child-predators-worked-at-catholic-school

Both victims were young students at Damien in the late 1960s, when DeCosta worked as a religion teacher and director of the Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) at the school. At least one of the victims charges that DeCosta molested him at an Oahu CYO camp.

At the time of the alleged abuse, DeCosta was also assigned to St. Theresa’s parish in Honolulu, a parish with a school.

In 1973, DeCosta was transferred to St. Mary Gate of Heaven—now Malia Puka’O Kalani—Parish in Hilo. He stayed there until 2002, when Honolulu Bishop Francis DiLorenzo mysteriously forced him to retire at age 65. That was the year that the clergy sex abuse and cover up crisis attracted national headlines. Bishops pledged then to be “open” about child sex cases and oust predators from ministry.

Currently, DeCosta is a member of the leadership team of Music Ministry Alive, a MN-based group that trains young people to serve as liturgical music leaders in the Catholic church. http://www.musicministryalive.com/mma2012/meettheteam.html. He is also the founder of the Big Island Learning and Arts Community (BILAC).

SNAP believes that there may be more victims in Hilo and Honolulu and that church officials must do more to reach out to survivors. They want Honolulu Bishop Silva to make sure DeCosta is ousted from his current positions and personally visit all of the churches, schools and communities where DeCosta has worked, reaching out to potential victims. They also want Silva to release DeCosta’s secret personnel file and publicly disclose the full reason DeCosta was forced to retire.

The victims asked SNAP to speak out on their behalf, to make sure that what happened to them does not happen to other children.

Both victims also have rights under Hawaii’s new civil window law that gives victims of child sexual abuse a chance to seek justice in the courts no matter when they were abused.  http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/18627821/lawsuit-claims-abuse-by-former-honolulu-priest.

Both victims are represented by California attorney Michael Reck (714) 742-6593.