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February 15, 2010

Host: Ted Simons


  |   Video
  • A national report on hunger reveals the problem has increased tremendously during the past four years. Ginny Hildebrand of the Association of Arizona Food Banks and Bob Evans of the United Food Bank in Mesa will discuss hunger in America and Arizona.
  • Ginny Hildebrand - Association of Arizona Food Banks
  • Bob Evans - United Food Bank in Mesa
Category: Business/Economy

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A new study reveals that hunger has increased substantially over the past four years. I'll talk to two food bank executives who deal with feeding the hungry every day. First, Mike Sauceda tells us more about this new report.

Smile pretty for the camera.

Deborah recently moved to Phoenix, getting a week's worth of food from Saint Mary’s Food Bank in Phoenix. Money is tight since Deborah and her husband have moved to the Valley.

Deborah: Yes, it is. Pay the rent and we're stretched out there.

Deborah joins many others in this bad economy who have never used a Food Bank before.

Deborah: Never done it before but it's going to be a welcome gift to us.

That's borne out by statistics from the latest survey of 61,000 food bank clients by Feeding America which represents 200 food banks from across the country, including Saint Mary's Food Bank, the first in the nation. The number of clients served increased by 46%.

Vicki Escarra: Another for us very interesting statistic is that clients who have been unemployed for less than a year, that number went up 68%. And the reason that's so important is that it really focuses attention on the fact that we are serving a lot of people that are coming to us for the first time, and don't really know how to use our services. So as we see unemployment and underemployment go up, that number is very important. A, because it is kind of the foundation around the increase that we're seeing. B, because we know that we will be serving those folks, certainly in the short to medium term.

Many of those first-time users have a tough time dealing with their need.

Vicki Escarra: You know, they do. You can tell when they come in. Typically if they have not been in before they obviously don't know the process. They are embarrassed. Oftentimes a lot of our senior citizens really are embarrassed because I think there's this feeling that most of them have worked all their lives and are living on a fixed income and never expected that they would have to rely on us for food assistance. On a positive note I will tell you that our network of food banks and people that work in these food banks and agencies are very accommodating.

Among the increases, a big jump in the number of kids who are not getting enough.

Vicki Escarra: An even bigger number and more compelling around the need and the crisis is that we saw increases from children that we served from 9 million up to 14 million nationwide, a 50% increase. And very concerning to us and to our network members because we know the impact of hunger on children specifically as they are growing. So from birth through about 16, if kids miss meals often, there is just a decline in their ability to learn, to grow, to develop psychologically. That is very worrisome to us.

But it's not just the jobless being served by food banks.

Vicki Escarra: We serve a great number of people that are employed. The statistics show that over 35% of the households that we serve have one working adult.

Ms. Conner says many of those skipping meals are making hard financial choices, with 46% having to choose between paying bills and eating.

Vicki Escarra: What we know is happening is that when people are at risk because they are unemployed or underemployed as a result of the economy, they are finding it really important to make their house mortgage, pay for any medical bills and so the thing that is really -- the vulnerability is food. They will go without food as opposed to being evicted from their homes.

Hunger is increasing but fortunately for food banks, so are donations, but not fast enough. We are fortunate with the Feeding America network that donations are up across the board. Above 20%, but you can see that closing the gap with the need being up 46% and donations being up 20%, we're continuing to do a lot of work in the community just to get people more and more aware of what's happening. And so we need to do more with this rising demand.

For people like Deborah the help was there when her and her husband experienced hunger.

Deborah: We've had a little stress but it wasn't that bad.

Ted Simons: Here to talk about hunger in Arizona is Ginny Hildebrand, president and CEO of the Arizona Association of Food Banks. Here is Bob Evans, as well, Chief Executive Officer of the United Food Bank in Mesa. Any surprises in the study?

Ginny Hildebrand: I think one of the big surprises was that there are so many people. We have one of the largest growth factors, 85% increase over the study that was done in 2006. So that's way different than even the national numbers.

Ted Simons: Again, was that a surprise to you, as well?

Bob Evans: To some extent. I think had this survey been done even 12 months later, the numbers would have been even worse. What we're into now is phenomenal.

Ted Simons: As far as Arizona is concerned, compare and contrast Arizona with the rest of the country.

Bob Evans: Ginny?

Ginny Hildebrand: Well, I think that one of the areas that we're very close is in terms of the number of people that are coming for assistance on average. We have about 122,700 people every month that are coming for assistance. And that's mirrored in other states, that same kind of percentage. I think one of the areas where we're very close also is the number of people that we're serving that are experiencing food insecurity. Nationally it's 76%, in Arizona it's 77%. But in families with children we have even more of an impact there in Arizona, we have more people.

Ted Simons: Is that what you're seeing as well?

Bob Evans: Yeah, absolutely. In our service area half of the families, members of the families are under 18 years old and it's just a mind-boggling number of folks out there needing help.

Ted Simons: How much is the economy a factor in all of this?

Bob Evans: It's absolutely a factor. It was bad before the economy tanked. It has just gotten worse and we're not out of it by any means.

Ted Simons: As far as Arizona is concerned, compare and contrast now the urban areas with the rural areas.

Ginny Hildebrand: We know that the rural communities -- we've been experiencing this for a long time -- but the rural communities are really struggling to make sure people in their communities have food. But they are also pulling from our regional food banks at a larger level, a high percentage of their dependency is on federal commodities, that kind of thing. In Arizona rural communities are suffering.

Ted Simons: When people watch this program they want to do something for food banks, what should they do? And what are you looking for as far as public input to help in this matter?

Bob Evans: We're always looking for food, funds and time. People can step up and conduct food drives and just walk in with a bag of food. Support your food banks through monetary donations or come and help sort food, be on board as directors, committees, any number of ways.

Ted Simons: Are you seeing, again, that kind of commitment and help? Is that diminishing a little bit as the economy gets worse?

Bob Evans: I'm not seeing that, I'm seeing it improve.

Ginny Hildebrand: Across all of our members they are reporting that they have more volunteers, more contributions. That's a good thing because we have record demand at the moment. I think this report acts as a mirror for Arizona to look in. When we look at the results of this report, it's staggering. A bad economy, yes, but it's also staggering to know so many children are impacted, so many elderly, so many disabled. I think it really says to us, Arizona, it's time for us to really sit down and talk about the hunger problem and poverty problem in our state.

Ted Simons: When someone does sit down and talk to you about the hunger problem and the poverty problem in our state, what do you tell them? What needs to be said?

Bob Evans: Just to become engaged, become involved. Have a dialogue with the legislators at the local level, the state level, at the national level. Speak your mind, let people know that you're concerned.

Ted Simons: Is there a lack of that, do you think? People just figure the hungry, the poor will always be with us, that sort of thing? And they kind of glide on by it?

Ginny Hildebrand: There is that philosophy, but I think the reality is, when was the last time you talked with your neighbors, the people in your service clubs, the people at work, the people in your faith community? When did you actually sit down and talk about what's happening in your community? I think as we get out and talk about it, and we have more opportunity to talk about, well, I could do this. Or we could bring this program to bear in our community. Summer Food programs go unutilized in Arizona at an alarming rate. What if we provided summer food for children when school's out of session? That's one little tiny thing we could do.

Ted Simons: The summer food program seems like something I’ve heard before, that is a factor, correct?

Bob Evans: Absolutely, but it's so underutilized, as is the SNAP program, the supplemental nutrition assistance program. We have these programs; they’re just not being utilized. Sometimes all it needs is a champion, someone to step up and say I want this to happen at my school.

Ted Simons: What do you want to see people take from this discussion?

Ginny Hildebrand: I want them to take a point of discussion. I really would like to see -- I believe if more people came to the forum table, if you will, for their community, and started to talk about this, we have many different issues. Food sales tax, budget issues and lots of things coming up. If we started talking about it and saw where the connections were, I think it might help.

Ted Simons: Very good, thank you both for joining us.

Maricopa County Politics

  |   Video
  • Get the latest on the infighting among officials in Maricopa County from Phoenix New Times reporter Sarah Fenske.
  • Sarah Fenske - Phoenix New Times reporter
Category: Government

View Transcript
Ted Simons: The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is sanctioned by a federal judge, and County Attorney Andrew Thomas wants to help pick his successor should Thomas, as expected, resign run for attorney general. Just some of the recent news involving county officials and here to talk about it is "Phoenix New Times" reporter Sarah Fenske.

Sarah Fenske: Good to be back.

Ted Simons: Let's start with sanctions from a federal judge on a racial profiling case.

Sarah Fenske: That’s right and they were specifically told to retain certain documents. Any time a deputy is pulling someone over and it had anything to do with immigration, they were supposed to fill out a form with information about that stop. They were told to save these forms and they did not. They were destroyed. The sheriff’s office has now admitted it. They say it was an accident the sheriff’s lawyer says the buck stops with him but it's too late, the forms are gone. There are going to be sanctions on that. And more importantly, for the litigation it means that to some extent the judge is going to assume the records would say the worst things. That’s kind of how it works if you do willful destruction.

Ted Simons: Is there a possibility the sheriff could be deposed again?

Sarah Fenske: I heard that that’s going to happen and I'm not quite clear on why that's going happen, but apparently now that we know this new information they get another go at it.

Ted Simons: Sounds like he wants every single deputy trained. I want to get to who's doing the training, but trained in terms of knowing when to ask about immigration status. What's going on here?

Sarah Fenske: How to spot an illegal, yeah. They issued a press release saying there's going to be a change in policy in immigration enforcement. Supposedly the feds have taken away his ability under this special agreement to do this immigration law stuff. He is saying, screw that, I'm going to go ahead with this and literally train every single deputy.

Ted Simons: How is he going to train them?

Sarah Fenske: He's brought in a person that's quite a controversial figure that's going to be giving, I can’t remember how long, but a very brief course to each officer.

Ted Simons: Is this a reaction now to ICE taking away that other responsibility, the Feds taking away the other responsibility? This is a straight reaction?

Sarah Fenske: I think so, absolutely. "The Wall Street Journal" says this just puts him on a collision course with the federal government. I think that's right.

Ted Simons: It’s helped determine a reasonable suspicion of illegal crime. Very interesting.

Sarah Fenske: It's an interesting choice of language. There's a lot of people thinking, based on who this person is doing the training, that this is going to lead to more stops and more people being questioned.

Ted Simons: ICE is basically saying it doesn't change much of anything in their relationship to the sheriff's office.

Sarah Fenske: It's odd, he keeps kind of escalating to some extent and they keep saying, this doesn't matter. They will take it away his thing and he says, that doesn't matter. How can both these things be true? That's what everybody's claiming.

Ted Simons: Alright we’ll move now from the sheriff’s office to the county attorney's office, sounds like the county attorny will have to testify in the case involving Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox.

Sarah Fenske: That's right. He did indict her and originally the case was with the Yavapai County Attorney's Office before Thomas took it back. Yavapai county attorney who is a Republican, Thomas handpicked her to be the independent prosecutor in this case. She has made some very serious allegations saying she's not comfortable with what the sheriff's office was doing. And that’s why Thomas took this back. So Thomas is going to be forced to answer that from Mary Rose Wilcox’s attorney. The Yavapai County Attorney will also be on the stand, as well, answering questions about allegations that she’s made.

Ted Simons: This is an attempt by the defense to drop the charges or at least make sure Thomas is disqualified as prosecutor.

Sarah Fenske: Yeah, the point at this point is not to drop the charges, of course they are going for that too. But the goal is to say that Thomas can't possibly prosecute this case, he has an animus against this woman. And also that his staff advised her on filling out these same forms that the indictment now centers on.

Ted Simons: So he tried to get out of this testimony. But she did not.

Sarah Fenske: Yeah, I guess The Yavapai County Prosecutor said she's glad to testify. She got some sort of thing from the bar saying she can go ahead and speak freely. She has permission to detail the conversations that were going on behind the scenes between her and Thomas’s office. It should just be fascinating. I’m sure it’s going to be a packed court room.

Ted Simons: Is it unusual to have criminal defendants go ahead and subpoena prosecutors? To me, it seems like if you allow it here -- and Thomas' office is saying this -- if you allow this, everyone up for any crime will have prosecutors on the stand.

Sarah Fenske: It's very unusual. They want to make this case about Thomas rather than about what Supervisor Wilcox has done or not done. In some ways he’s such a big part about this case you almost can't not make this case about him because of fights with the Board of Supervisors, with Mary Rose Wilcox in particular, and with the fact this other supervisor he tried to indict. Did he advise these same people and now he's trying to prosecute them on it? He's going to be on the stand talking about his negotiations.

Ted Simons: Do we have a timetable for this?

Sarah Fenske: The hearing will be tomorrow afternoon. It’s unclear how quickly the judge will rule. I would bet we'll know within the next month whether or not he's off the case. That might be optimistic.

Ted Simons: The last of our talking points, again, the county attorney wanting to have a say in who the next county attorney will be, should Andrew Thomas decide to run for attorney general.

Sarah Fenske: This is hysterical. This is clearly something that’s being done for the media more than anybody thought this would happen. The supervisors at this point can't stand Thomas, he's indicted them, he’s sued them, the relations have never been worse. They are allowed to choose his successor under the law. He says, you can't pick your own prosecutor, but they are never, ever, ever going to let him do that. They laughed off his suggestions.

Ted Simons: Then again, he does have a point, does he not? That's a conflict of interest at almost every turn regarding these cases.

Sarah Fenske: There is. That's the whole problem that the lawyers of Mary Rose Wilcox are trying to get at. Thomas has a conflict of interest in prosecuting her, the supervisors have a huge conflict of interest in trying to get out from the prosecution. You just wish that some cooler heads had prevailed and maybe turned this case over to the U.S. Attorney back in the beginning, or kept it with Yavapai County. This thing is just a mess.

Ted Simons: How long can Thomas stay in office before he needs to resign to run?

Sarah Fenske: I know it's late May, I think it's May 26th or something like this. Word has it he's going stay in office as long as possible.

Ted Simons: Are there any names out there so far for successor?

Sarah Fenske: He has run for attorney general in the past, his name is Bill Montgomery. Don't be surprised if the supervisors try to block him. If Thomas wants him, they don't want him. There will be more litigation, that's the safe prediction on all of this.

Ted Simons: Always fascinating, always good to hear from you. Thank you so much.

Sarah Fenske: Thank you.

Texting Ban

  |   Video
  • The legislature is considering a ban on texting while driving. Senator Al Melvin will be on Horizon to talk about the bill.
  • Al Melvin - State Senator
Category: Legislature

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A Senate committee today heard a bill that would ban texting while driving. Here to talk about the measure is the sponsor of the bill, Senator Al Melvin.

Al Melvin: Thanks, Ted.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us. Out of committee?

Al Melvin: Yes, 5-0.

Ted Simons: What does the bill do?

Al Melvin: Well, it bans texting while driving and it's going to save a lot of lives in Arizona. I'm happy to say that every cell phone company operating in the state without exception, every insurance company issuing automobile insurance and many, many law enforcement agencies have signed on to the bill.

Ted Simons: I want to get back to those supporting it and maybe some questions on it. But the fine for texting is $50. And then if you're involved in an accident it jumps to $200? How do we enforce something like that?

Al Melvin: The City of Phoenix has had it for some time. This is a process that will get us in line with 19 other states. Because it is such a serious matter, it's usually one who's texting is showing erratic driving behavior, moving erratically in the lane or out of the lane. So that'll help the police enforce it.

Ted Simons: But as far as -- if a police officer of law enforcement sees someone texting, first of all, how do they know they are not using their phone? And if they are weaving around, it sounds like dangerous driving.

Al Melvin: Well, they are both related. But the bill does not prohibit trying to punch in a number for a cell phone conversation, and it doesn't prohibit talking on a cell phone, holding it in your hand. It's only prohibiting texting.

Ted Simons: Back to enforcement. Is law enforcement suggesting how they can crack down on this? If I was pulled over can I say, no, no, I was actually dialing my phone.

Al Melvin: Well, the wave in favor of this is so large -- in fact, I was talking to a lieutenant colonel from the highway patrol today who was going to testify for the bill but we had enough votes -- that even law enforcement is banning themselves from texting because they know that it's so dangerous. So it's just going to take skill on the part of law enforcement. And I think they can see -- I've seen it myself, driving home on I-10, being passed in the fast lane and seeing a young person texting away as they are driving passing me. So I think law enforcement will be able to handle it.

Ted Simons: You mentioned lot of people are on board. They haven't always been on board. What changed?

Al Melvin: Well, one thing, I want to stress this, this is truly a bipartisan measure which is refreshing in this day and age at all levels of government. We've seen gridlock in Washington and even the county. This is -- we've got Democrats and Republicans and in fact I'm going to need every Democratic vote I can get in the Senate and the House to get this thing signed into law. But it is truly bipartisan. And when I hold my town hall meetings and talk to anyone it's clearly a bipartisan issue. And close to 90%, according to polls, favor this legislation.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, but Senate President Burns has said in the past that the bill was "unnecessary." And there are some in your republican party who say this is a NANI state, individual liberty is at play here. How do you respond?

Al Melvin: Well, I’ll tell you how I respond; I like political philosophical purity as much as the next guy. I'll ride that horse at a full gallop all day long, until I reach the cliff. That's where I get off, the horse continues. This is more important than these individual rights. You can argue that an individual has the right to wrap their car around a telephone pole while driving, but they don't have a right to drive into your car or my car coming into the other lane and that's where sanity has to prevail. I believe that it will and we will get this signed into law this year.

Ted Simons: Senator, thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

Al Melvin: And I would encourage all listeners to communicate with your legislature to vote in favor of this. And I look forward to coming back again.

Ted Simons: Very good, thank you.

Al Melvin: See you, Ted.