Kalena Thomhave

Kalena Thomhave is a writing fellow at The American Prospect. Her email is kthomhave@prospect.org.

Recent Articles

Making California’s Farmers Markets Accessible to All

A recent Trump administration move put SNAP use at farmers markets in jeopardy—but not in California.

Last month, a complex government contracting decision created tumult in the farmers market world by threatening the ability of nearly 2,000 markets across the country to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps. However, thanks to a resilient state program, only one of those markets was in California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture runs a program in which private contractors provide software and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) processing equipment to farmers markets. But as the Prospect reported last month, the federal government abruptly changed its contract, forcing one major software company to announce it was going out of business during prime market season. The nonprofit Farmers Market Coalition began to crowdfund for markets to buy new equipment, and the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs and the state of New Y ork hashed out plans to fund the software company, Novo Dia, so it could continue to...

How SNAP and Medicaid Work Requirements Will Hurt Workers

The problem isn’t that people don’t want to work. It’s the volatile and unstable nature of the low-wage labor market.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
trickle-downers.jpg On any given day, you’re likely to interact with a lot of people who work in the low-wage labor market. They’re the laborers you pass on the street, the retail clerks in a shop you frequent, the cooks or wait staff at a restaurant you like. They might be your family, friends, and coworkers. Maybe you yourself work in one of these occupations—after all, many millions of Americans do. While conservatives might paint adults who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly called food stamps) benefits and Medicaid as idle people who don’t want to work, the data don’t validate that assumption. Adults who rely on SNAP and Medicaid for help paying for their groceries and health care are often those same low-wage workers. But their work is largely volatile and unstable, and it comes without such key work supports as paid sick and family leave and affordable child care. That’s why the recent policy push to institute...

With Massive Merger, the Prison Phone Industry Could Become Even More Lucrative

The prison phone industry, which has come under fire for the exorbitant fees it charges prisoners calling home, may be set to become even more profitable. This month, the giant inmate phone services company Securus petitioned the FCC to approve its plan to buy a smaller competitor, ICSolutions.

If the Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission approves the merger, just two companies (Securus and Global Tel Link) would control between 74 percent and 83 percent of the market, according to analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative (PPI). (Securus responded to PPI’s analysis, calling it “unreliable and misleading.”)

I previously wrote about how the prison phone industry is lucrative for both companies and states: Companies squeeze as much money as possible out of prisoners and their families, who are typically poor, while states often award contracts to phone companies that are willing to pay the highest commission rates. As a result, prisoners and their families may pay as much $1 per minute for a phone call.

As Aleks Kajstura, legal director at PPI, wrote in a blog post, just two companies controlling the lion’s share of the prison communications industry “will give facilities less choice and less ability to draft contracts that truly meet their needs.” According to reporting by the Marshall Project, if the deal is approved, prison systems in 47 states will contract with either Securus, Global Tel Link, or CenturyLink—and CenturyLink subcontracts nearly all of its contracts with ICSolutions or Securus.

PPI joined a number of prisoner advocacy organizations in filing a petition to deny the merger—but not merely because of the threat of a duopoly. They also argue that Securus routinely ignores regulations in order to maximize its profits (like when the FCC banned flat-rate fees on phone calls, and Securus changed the name of the charge to “first-minute” fees).

How will the Trump FCC rule on this? We can’t be sure yet, but let’s look to recent history: Last year, the administration approved Global Tel Link’s acquisition of Telmate, a company that had a market share just shy of ICSolutions’.

Workers Strike and Promote Boycotts on Amazon Prime Day

The online retail giant had an eventful Prime Day, with strikes, boycotts, demonstrations—and of course, billions of dollars in profit.

trickle-downers_35.jpg On that most sacred of retail discount days, Prime Day, Amazon’s profits continued to soar—but not without its employees attempting to improve their working conditions, and a host of groups calling attention to how far Amazon is willing to go to retain its market dominance. On Prime Day—which was this past Tuesday and so extensively covered by the media that Amazon reaped a further fortune in free advertising—the company made roughly $3 billion in sales and added more Prime members to its lists than on any previous day. But even as Prime members—who pay $119 each year for the membership that includes shipping fees, streaming services, and other benefits—were chasing deals, thousands of Amazon workers across Europe were striking, and activists in several countries launched a consumer boycott. Other groups used Prime Day to demonstrate against the company’s sale of racist products. Amazon facilities across Spain, Germany,...

A Nonprofit Group (and Not the Government) Saves SNAP at Farmers Markets—For Now

Food justice advocates breathed a sigh of relief Thursday as a pending disruption in farmers markets accepting SNAP benefits was narrowly averted for the time being. Has the Trump administration stepped in and provided a solution to the markets nationwide that were threatened? Of course not! A nonprofit group has cleaned up after the government’s missteps.

Let me try to briefly tell a very complicated story of why this was necessary (which I recently reported in a longer feature). As originally reported by The Washington Post, the federal government chose a new contractor for the program that funds equipment for farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits. That new contractor did not choose to work with the software vendor, Novo Dia, that currently processes SNAP benefits for about 40 percent of SNAP transactions at markets across the country. Because of this, Novo Dia announced it couldn’t cover the costs of their software and was going out of business. Novo Dia’s service to markets would end July 31. Without that vendor’s technology, nearly 2,000 markets would not be able to accept SNAP benefits, affecting SNAP recipients’ ability to buy food and affecting small farmers’ revenue.

But on Thursday, the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs announced that it will fund Novo Dia for an additional 30 days so that there will be no disruption in service for markets who use the company’s app to process SNAP benefits. That service extension will run through at least until the end of August.

Not only will this mean that markets will be able to continue accepting benefits, but it also buys time for markets and advocates to ensure that service isn’t disrupted at all. The move “[gives] us time to provide a long term, workable solution to keeping our markets and farmers active in the SNAP program,” said Diane Eggert of the Farmers Market Federation of New York in a statement. Instead of being forced to find a solution in the next two weeks, farmers and markets have more time to switch equipment (which they likely will still have to fund themselves).

The extension of Novo Dia’s service is great news for farmers markets and SNAP recipients: It’s hard to underscore how perilous the situation would have been for low-income people who shop at markets, as well as for farmers who rely on revenue from SNAP benefits, if SNAP could no longer be accepted at many markets.

But in celebrating, let’s not let the Department of Agriculture off the hook. As I wrote, the government knowingly ended the program last fall and was slow to restart it. They changed the stipulations for the federal contracting bid so that nonprofits were not able to apply, ensuring that it would be a new contractor that would take over the program, who would essentially be starting from scratch. And the department did not work with the new contractor to build a timeline to guarantee service would not be disrupted—that new contractor just started accepting applications this week. Finally, the government stipulated that the new contractor could not accept applications from farmers and markets using equipment under a previous contract, even if that equipment was, say, about to shutdown.

And it wasn’t even the government, which is nominally in charge of this program, who promised they were “exploring all available options in an attempt to avoid a service disruption,“ that solved this problem. Instead, that was left to the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs.