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BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog


Irene Relief: Forecasting Danger for Hunger Relief?

By Daniel Buckley

Earlier this month, when one of the worst storms in recent history laid waste to large swaths of land from Virginia to Vermont, thousands of families were dislocated, experienced flood damage or lost power for several days. Some Congress Members, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, suggested that disaster aid distributed by the government should be offset by an equal amount of federal spending cuts.

You may be asking what this has to do with the Food Bank For New York City. Well, first, Congress passed a major, $2.4-trillion deficit reduction bill this summer that puts funding for programs that provide assistance to our most vulnerable neighbors at risk, so when discussion turns to additional federal spending cuts, we pay close attention. Second, as a key piece of our city’s disaster response network, we care deeply about the operations of government relief programs.

But perhaps most importantly, this move to require spending cuts in order to provide emergency relief for Americans hurt by a natural disaster is a poignant example of the importance of our country’s entitlement programs – including food stamps (SNAP) – which could be threatened in D.C.’s deficit reduction talks.

The annual budgets of entitlement programs are not set in stone. The reason for this is that entitlement programs are designed to respond to changing conditions, growing when need increases and shrinking when no longer needed, unencumbered by budget limitations or political infighting.

In the days after the storm, as families assessed the damage, New York and other affected states began issuing replacement SNAP benefits to food stamp recipients who lost food purchased with their food stamps as a result of the storm – an effort that the Food Bank worked hard to support in areas of New York City that experienced power outages. . In the hardest hit areas, Disaster SNAP extended benefits to households that suddenly found themselves in need of food assistance.

If SNAP were not an entitlement program, this immediate response to a spike in need would not be possible. If the SNAP budget were limited or cut so that it could no longer have this flexibility, it would take an act of Congress to authorize emergency spending – and families in need would have to go without food assistance while waiting for that process to conclude. If your county was hit by a sudden storm like Irene, if large layoffs were experienced after an unexpected recession or if you simply fell on hard times, programs like SNAP are there to make sure you and your family will have enough to eat.

While the similarities between hurricane relief and the relief the Food Bank provides year-round to New Yorkers in need may not be immediately apparent – both must be able to assess the level of need in affected communities and respond in kind. If this is not allowed to happen without obstruction, people could be forced to go without the food they need to get by and recover.

Want your elected officials to protect important food assistance programs? Send a message to Congress now!

Decoding Deficit Reduction: Who Will Hurt the Most

By Triada Stampas

The spending-reduction deal Congress and the President struck this week to avoid defaulting on the national debt (the Budget Control Act of 2011 ) leaves every federally funded program – including those that make up our social safety net – vulnerable to deep cuts, restructuring or elimination. With the recession having left low-income households even further behind, the nation’s poor can ill withstand the unraveling of that safety net.

Federal government programs fall into one of two categories: “entitlement,” for which funding is able to adjust in order to meet fluctuating levels of need, guaranteeing that benefits are provided to all people who meet the program's eligibility standards; and “discretionary,” meaning program funding must receive Congress’s approval every year. The process for reducing the deficit by at least $2.1 trillion over ten years splits the process into two phases and treats each of these categories differently:

Phase One
The debt deal sets a target of $900 billion in discretionary program cuts over 10 years, starting in Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 (which begins October 1, 2011). Of this amount, $550 billion must come from non-defense discretionary spending. Essential programs like the federal emergency food program (TEFAP) – the single largest source of food distributed to our city’s soup kitchens and food pantries – may be on the chopping block. While only $21 billion will be cut in the FY 2012 budget, the cuts will increase each year over the next 10 years until the target is reached.

Phase Two: Entitlement and Discretionary Program Cuts
Next, the agreement creates a 12-member Congressional committee to identify $1.5 trillion in further cuts over 10 years. At this step in the process, all federal government programs, including TEFAP and food stamps (SNAP), will be fair game for cuts, restructuring or elimination. The Committee will move quickly: it must produce a plan before Thanksgiving for Congress to approve by December 23, 2011 in order to avoid triggering across-the-board cuts.

If the committee fails to produce a bill or the bill doesn’t pass, automatic across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion will take effect on January 1, 2013. Half of those cuts will be in non-defense programs, with certain exemptions (including SNAP benefits and child nutrition programs).

The programs that low-income Americans rely on are in danger at every step of this process, and the next four months will be absolutely critical. Even before this agreement was reached, the House of Representatives had already passed an Agriculture Appropriations bill for FY 2012 that would provide 10 million fewer meals for New Yorkers in need – under this new budget-slashing mandate, however, the impact on low-income New Yorkers could be far, far worse. With the cuts spaced out over ten years, the Food Bank is committed to protecting the New Yorkers we serve in the long run.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

Food Bank in Huffington Post: Don’t Take Food from Most Vulnerable

by Lucy Cabrera

The following editorial by Food Bank President and CEO Lucy Cabrera was originally published in the Huffington Post, July 27, 2011.

As the debate over budget cuts heat up in Washington, let's hope cooler heads prevail when it comes to supporting something as basic as food assistance for those in need. Taking food away from those who are struggling the most should not be considered a budget fix. Without proper access to food, the system will begin to break down.

Cuts currently under debate by Congress threaten to drastically reduce vital food support for those already enduring the greatest brunt of the economic downturn. Proposed cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, would be devastating to those who are already struggling to just get by.

Today, key economic indicators show that the recovery is slowing and food costs are increasing. As a country, how can we talk about strengthening our ability to compete in the future by making decisions at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us? If the people in need whom we serve cannot be helped, we are putting more at risk than our economic recovery...

Read the full editorial on the Huffington Post.

What the Federal Budget Talks Mean for NYC

by Triada Stampas

With the ongoing budget and deficit reduction talks in Washington, a lot is unclear. However, budget negotiations that began this spring have broadcast loud-and-clear that the federal safety net for low-income Americans could be slashed to ribbons.

TAKE ACTION

Tell President Obama & our Congressional leaders: Don't balance the budget on the backs of America's poor and hungry!

 In late April, the House of Representatives passed a federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Budget Resolution that brutally cut funding for programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and low-income housing. At the same time, significant reductions in commodity purchases for the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) mean that food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters — the resource of last resort for those struggling to afford food — would be unable to maintain existing levels of service, let alone meet the additional need that reductions in SNAP, WIC and other benefits would clearly create.

With a broad blueprint for overall expenditures in its Budget Resolution, the House then passed a detailed spending plan in an Agriculture Appropriations bill that would make further cuts to TEFAP and other nutrition assistance programs. The combined impact of these cuts on the emergency food supply in New York City would be a loss of 10 million meals for New Yorkers in need, or approximately one sixth of the Food Bank’s food supply.

The current budget negotiations are occurring in a political environment dominated by concerns about the size of the federal budget deficit and spending. And pressure to limit federal spending and reduce the budget may come at the expense of safety net programs, as the House Budget Resolution and Agriculture Appropriations bill demonstrate.

Current negotiations between the White House and Congressional leaders will determine whether deficit reduction goals can be reached while protecting the most vulnerable among us, such as the poor, the sick, children and the elderly.

TEFAP and SNAP are the United State’s two major supports for low-income, food-poor Americans. Last year in New York City alone, TEFAP helped supply more than 28 million meals for New Yorkers in need, and SNAP provided low-income New Yorkers more than $3 billion for food purchases.

The ongoing negotiations carry even greater import as it is widely recognized that they will set the stage for next year’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which will set spending levels for TEFAP and SNAP for the following five years.

We hope that you will stay tuned for updates and opportunities to take action on this historic round of budget negotiations and their potential affect on low-income New Yorkers by continuing to read this blog, subscribing to Food Bank e-newsletters or joining us on Facebook or Twitter. Please consider taking action now — visit our Advocacy page to see how you can make a difference!

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

NYC Needs a Living Wage

by Ashley Goforth

Food Bank For New York City would like to announce its endorsement of the ”Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act.” As our supporters know, the Food Bank works to educate members of the public and government officials at the city, state and federal levels to enlist their support in combating food poverty. To better understand the idea of a living wage and the Food Bank’s role in this effort, we asked Triada Stampas, Director of Governmental Relations & Public Education, to elaborate more on the campaign and the Food Bank’s mission to end food poverty.

What is a living wage? A living wage is the hourly wage rate necessary for a person to afford basic needs, like housing, food and health care. Because cost of living varies from place to place, the amount that would constitute a living wage in one city or area might be higher or lower than in another. In New York City, existing legislation has already defined the local living wage as $10/hour with benefits or $11.50/hour without benefits.

What is Living Wage NYC?
Living Wage NYC is a coalition of organizations that are working toward a living wage for all New Yorkers..

What is the Living Wage NYC proposing?
The campaign’s big push right now, which the Food Bank has endorsed, is for passage of the “Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act” (Int. 251-2010). The bill would require developers and major employers who receive government subsidies for economic development projects to guarantee that the jobs created by those projects will pay a living wage.

Why is the Food Bank involved?
The Food Bank strives every day not only to provide food to the 1.4 million New Yorkers who rely on our network of approximately 1,000 community-based member programs, but to tackle the financial, educational and public policy issues that perpetuate hunger and food poverty. Right now, New York City’s unemployment rate is still almost double what it was at the start of the recession, and the current minimum wage ($7.25/hr) is well below a living wage. So too many New Yorkers simply don’t have the resources to provide sufficient food for themselves and their families on a regular basis – in fact, our research shows 3 million New York City residents had difficulty affording food over the past year. Ensuring that those employers who receive city subsidies in turn provide a living wage to their employees is a significant step in the right direction – and if we are going to fulfill our mission of ending hunger in New York City, supporting work to secure the dignity and independence of a living wage for more New Yorkers is one of the most important things we can do.

NY State Cuts Off Emergency Food Supply - Tell Albany to End This Crisis!

by Triada Stampas

Albany's dysfunction is keeping food from people who desperately need it.

The Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) is a state-sponsored grant administered by the Department of Health that provides emergency food programs with funding for emergency food, operations support and equipment. State administrative functions have been so crippled that HPNAP expenses have not been reimbursed since April — causing a serious cash flow crisis for emergency food providers already struggling to keep up with increased need.* And without a finalized state budget for Fiscal Year 2011, new contracts cannot be approved. The result: the state supply of emergency food has been cut off.

The timing for this could not be worse, with demand for emergency food already at crisis levels because of the recession. Last year, nearly half of food pantries and soup kitchens had to turn people away for lack of food. In addition, when other services, like housing assistance and child care, are cut, low-income families are left with even less disposable income. Research shows these families will sacrifice food spending in order to keep a roof over their heads and cover other basic costs of living. In the long term, cuts to education and job training diminish their only available paths out of poverty, perpetuating a cycle of demand for emergency food.

The Governor, the State Senate and the Assembly must work together to end this crisis. Tell them that New Yorkers who struggle to put food on the table cannot go another day without HPNAP.

EMAIL ALBANY’S LEADERSHIP AND YOUR LEGISLATORS NOW!

* Fiscal Year 2010 HPNAP contracts covered the period from July 1, 2009 until June 30, 2010. Contracts for Fiscal Year 2011 were to have begun July 1, 2010.

New York Soda Tax Would Hurt, Not Help, Low-income Families

by Carly Rothman

Some powerful New York officials are throwing their weight behind a proposed soda tax, arguing the added cost — an extra penny per ounce — will deter consumption, fight obesity and reduce health care costs.

The New York Times editorial board also supports the tax, saying it would help limit soda intake in low-income neighborhoods where diet-related diseases are particularly prevalent.

“Poorer people, who lack healthy food choices, too often overload on sugar-laden soft drinks,” read an editorial in the paper last week.

But the dearth of choices is just the point. The reason low-income consumers disproportionately suffer from obesity, diabetes and other diet-related diseases is that soft drinks, fast food and other foods and beverages high in added sugars and fats are cheaper and more readily available than healthier alternatives.

The soda tax might make the sugary drinks less appealing, but it would do nothing to lower the cost of healthy alternatives like milk or vitamin-rich juices, nor improve food access in neighborhoods without supermarkets or grocery stores.

In other words, the regressive soda tax supported by Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg would punish low-income families for buying soda without offering better alternatives. Meanwhile, the tax will cut into families’ limited food dollars, making it even harder to afford healthy foods like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and legumes.

Both the Governor and Mayor note the tax will create an important revenue stream during the ongoing fiscal crisis. We are sensitive to this need — particularly since Mayor Bloomberg has threatened, in response to proposed state budget cuts, to eliminate all city funding for emergency food assistance.

And helping people make healthy diet choices is an important part of the Food Bank’s work. CookShop, our nutrition and health education program, teaches more than 15,000 New Yorkers of all ages about how to read food labels and make healthy, cost-effective food purchases. Our social marketing campaign, which reaches more than 100,000 low-income teens, urges them to “Change One Thing,” swapping junk food for healthy alternatives — and specifically encouraging a switch to water from sugary drinks.

While we applaud public officials’ desire to fight diet-related disease and steer consumers away from soda, we urge them to do so by expanding poor consumers’ options, not limiting them.

Existing programs like the FRESH (Food Retail Expansion to Support Health) initiative would provide incentives for supermarkets and grocery stores to open and expand in high-need neighborhoods — and require them to accept food stamps and WIC benefits to ensure they remain affordable and accessible to low-income consumers. New York’s Healthy Food/Healthy Communities Initiative would help finance store improvements to increase capacity for sales of fresh, healthy food.

Measures like these, which lift barriers, expand choice and empower individuals, should be the approach of all food policy — not programs that hurt the people they aim to help.

For more information, read our testimony before the State Senate Health Committee on the sugar-sweetened beverage tax.

Share your thoughts: what do you think about the impact of the soda tax on low-income New Yorkers?

After Surgery, President Bill Clinton Calls for Better Child Nutrition

by John Leggio

Former President Bill Clinton speaking at the Food Bank's 2009 Can-Do Awards Dinner; photo by Tran Dinh

Here at the Food Bank, we work to improve child nutrition because we know kids’ food choices can have lifelong health effects. Last week, at a press conference in Harlem, former President Bill Clinton said he learned that lesson the hard way.

After surgery for blocked arteries at NY Presbyterian-Columbia University Medical Center, President Clinton "weighed in" on the childhood obesity epidemic while speaking for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“The root cause of this was habits that I acquired in my childhood,” Mr. Clinton, who also had a quadruple bypass operation in 2004, said.

Mr. Clinton (who spoke at our 2009 Can-Do Awards Dinner) also gave a shout-out to First Lady Michelle Obama for her “Let’s Move” campaign, which will tackle the obesity epidemic by helping families make healthy food choices, improving the quality of school food, encouraging exercise and increasing food access.

We’re working to meet similar goals through programs like CookShop, which encourages the development of healthy diets among New York City students and their families, as well as community outreach and advocacy on issues like universal school meals.

With work like ours — and similar efforts from a dynamic duo like the former president and the current first lady — maybe we can protect more children from the outcomes of poor nutrition.

Food Bank In the News

by Daniel Buckley

The Food Bank continually works to raise awareness and support for hunger relief through media, providing information, data and stories of those in need.

Here are some of the recent stories that have featured the Food Bank so far this holiday season:

THIS WEEK: Fox 5, “Good Day New York”
NY Weather Authority Mike Woods visits the Food Bank For New York City’s 90,000 square-foot Bronx warehouse to help get the word out about hunger in our city, interview President and CEO Lucy Cabrera and repack food for delivery to food pantries and soup kitchens.

WNYC, “The Brian Lehrer Show”
Áine Duggan, the Food Bank For New York City's Vice President of Research, Policy & Education, discusses hunger in New York and demand at food assistance programs across the city.

The New York Times, “City Room” blog, “Stimulus Funds Stock Pantries and Soup Kitchens”
Nationwide, food assistance programs received an extra $100 million in resources from the stimulus, on top of the $250 million that was originally budgeted. New York State’s financing soared 118 percent to $45 million, of which $28.5 million went to New York City.

NY1, “Food Bank For New York City Prepares Pre-Thanksgiving Day Feast”
With more than three million New Yorkers experiencing food shortages, the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem prepared a Thanksgiving feast for those most in need.

Time/The Associated Press, “Food Banks Go High Tech to Feed the Hungry”
Food banks across the country are undergoing a high-tech revolution, adopting sophisticated databases, bar coding, GPS tracking, automated warehouses and other technologies used in the food industry that increasingly supplies their goods.

“Lola Berry New York,” Episode 4
Australian television personality Lola Berry drops by the Food Bank’s downtown office to interview Vice President of Policy, Research and Education Áine Duggan before subwaying it up to Harlem to speak with Jesse Taylor, the Senior Director of our Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem.

To Christine Quinn: New Yorkers Need a Living Wage

City Council is holding a hearing today to address the need for a living wage for all New Yorkers. The Food Bank has come together with our partners in the fight to end hunger to form the Anti-Hunger Caucus of the Living Wage NYC Campaign to support this important effort. Read the caucus’s letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn below and show your support by signing our petition to the City Council!

 


Dear City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:

 

We want to acknowledge and thank you for your tremendous leadership over the past several years to increase access to affordable, nutritious food for all New Yorkers. It is because of this leadership that we ask you, on behalf of the low-income New Yorkers we collectively serve, to support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act (Intro. 0251-2010). This legislation would ensure taxpayer-funded economic development is a sound investment in living-wage jobs.

As you know, many low-wage full-time jobs, whether in retail or in other sectors of the city’s economy, do not pay workers enough to meet their households’ basic needs. We live in a city where the costs of many basic expenses — like housing, health care and food — are significantly higher than the national average. As a result, too many working New Yorkers who struggle to make ends meet are forced to rely on the services our organizations provide.

We share the belief that no full-time worker in this city should need to turn to a food pantry or soup kitchen to put food on the table. As with any measure that raises the incomes of low-wage workers, this legislation has the potential to stem an entrenched hunger crisis in New York City because it addresses the root cause of hunger —  poverty —  and it does so without expending any additional tax dollars.

Around the country, many cities have successfully enacted laws that establish a living wage standard for jobs created via taxpayer-funded economic development. It is in the best interest of New York City taxpayers and communities to replicate that success here.

Again, we thank you for your leadership in the fight against hunger in New York City. By joining the majority of City Council Members who already support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, you can attack hunger at its root, and lessen the poverty of many low-income New Yorkers who will be affected by this bill.

Sincerely,

The Founding Members of the Anti-Hunger Caucus of the Living Wage NYC Campaign:
Food Bank for New York City, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Action Network of New York State, City Harvest and Westside Campaign Against Hunger

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