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Fighting Hunger in New York City page 1


Testimony prepared by
Áine Duggan and Ashley Baughman
for the
New York City Council Oversight Hearing
"Fighting Hunger in New York City"
November 20th, 2007

on behalf of
Food Bank For New York City/FoodChange

Introduction

Good afternoon. I am Áine Duggan, Vice President for Government Relations, Policy & Research with the Food Bank For New York City/FoodChange. The Food Bank appreciates the opportunity to present testimony this afternoon to the City Council regarding the status of hunger and the needs of low-income New Yorkers throughout the city.

First, I would like to acknowledge the continued commitment of the Council, and the General Welfare Committee, to address the problem of hunger in New York City, and thank you for your leadership in ensuring ongoing support for the city's Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) and food stamp outreach initiatives.

Food Bank For New York City, in conjunction with its subsidiary organization, FoodChange, works to end hunger through a range of programs and services that increase access to nutrition, education and financial empowerment. The organization warehouses and distributes food to approximately 1,000 emergency and community food programs citywide; provides food safety, networking and capacity-building workshops; manages nutrition education programs for schools and emergency food programs; operates food stamp outreach and education programs; coordinates the largest Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program in the country; and conducts research and develops policy to inform community and government efforts to end hunger throughout the five boroughs.

In my testimony today, I wish to provide a brief overview of recent research findings demonstrating the magnitude of hunger in New York City, the myriad of contributing socioeconomic factors and the challenges currently faced by the emergency food network.

Background

NYC Hunger Safety Net 2007: A Food Poverty Focus is the second report in the Hunger Safety Net series, which is designed to track trends in hunger and inform research-based solutions to hunger and poverty throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The report includes findings on New York City residents who rely on emergency food programs (EFPs), including soup kitchens and food pantries; the operations, resources and services of EFPs; and an analysis of New York City residents' access to private and government food assistance at varying poverty levels, including a spatial analysis of need and services. This research updates and expands upon results from Hunger Safety Net 2004: Measuring Gaps in Food Assistance in New York City.

Findings within Hunger Safety Net 2007 show that throughout New York City, 1.3 million residents are accessing emergency food programs (EFPs) — an increase of 24 percent since the release of Hunger Safety Net 2004. The 1.3 million people currently relying on New York City soup kitchens and food pantries includes 397,000 children (up from 269,000 in 2004), 730,000 adults ages 18 to 64 (up from 599,000 in 2004) and 154,000 elderly adults (155,000 in 2004).

This is not a surprising finding in light of recent Census data showing that approximately 1.5 million New York City residents live below the federal poverty level (approximately $16,000 annually for a family of three).[1] Difficulty affording food among a larger population of New Yorkers is not unexpected given rising costs of basic necessities. For example, the cost of food at home in the New York metro area increased more than 10 percent from 2003 to 2006.[2]

Further, 2004–2006 average food insecurity data released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in November 2007 shows that approximately one of every ten New York State households (9.8 percent or approximately 732,000 households) is food insecure. As the costs of basic necessities continue to rise in New York and throughout the United States, we will likely also see rising food insecurity in future years.

The increase in city residents accessing emergency food reveals a complex story about greater access of services by households in need, a growth in need among households at higher income and education levels and the inadequacy of the food stamp benefit. On the one hand, increased access speaks to the success of outreach and the strength of ongoing community work to provide households in need with some form of help. On the other hand, the picture of increased hardship for a broader population of city residents begs for a broad focus on a continuum of programmatic and policy approaches in order to achieve the goal of ending hunger and ensuring that all New Yorkers have permanent, local access to affordable, nutritious food.

Increased funding for nutrition programs, including emergency food and food stamps, is vital for NEAR-term hunger relief.

Insufficient resources are both driving and meeting the increased demand for emergency food in NYC.

On the front end, EFPs are seeing more people with higher levels of education, full-time workers and households enrolled in the Food Stamp Program (FSP) accessing emergency food because increased cost of living is making it harder for people to make ends meet and the average food stamp benefit is inadequate. Among EFP households that are receiving food stamps, approximately one-quarter (24 percent) run out of their monthly allocation after one week, 60 percent run out after two weeks and 84 percent run out at the three-week mark, forcing residents to turn to soup kitchens and food pantries by the end of the month. This is not surprising given that the average food stamp benefit amount for EFP households is only $147 per month ($37 per week). In addition, the minimum monthly benefit (which largely impacts the elderly) has been stuck at $10 for the last thirty years (it has not been increased since 1977).

On the back end, there is an insufficient supply of food at EFPs to meet the need. Loss of support from government-funded emergency food programs is an underlying cause of this hardship. The government sources of emergency food for soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City include The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA); the Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP), administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP), administered by the New York State Department of Health; and the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), administered by the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA).

Most worrisome is the dramatic decrease in the supply of emergency food through TEFAP due to severe cuts to the bonus commodity component and flat-funding of the entitlement component of the program. Consequently, there is a national shortage of TEFAP food in soup kitchens and food pantries around the country, including a loss of approximately 12 million pounds of TEFAP food to New York City EFPs over the past few years, from approximately 29 million pounds to approximately 17 million pounds. As a result of these cuts, the city's emergency food network is currently experiencing the most severe food shortage the Food Bank has ever seen.

That the increased demand (from 2004 to 2007) at soup kitchens and food pantries has come at a time when basic resources for those programs are decreasing at an alarming rate is problematic and potentially catastrophic. Hunger Safety Net 2007 findings show that EFPs are spending almost two-thirds (64 percent) of their budgets on food (up from 59 percent in 2004), at the expense of allocations for paid staff, rent, utilities, equipment and supplies. The percentage of EFPs open less than once per week has sharply increased from 1 percent to 12 percent while the number distributing food two or more days per week has dropped considerably. With EFPs open less frequently yet serving more people, approximately one-half (49 percent) ran out of food almost one out of every six times they were open, causing city residents looking for food assistance to be turned away.

The 2007 Farm Bill currently being debated by Congress provides an ideal opportunity to address the dual concern of shortages of emergency food at soup kitchens and food pantries and inadequate food stamp benefit amounts. Increased funding for the nutrition title of the Farm Bill, which is reauthorized every five years, is critical to setting more adequate food stamp benefit levels, adjusting policies and procedures to improve access to food stamps for eligible households and raising the funding level of the TEFAP entitlement program.[3]


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