Friday, March 30, 2007

Mayor Announces New Anti-Poverty Pilot Program

Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a new anti-poverty pilot program that will award poor families up to $5,000 a year for taking such steps as visiting the dentist, attending parent-teacher conferences, or having a child with perfect school attendance. The program will track the progress of the 2,500 randomly selected families against 2,500 other randomly selected families not receiving rewards.

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, had this to say about the program, "It's certainly good to experiment with new efforts such as this. However, it is important to keep in mind that the 2,500 people to be impacted represent less than two-tenths of one percent of the 1.7 million New Yorkers in poverty. We also need far bolder efforts to create large numbers of living wage jobs and make food, health care, housing, and child care, more affordable for low-income New Yorkers."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

NYCCAH Featured

The New York City Coalition Against Hunger is featured in the Foundation Center's Philanthropy News Digest. As this week's NPO (Non-Profit Organization) Spotlight, NYCCAH's mission, programs, and website are briefly described and highlighted.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How to Solve NYC's Growing Hunger Problem

Yesterday, NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg testified before the New York City Council Hearing on the Budget of the Human Resources Administration (HRA). HRA is the city department tasked with getting valuable federal benefits like food stamps to needy New Yorkers, and is a key partner in ending hunger in NYC. Read Berg's testimony here.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Welfare at 43-year low

According to an article in the Daily News, city officials reported yesterday that the number of New Yorkers on Welfare hit a 43-year low last month. While some city officials are attempting to credit the drop to the Bloomberg adminstration, poverty experts look to other telling statistics for an explanation. Joel Berg, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Hunger, was quoted as saying, "We are moving far more people from welfare to the streets." Just last month, the Coalition for the Homeless reported that the average number of families entering shelters reached an all-time high of 9,287.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Assembly Proposes Even Larger Funding Hike for Feeding Charities

The New York State Assembly just passed a bill that proposes $2 million more than Governor Eliot Spitzer's previously proposed increase to the funding for New York State's more than 2,000 soup kitchens and food pantries. The Coalition Against Hunger issued a press release on the Assembly's very welcome, proposed increase to the State Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP).

Thursday, March 08, 2007

As with Mayor Bloomberg's plan to boost New York City residents' participation in the Food Stamp program, his plan to decrease the number of homeless families has also floundered and hit a wall. The Coalition for the Homeless released its eighth-annual "State of the Homeless" report. As part of its assessment, the report analyzes Mayor Bloomberg's five-year homeless plan at its midpoint and proposes reforms that would achieve the plan's goals. Instead of decreasing the number of homeless families from 8,850 at the plan's inception on August 2004 to the projected 7,400 by this point, the number of homeless families has increased to last month's record total of 9,287. The report attributes the rise in homeless families mostly to the City's flawed Housing Stability Plus program (HSP), which is meant to move families into permanent housing by providing them declining rent subsidies. The report found that the number of homeless families moved to permanent housing fell by 11% last year, and that HSP moved fewer families in its second year than in its first.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

2 out of 3...

The New York Nonprofit Press published an article in its March issue outlining the budgets of Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Spitzer, and President Bush, and also nonprofit, human service provider advocates' subsequent reactions to these budget proposals. Advocates responded fairly well to the proposals of Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Spitzer, acknowledging that they will still need to ask for more. Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, was quoted as saying, "We are delighted. Governor Spitzer is leading with both his head and his heart. We hope the legislature provides at least as much funding as he proposed."

President Bush's budget was not so well received; in fact, it was bashed by advocates on all sides. The Coalition on Human Needs characterized it as "Less Help for People in Need; Needless Help for Those with High Incomes." NYCCAH's Joel Berg commented, "For the second year in a row, President Bush's budget has proposed eliminating the USDA Commodity Supplemental Food Program. That would take food away from about 400,000 low-income seniors and children nationwide, including approximately 35,000 in New York State." Berg also criticized the President's proposed changes to federally-funded programs that would have dire effects on the Food Stamp program among others.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Food Deserts

CNN recently released a video report entitled "Urban Food Deserts" on the lack of quality food choices in some urban areas, most often in low-income neighborhoods. The video addresses this problem as it pertains to residents of Chicago; however, it applies to many urban areas, New York City included. This past fall, NYCCAH published a report and interactive mapping study on the lack of access to nutritious food in the low-income neighborhoods of New York.

Few Take Advantage of the Food Stamp Program

As many as 700, 000 people are eligible for food stamps in New York City, yet very few have applied. According to a recent FoodChange study covered by the Brooklyn Heights Courier, over one quarter of those who are entitled to but do not receive food stamps are immigrants. Many immigrants are afraid that application for food stamps may somehow endanger their immigration status, even though their status information cannot be shared with the immigration office. Low participation in the Food Stamp program can also be widely attributed to the current application process, which continues to be daunting, confusing, and overly complicated.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Advocates confront Sec. Johanns at Annual Conference

A special post from NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg:

Last year, at an annual anti-hunger conference in DC, I asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns (a member of President's Bush cabinet) why the President was supporting ever-more tax cuts for the mega-rich while poverty and hunger in America soared. He responded that I didn't understand economics and that tax cuts fueled economic growth so much that they reduced the deficit.

But most interestingly, when USDA released the transcript of the exchange to the media, my comments were mis-transcribed in a way that may have given the impression that I supported the Bush tax cuts. Given that I talk fast and was not using a microphone, it is possible that the mis-transcription was an honest mistake on the part of the transcription service hired by USDA.

At this year's conference, I tried a different tact, attempting to ask Johanns a question which I guessed (correctly, as it turns out) that he wouldn't really be able to answer.

Some background: in New York State and three other large states (Texas, California, and Arizona), people have to be finger-printed in order to obtain food stamps. In other words, people are treated like criminals for the crime of being poor.

It is not coincidental that people never have to be finger-printed to obtain other types of USDA aid that goes to less poor (and sometimes even rich) people such as farm subsidies, money to ranchers for conservation programs, and payments to rural businesspeople. Given that those other programs have plenty of fraud, the double-standard for food stamps proves that finger-printing food stamps applicants is more about dehumanizing poor people than it is about a legitimate attempt to reduce fraud equally in all government programs.

So a few days ago at the same annual conference, after Johanns spoke, I rushed to the microphone to ask him the following question:

"Would you support finger-printing farmers, ranchers, and rural businesspeople in order for them to obtain USDA benefits? Assuming that your answer is 'no,' would you support ending the practice in which people are finger-printed in order to get food stamps, especially considering that the other benefits can be hundreds of thousands of dollars and food stamps equal only about one dollar per meal?"

Johanns was obviously at a loss for a response, and it seemed as though he didn't even know that people were finger-printed to get food stamps, even though the Food Stamp program constitutes more than a third of his entire budget, and even though the issue of finger-printing food stamps applicants has been a big political issue and media issue in New York, California, and elsewhere.

He said that, of course, I was correct that he wouldn't support finger-printing farmers, ranchers, and rural businesspeople, and that he would "look into" whether food stamp applicants should be finger-printed. It spoke volumes that the Secretary wasn't even familiar with the issue.

A USDA budget staffer traveling with him was mad at me that that I even made the comparison, saying the programs were entirely different. I responded that his reaction was exactly the point: USDA gets mad at even the notion that you'd treat generally higher-income program users (the vast majority of whom rural and white) as badly as you'd treat low-income food stamps applicants (many of whom are urban and non-white).

I must say I still have a bit of a glow about me having had the rare opportunity to challenge a high-ranking Bush official in a public forum.

Other conference participants also let Johanns have it. They slammed the Administration's proposal to entirely eliminate the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, which gives extra food to hundreds of thousands of low-income senior citizens. They opposed the President's plans to slash food stamps and make it more difficult for food banks to distribute commodities. But this year, the official USDA transcript of Johann's remarks entirely omitted the question and answer session.

I don't know which is worse: Mis-transcribing the criticisms last year or entirely leaving them off this year.