Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gioia Pressures Costco to Accept Food Stamps

City Councilman Eric Gioia recently wrote a letter to the president of Costco, the large discount warehouse retailer, asking the company to start accepting food stamps. After taking the Food Stamp Challenge and living on the average weekly allotment of $28, Gioia is even more sensitive to the fact that poor New Yorkers are unable to eat nutritious, balanced meals on such a meager budget. By getting discount retailers, such as Costco, to accept food stamps, poor New Yorkers will have access to healthy food at more affordable prices. Costco president James Sinegal contacted Gioia's office to say he is considering it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Advocates Hail Bloomberg, Quinn Food Announcements

Anti-hunger advocates praised New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Council Speaker Christine Quinn for announcing three hunger and nutrition-related initiatives today.

Included among these announcements was the unveiling of a new Paperless Office System (POS) Food Stamps Project, in which five pilot sites at soup kitchens and food pantries are now accepting applications for Food Stamps directly (see a map). The program, a collaboration between community partners, the City, FoodChange and the Coalition Against Hunger, has already enrolled 92% of the clients who have availed themselves of the service in the Food Stamps program.

Said Coalition executive director Joel Berg, "We are grateful to HRA, FoodChange, and our neighborhood-based partners for achieving significant success on this project in its very initial stage. So far, this joint project is truly a ‘win-win’ solution.”

(Update: this story was covered by the New York Post, WNYC, the Staten Island Advance, the Queens Gazette and the Brooklyn Downtown Star.)

Upstate Press Praises Schumer's Farm Bill Proposal

Yesterday, the Rochester-based Democrat & Chronicle published an editorial praising Senator Charles Schumer's recent legislation aimed at influencing the Farm Bill. The editorial called on upstate legislator Rep. Randy Kuhl to join Schumer in his call for indexing the benefits of the Food Stamps program to inflation.

Also notable in the public comments of this story is a variation on the old "food stamps buy steak and shrimp" myth. This myth has pervaded the public comment sections of many stories associated with last week's Food Stamps Challenge, often using similar language and style.

Peer-reviewed research on the Food Stamps program has concluded that participation does not affect diet negatively. Neither has any evidence been found that food stamps increase obesity and diet-related diseases, despite a multi-year panel convened by the USDA to examine just this question.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Gioia Reflects on Food Stamp Challenge

Yesterday, Queens-based NYC Council Member Eric Gioia submitted an op-ed to the New York Daily News reflecting on his week living on a food stamps diet and calling for progressive change at both local and federal levels.

Gioia rightly opined: "Government can't promise that everyone will be rich, but it should guarantee that no child goes hungry."

Spitzer's Council Could Reduce Hunger, Aid Farmers

Governor Spitzer has signed an executive order creating a New York State Council on Food Policy. Anti-hunger advocates, farmers, nutritionists, and other food related organizations see this announcement as a huge victory as they have been calling on the State to create such a council for many years. Executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger, Joel Berg, called Spitzer's order a "bold advance that will allow us all to better work together with State agencies to achieve our mutual goals of decreasing hunger, helping family farmers stay on their land, improving nutrition, bolstering our economy, and reducing obesity.” Read NYCCAH's press release here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Harlem Short on Healthy, Fresh Foods

A new study by the New York City Department of Health concludes that neighborhoods like East Harlem have a much higher percentage of fast food restaurants and small retailers that have difficulty selling nutritious food than ritzier neighborhoods like the Upper East Side. Gothamist, NY Metro (p.4), the New York Post and Newsday covered this story, which sounds awfully familiar to us...

Food Stamps Challenge Raises Awareness in Congress

The week-long Food Stamp Challenge was concluded yesterday by NYC Councilmember Eric Gioia and NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg in the halls of Washington, where the two met with New York Representatives Crowley, Meeks, McGovern and Rangel to push for enhancements to the Food Stamps Program in this year's Farm Bill.

Rangel, the head of the House Ways & Means committee that is crucial to funding the enhancements, was quoted by the NY Daily News as supportive: "On questions of nutrition, health, education ... how do we explain to people that we are being fiscally responsible as their bodies and their minds fall apart?"

The Challenge was recently covered nationally by ABC News and The New Yorker as well as locally by WNYC, Gothamist and the Queens Tribune, Times-Ledger and Chronicle.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

NYCCAH Celebrates 1st National AmeriCorps Week

This week the Coalition Against Hunger helped organize New York City's participation in the first National AmeriCorps Week. This inaugural event consisted of a full week of events and volunteer activities throughout the city performed by current AmeriCorps and VISTA members, as well as alumni, grantees, and friends of AmeriCorps.

The purpose of National AmeriCorps Week is to bring more people into national service, as well as highlight the broad impact AmeriCorps has throughout the United States and in individual communities. There are thousands of AmeriCorps and VISTA members participating in national service at hundreds of non-profit agencies in New York City alone! If you or someone you know may be interested in joining the Coalition's AmeriCorps teams, learn more here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Gioia and Berg Respond

Last week New York Magazine published a somewhat satiric article on New York City Councilman Gioia's participation in the Food Stamp Challenge that implied that all New Yorkers are already well aware of the limited and poor diet people on food stamps are forced to endure. This week the Magazine published letters from Councilman Gioia and Joel Berg Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger countering the article's erroneous and misleading message. Read their responses here.

Life On Food Stamps Weighs On Councilman Gioia

Only one day into the Food Stamp Challenge New York City Councilman Eric Gioia started to feel the pangs of hunger that come with living on the meager food stamp allotment of $28 per week, according to an article in the Daily News. Gioia admitted to serious food cravings, especially when he sat down to dinner with his family who were enjoying a meal of lasagna, baked ziti and stuffed mushrooms, while he was limited to a ration of pasta with tomato sauce from a jar and a few slices of cucumber. His family is not participating in the Food Stamp challenge with him, as he has a baby daughter whom Gioia said, "just couldn't survive" on food stamps.

Now halfway into his week on the Food Stamp Challenge, Gioia has gained 2 pounds due to having to buy the cheapest food, which also tends to be the least nutritious. On his limited food stamp budget, he is forced to buy carbohydrates and items such as "sandwich slices" that are full of excessive amounts of salt, fat, and calories. Dr. Lara Kross of Brooklyn's Long Island College Hospital looked at Gioia's shopping list for the week, and said that living on such a diet for a week would not be too harmful, "But if he was eating like this long-term, I would worry about an increase in cholesterol and high blood pressure. Heart disease could also be a problem."

Four U.S. Representatives, James McGovern (D-MA), Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO), Jan Shakowsky (D-IL), and Tim Ryan (D-OH), have joined the Food Stamp Challenge and pledged to live on an average food stamp budget of just $3 a day from May 15-21, 2007. They have invited other Members of Congress to join them in the challenge.

Hunger and Food Stamps

An editorial in the Sunday New York Times entitled "Hunger and Food Stamps" raised the issue of hunger in the United States and argued for increased food stamp benefits as a bulwark against it. Food stamp benefits have not been adjusted since 1996, that comprises over 10 years of inflation that has not been factored into the formula when calculating food stamp allotment. As the farm bill, which covers the Food Stamp Program, comes up as legislation this year, Congress has a lot to reconsider.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

NYCCAH's Joel Berg on the Food Stamp Challenge

“We are extremely grateful that Council Member Gioia has taken on this vital challenge. He has long been a leader in the fight against hunger in New York City, but now he is going the extra mile by experiencing first-hand some of the difficulties faced by hard-pressed food stamp recipients.”

“None of us will spend the week pretending that we will truly know what it’s like to be hungry. However, this exercise will provide a stark demonstration of the extremely difficult choices that low-income New Yorkers are forced to take on a daily basis.”

NYC Councilman Takes Food Stamp Challenge

As covered by NY1, the Daily News, and ABC7, New York City Councilman Eric Gioia is taking the Food Stamp Challenge and living for one week on $28.25 for groceries - the average weekly allotment per person in New York City. He will be joined by New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg. They are starting today, Thursday, May 10, and will limit their budgets to $1.30 or below per meal. Councilman Gioia warned, "Often the cheapest food isn't the healthiest." Those taking the challenge hope to raise awareness and increase funding of the Food Stamp Program as Congress sets to consider the new Farm Bill, which delineates the size, scope, and cost of the Food Stamp Program for the next five years. Berg is quoted in the news as saying, ""We know that food stamps used to last three to four weeks. Now they last two to three weeks and then the recipients start showing up at soup kitchens."

Food Aid and the Farm Bill

An op-ed article in the New York Times examines the proposed farm bill and its possible effects on food-aid recipients and farmer's markets. Food-aid recipients are frequent customers at farmer's markets, but new government proposals to increase the fruit and vegetable supply for poor people could transpose their business to supermarkets, which continue to be more convenient. Food-aid recipients receive plastic debit cards with which to pay for food, and most farmer's markets don't take plastic. The dilemma seems to be that increased fresh produce for poor people will actually hurt small farmer's and local farmer's markets. However, there is a way around this, if farmer's are supplied with card readers and other means to make shopping at farmer's markets more convenient, then it is beneficial all around. Urge legislators to support the Farmers’ Market Promotion Program, Community Food Projects, and other programs in the farm bill which can make this a reality.