Friday, September 28, 2007

Food Stamp Progress!

"NYCCAH is glad to report significant food stamps progress on three fronts:

1) At a meeting of the HRA Commissioner's Advisory Board yesterday, Commissioner Doar announced that the number of people receiving food stamps in New York City had increased by 22,837 people, to a level of 1,111,170, which is the highest level since January of 1998.

Program participation is now 321,774 people higher than when Mayor Bloomberg took office in January 2002. As a result, low-income New Yorkers will receive at least $500 million more in federal nutrition assistance support this year than in 2001. For families facing hunger or the threat of hunger, that is certainly good news. It is clear that the increases are due in significant part to government improvements in program access, as well as expanded public/private outreach efforts, including those in which the New York City Coalition Against Hunger is a key partner.

Even with this good news, we do note three continuing concerns:

One of the reasons more people are getting food stamps is that poverty, hunger, food insecurity, and underemployment continue to make more New Yorkers eligible for and/or in need of such food assistance. The only better news than more eligible people getting food stamps would be if the economic well-being of low-income New Yorkers improved enough to the point that many no longer needed food stamp benefits.

The rapid month-to-month fluctuations in program participations raise significant questions. While we are certainly pleased by the large, 22,837-person, increase in August, it is truly odd that there was a 6,6,51-person drop in July, as well as drops in many of the preceding months. Given that both economic conditions and the amount of outreach were relatively stable over this period of time, you would expect either a consistent increase, a consistent decrease, or small monthly fluctuations - not the very large monthly swings we have seen. This could be due to problems related to application re-certifications, processing, and/or reporting, but we don't have enough data to know for sure. The Commissioner said he would further look into this matter.

Participation is still 347,130 people (24%) below the peak participation level of March 1995, which means that low income New Yorkers are still obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars less per year in food stamps benefits than 12 years ago.

2) A Federal Court reached agreement with the Urban Justice Center and with the City, State, and Federal governments to provide millions of dollars of back food stamps payments to tens of thousands of disabled New Yorkers previously denied food stamp benefits. This provides yet more proof to back up our long-held contention that the City routinely violated the law regarding food stamps access. But more importantly, it seems like this one problem has been fixed, at least for now. See the settlement press release. Covered by NY1, WNYC, the Daily News, and the NY Times

Here's what U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said about the settlement: "Hunger is an insidious and, still, all-too-pervasive problem that a nation as rich as ours must eradicate. That is why I am pleased with today's federal court verdict that supports access to food stamps for our most vulnerable, disabled citizens. It was dreadfully wrong to have denied, for 8 years, the benefits many disabled needed to stave-off hunger. But I am wholly aware that much more must be done to ensure that all Americans have ready access to the food they need for a complete, nutritious diet."

3) The State's Working families Food Stamps Initiative has now been formally approved by USDA. See Governor Spitzer's press release, as well as the NY Times article covering the story.

We hope the State can now implement this excellent new initiative rapidly."

Joel Berg
Executive Director

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Rivera Supports Classroom Breakfast

The NY Daily News published a feature today by New York City Council Majority Leader Joel Rivera. Rivera responded to the school breakfast data released last month by the Food Research and Action Center (and subsequently brought to the public eye by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger in a successful press conference on the steps of City Hall.) As promoted by the Coalition, Rivera expresses support for allowing children to eat school breakfasts in classrooms, a method practiced by the highly successful Newark breakfast program.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Food Stamp Failures

Today's New York Times featured an editorial on the poor state of the Federal Food Stamp program in New York City. With its somewhat misleading but eye-catching title, Why the Hungry Refuse Help, the article discusses the recent study by the Urban Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, that found that of 9,500 food stamp recipients, 5,800 had benefits cut off within 20 months of enrolling. Even though most were still eligible for the program, many failed to show up at city offices to renew their benefits citing the complex paperwork involved, long waits, and inability to get off work or leave children.

While the managers of the program, HRA (the Human Resources Administration), disputed the report's findings, official statistics show that even as New York poverty levels remain fairly constant, the number of City food stamp recipients fell by 7,000 in July 2007. As the City spends it own millions to support soup kitchens, food pantries, and other emergency food programs, it fails to maximize enrollment in the Federal Food Stamp program and thereby loses hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. Reapplication by phone or even online, as well as changing it from the current 6 month period to the federal standard of 12 months, would help increase enrollment.

The Urban Justice Center's findings were also reported by WNYC and the Staten Island Advance.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Calorie Data Rule Dismissed

The city health regulation requiring restaurants to post calorie information next to menu items has been struck down by a federal judge. Judge Richard J. Howell of United States District Court in Manhattan threw out the regulation on the basis that some of the provisions of the rule are already covered by federal law. The NYC Department of Health had sought the regulation as a way to quell what it refers to as "an obesity epidemic" in the city. It is unclear whether the city would try to adopt a regulation that would satisfy the judge.

The calorie data controversy has been covered by NYCCAH in previous blogs on April 3 and June 15, 2007.

Also see WNYC, Forbes, CBS.

Urban Garden Oasis

Through the help of Bronx Green-Up, the New York Botanical Garden community gardening program, urban gardeners have been transforming abandoned plots in the Bronx into green oases that produce vegetables, herbs, and fruit that are then sold at the Botanical Garden's farmers' market. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, visited the garden and farmers' market this week. The City Council recently added money to the budget to support and enable the use of food stamps at farmers' markets, thereby providing low-income families with access to fresh, nutritious, "straight from the farm" food. "Obesity and hunger are two sides of the same coin. These markets bring them to a connection to quality and to combat obesity", said Speaker Quinn.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Presidential Hunger Policy

Read NYCCAH executive director, Joel Berg's, recent post How the Next President Can End Child Hunger in America. Berg's nonpartisan entry on IdeasPrimary outlines how a president might effectively wipe out childhood hunger across the nation.