Monday, June 30, 2008

City CSAs Support Food Access and Community Action

The area surrounding the Jacob Riis Neighborhood Settlement House has only one grocery store, despite being home to Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the nation. In a neighborhood where fresh produce is very hard to find, the new Long Island City Community Supported Agriculture Project is offering residents not only a source for local produce, but also a chance to become directly involved in the fight for greater food access in their community.

The Community Supported Agriculture Project, or CSA, was created through the Craig Murphey Anti-Hunger Partnership: a collaboration between The New York City Coalition Against Hunger, the Hunger Action Network of New York State, Just Food, the East River Development Alliance, and the Farm at Miller’s Crossing. The goals of the project are twofold. The family-style CSA membership component allows Long Island City residents to purchase shares of fresh produce from a local farmer, which are then delivered and distributed weekly throughout the growing season. The Local Produce Link component supplies food pantries and soup kitchens receive an average of 180 pounds of farm fresh food each week paid for by New York State Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) funding.

The CSA relies on a core group of program members who work towards the self-sustainability of the CSA while organizing community events like farm trips and member dinners. The program stresses direct member involvement in the distribution and organizing process, requiring all members to volunteer at least four hours per season. “It gives you a sense of feeling empowered, that you are part of the production line to some degree” said Bill Newlin, executive director of the Jacob Riis Community Settlement House, which serves as the distribution point for the Long Island City CSA. The establishment of the Long Island City CSA marks the second of three pilot CSAs which NYCCAH has co-sponsored. The West Harlem CSA is in its second season of distribution and there are plans for the creation of a third CSA to serve another low-income neighborhood in the 2009 growing season.

Friday, June 27, 2008

NYCCAH Calls on Next President to Join the Fight Against Child Hunger

12.6 million American children live in households without enough food. The stark reality of rising food costs, food shortages, and the limited gains in the recent Farm Bill will shape the next President's position in the fight against child hunger in the U.S.

NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg and Tom Freedman outlined a strategy for the next President to end child hunger. First, they argue, the government should make increasing enrollment in the Food Stamps and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs a priority by offering a common application for all supplemental nutrition programs, while simultaneously increasing accountability for agencies that administer nutrition programs. Access to these programs should be combined with universal school breakfasts, which have proven effective in increasing student performance, attendance and participation.

In order for nutrition programs to be effective, the government must also address the underlying barriers to effective anti-hunger policy. Berg and Freedman site the success of state anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives and encourage the federal government to award economic incentives to states who are successful in combating child hunger. The government must also renew its commitment to fighting poverty by instating a true living wage, exceeding the $7.25 an hour which will take affect next July.

Finally, the government can improve the quality and accessibility of anti-hunger and anti-poverty programs through strengthening its relationships with non-profits that offer sources for innovative policy and recommendations for needed improvements. The call to action is urgent, says Berg. “Americans are ready to come together and defeat a common challenge like child hunger. The problem is finding the political will to do it.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Inadequate Benefits Force Food Stamp Recipients to Sacrifice Necessities

Early this month a Congressional coalition led by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. called on legislators to temporarily raise food stamp benefits by 20% in to account for sharply rising food costs. Congress has yet to rule on the measure, which would offer some aid to struggling families until the farm bill’s limited increase in benefits is enacted in October. The coalition’s plea was unprecedented. It comes on the heels of a USDA report that the maximum monthly food stamp benefits for a family of four is $34 below the cost of maintaining a minimum healthy diet for a month.

The sacrifices being made by food stamp recipients in order to put food on the table are indicative of the kind of economic squeeze not seen since the 1970s. “What we are hearing from constituents is that they are having to make tougher and tougher decisions like to water down milk for kids or not purchase medication to keep money for food,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The 1,200 soup kitchens and food pantries in the city are ensuring that New Yorkers are not going hungry, but these agencies do not have the resources to serve as a primary defense against hunger, and have been severely strained by the increase in clients in recent months. New Jersey resident Cassandra Johnson has resorted to buying expired food with her food stamp benefits in order to feed herself, her niece and nephew. “We are not coping,” says Johnson.

Friday, June 20, 2008

City Council Takes “Huge Step” in Increasing Food Stamp Enrollment

A recent City Council study found that 600,000 families citywide are eligible for federal food stamp benefits, but have not applied. In response to these findings, City Council has vowed to increase outreach to the one million New Yorkers who receive Medicaid benefits but have yet to apply for food stamps. At a press conference on Wednesday, June 18th City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg emphasized the needless waste of unclaimed food stamp benefits, noting that food stamps benefit the City by putting federal funds directly into the local economy. “We’re leaving money on the table in Washington,” said Quinn. Council staff plans to increase awareness of food stamp eligibility through mailings to current Medicaid recipients and by direct outreach at supermarkets. “We have a moral obligation to ensure government does everything in its power to reach out to those who qualify to help build a healthier New York,” said Councilman Eric Gioia. Berg called the measure a “huge step” in the fight against hunger in New York City.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Food and Fuel Set Pace for Inflation

Food prices increased in May in the context of the on-going economic problems of rising prices coupled with lackluster growth.

Though the federal reserve has been using the word “inflation” with care in recent weeks, consumers are confronting the reality of inflation at gas pumps and grocery stores. Food prices increased by 0.8 percent in May, after remaining level in April. Pork and fresh fruit were among the products most affected by increases, with fruit and melons marking a 5.9 percent rise in prices since last month. Gas prices also shot up by 9.3 percent.

Food cost increases have been common news in recent months, with the price of a gallon of gas rivaling the cost of a gallon of milk. But recently economists have begun to address the inevitability of spreading inflation, as businesses are forced to recoup rising costs by raising prices for consumers. The Labor Department reported this week that the Producer Price Index, which measures costs for manufacturers, rose by 1.4 percent in May, marking the biggest increase in producer prices since November of last year.

Of course, the problem of rapidly increasing commodity foods is a global problem. In a meeting of the “Group of 8” in Japan on Saturday, finance ministers from the world’s richest nations warned that higher prices of oil and other commodities (including food) poses a real threat to the world economy.

Especially for low-income consumers, the on-going increase of the cost of goods poses a threat of continued inflation for food and other necessary consumer goods. Despite the fact that the Farm Bill raised the allotment for food stamps recipients, the continued increase in the price – and cost – of consumer goods forebodes a difficult future for low-income Americans who do not have the safety net of medical coverage and more comprehensive social services available to low-income individuals in other industrialized countries.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Rethinking Ethanol: When Food-to-Fuel Means Gas or Groceries

Worldwide demand for increased grain production has dampened initial excitement about a future powered by ethanol. Queens City Councilman Eric Gioia has drafted two-fold resolution calling on Governor Paterson to petition the Environmental Protection Agency for a state-wide waiver on federal ethanol production requirements, while urging the federal government to gradually withdrawal their use of edible crops for fuel production. NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg supports the measure, calling government subsidies of ethanol production a “corporate welfare program,” which acts as “one of the most pointless contributors” to food cost increases. Biofuels production contributed to one half of the growth in demand for staple crops in the past year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and with the U.N. calling for a 50 percent increase in world food production by 2030, the 30 percent of America’s corn crop devoted to biofuels has begun to look less like progress and more like a liability. Alternatives to food-based fuel include increasing the efficiency of traditional fuel and improving hybrid technology, while encouraging car owners to scale back their time spent behind the wheel.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New Yorkers Suffer from Lack of “Mainstream Plan to Reduce Hunger”

Americans who depend upon emergency food programs need more than a meal or a pantry bag. The increased need for emergency food programs across the nation points to a lapse in governmental oversight of social programs coupled with economic problems that leave many citizens unable to afford the most basic of necessities.

The 350 emergency food programs in Brooklyn, like programs across the nation, have seen an increase in customers who are steadily employed but have been hit hard by the forces of rising healthcare costs, a spiraling economy, and the inadequacy of current food stamp benefits, which should serve as the first line of defense for food insecure households. For Brooklyn residents, the force of gentrification further amplifies the problem: according to a report recently released by Congressman Anthony Weiner, nearly 30 percent of Brooklyn residents pay half or more of their income for shelter.

As NYCCAH reported in last year’s Hunger Survey, 67 percent of Brooklyn pantries suffered from shortages in 2007, following federal and state funding cuts. The crisis in Brooklyn is far from unique, and the solutions need to address the nationwide problem. “We need a federal commitment to living wage jobs so people can earn enough to feed their families and pay rent. We also need universal healthcare so that if you are working full-time you’re not impoverished,” said NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg. It is an agenda that defies the romanticizing of the soup kitchens and food pantries that fill a need in the absence of essential government action. “The Right has convinced Americans that the anti-poverty programs of the 1960s and 70s were failures,” said Berg. “The vast majority believe that the War on Poverty didn’t work. In reality, between 1960 and 1973 the poverty rate was cut in half.”

It is this kind of response and the attendant fiscal commitment that will make emergency food programs obsolete. “This agenda is to the right of Teddy Roosevelt,” Berg says. “It’s a mainstream plan to reduce hunger and poverty.”

Monday, June 02, 2008

Farm Bill to Overcome Legislative Limbo

Following an error of omission, legislators are poised to override the Presidential veto on the 2007 farm bill in its entirety, thus finally passing the $309 billion legislation. Though opponents of the bill have generated speculation about further legislative deliberation in light of the error, widespread and bipartisan support has all but guaranteed a successful override of the bill in its current form.