Friday, August 29, 2008

Green Light for Food Stamps at Farmers Markets

New York State is leading the way in increasing food stamp recipients’ access to local, fresh produce. Supported by the Federal Food Stamp program, farmers markets across the state have installed wireless electronic benefits transfer (EBT) terminals that work like credit card machines to accept benefit cards.

The initiative is helping to ensure that benefits recipients, whose food options are often limited to the unhealthy offerings of bodegas or discount stores due to the low concentration of grocery stores in low-income neighborhoods, have an accessible and affordable source for fresh food.

The wireless EBT terminals benefit both food stamp customers and farmers market retailers, who have reported increased profits after installing the EBT terminals. “The markets much, much busier,” said New York farmer Richard Hayberger, who reported a $500 monthly increase in profits since Rochester farmers markets started accepting EBT.

EBT terminals have been installed in 87 of New York’s 400 markets, sparking a dramatic increase in statewide food stamp sales at farmers markets from $3,000 in 2002 to $90,000 in 2007.

More federal funding will be needed to extend EBT access to all state farmers markets. Current funding levels will only cover the cost of expanding the program to 130, or about 1/3, of all New York’s farmers markets.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New York Tops Nation in Economic Inequality Despite Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Strategy

The income gap between the poor and the rich is greater in New York than in any other state in the nation, according to 2007 American Community Survey data released on August 26.

The data indicated that, though nationwide poverty levels have remained relatively stable over the past year, the inequality of wealth in New York City exceeds that of Mexico and Sri Lanka, with the poorest 20% of New Yorkers earning only 2.9% of the state’s income.

“When our income inequality is closer to the developing world than to the rest of the industrialized world, we should be ashamed of ourselves,” said NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg.

Though the number of New York City residents living in poverty dipped slightly in 2007, one in five New Yorkers continue to live in poverty. While some viewed the slight decrease as a sign of progress, it can also be attributed in part to the number of low-income residents who have recently left the City due to the rising cost of living.

The report further showed that the number of City residents living in poverty grew from 1.491 million in 2002 to 1.50 million in 2007, despite the implementation of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s vaunted anti-poverty initiative.

Continued Berg, “These federal numbers are the clearest indication yet that Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-poverty strategy – comprised mostly of small-scale, underfunded pilot programs – is failing to make a significant dent in the City’s massive poverty and hunger. At the same time, incomes for the richest New Yorkers have continued to skyrocket. I hope this new data is a wake-up call for all our elected officials to convince them that we must devote real resources to our anti-poverty efforts.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

The New and Improved 2008 Farm Bill

On Friday, August 22, the USDA released a comprehensive comparison of the 2008 Farm Bill and previous farm bill legislation. The report highlights many changes that received little public attention during the extended debate surrounding the omnibus legislation. For example, the 2008 Farm Bill allows states to establish methods whereby food stamp applicants can sign their application by over the phone, potentially cutting down on long lines at benefits offices. The 2008 Farm Bill also includes provisions to protect food stamp applicants from discrimination based on age, rehabilitation status or disability. In addition to measures designed to help low-income Americans gain access to benefits, the 2008 Bill also authorizes $15 million a year in matching grants to improve food bank infrastructure, which would include funds to purchase more locally-sourced food. For a complete listing of legislative changes in the 2008 Farm Bill, please visit The Farm Bill Side-by-Side.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

More Hunger for the Poor, Fewer Tax Hikes for the Rich

For the second time in five months, Governor David Paterson and the State Legislature slashed food funding to emergency soup kitchens and food pantries, despite the soaring need at such agencies.

In April, the Legislature and the Governor cut by 16% the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP), the main source of State funding for charitable food pantries, soup kitchens, and food banks that feed hungry New Yorkers in suburban, rural and urban communities across the state. On top of that, the State just agreed to an additional 6% cut in any HPNAP funding for this year that has not already been spent, thereby cutting another $1.2 million out of the HPNAP budget.

Governor Paterson joined the State Senate in rejecting a State Assembly plan that would have prevented funding cuts by slightly increasing the income tax rate on New Yorkers who make over $1 million a year.

“Given that Governor Paterson previously had such a progressive record in public life, it is particularly distressing that he has twice chosen to prove his supposed ‘fiscal toughness’ in his new job by balancing the budget on the back of the state’s most vulnerable residents,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “Surely a much better alternative would have been restoring previous, fairer levels of taxation to the very wealthiest people who earn income in New York.”

The cuts come on the heels of a New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) report that City-supported pantries served 1.39 million meals in March and April, 9.3% more than the same period in 2007.

For soup kitchen and food pantry customers, the cuts mean less food and more hunger. Governor Paterson has utilized the occasion of the recent budget cuts to emphasize his sensitivity to criticism from agencies affected by recent cuts, rather than acknowledging the needs of New Yorkers who have been forced to rely on these agencies. Paterson’s fits of conscience, however, have not led to increased funding for programs that stop children from going hungry. Said Natasha, a pantry customer who waited in line for two hours for a bag of packaged food, “the Governor should speak to the people who go through this.”

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Food Stamp Use Grows as More City Greenmarkets Accept EBT

Food stamp purchases at City Greenmarkets nearly doubled in early July as compared to totals for the same time last year. City Council has outfitted 14 Greenmarkets with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) terminals, making it easier and more discrete for food stamp recipients to purchase fresh, local produce in their neighborhoods. This is part of an ongoing trend: Total food stamp purchases at Greenmarkets have continued to rise exponentially in the past several years, from $1,000 in 2005 to over $40,000 in 2007.

Greenmarkets officials attribute the recent increase in food stamp spending to extensive community outreach funded by City Council and new staff positions dedicated to EBT sales. “As word is spreading about food stamp access at Greenmarkets, we are seeing families come out and shop in record numbers. This dramatic increase is further proof that New Yorkers are hungry for healthy food options,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Message to Governor Paterson: Tax Rich Before Axing Government Services

Low-income families are extremely vulnerable to economic downturn, and so too are the government programs that help these families afford to eat, care for their children and defend their rights. Governor Paterson has called for $1 billion in cuts to these services, while referring to alternate plans, such as revenue-raising, as a last resort.

Given the robust growth of the gulf between the richest and poorest New Yorkers, lobbyist Anne Erickson and Kristin Brown Lilly are calling on Paterson to save funding for these programs by adding a small surcharge to the income taxes of those state residents who make over $500,000 a year. Questioning the logic of axing services in a time of critical need, Erickson and Brown Lilly note that state funding for legal services for low-income residents have been cut by 75% in the past year, and warn that emergency food programs and childcare assistance will be similarly affected if the current plan is not met with immediate opposition.

The state already cut funding for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) by 16% in April, further limiting the overtaxed agency’s ability to support statewide soup kitchens and food pantries, and the clients who are forced to rely on their services. Further cuts could be crippling. “The governor's proposals…will cut to the core of programs and services,” say Erickson and Brown Lilly. “Ensuring access to justice, child care, emergency food and other critical human services should be among our top priorities, not among the first services to be jettisoned in a time of economic downturn.”

Friday, August 15, 2008

Senator Schumer Says Bush Administration Winning “Bad Economic Policy Olympics”

The Consumer Price index reported a 5.6% increase in the cost of many common products since July 2007, marking the most dramatic increase since the recession of the early 1990s.

Accelerated inflation has had a swift negative affect on the spending power of American workers. Blue-collar workers wages, when adjusted for inflation, fell by 3.1 percent since last year.

The economic downturn has prompted many businesses to raise prices in order to keep pace with production costs and forced many Americans to rely on credit in order to afford necessities. Fuel prices have recently declined, but that improvement has done little to mitigate the rising costs of everything from clothing to education.

Senator Charles Schumer emphasized the need for further government intervention to improve the economic forecast prior to the end of President Bushs term. “If this administration were competing in the bad economic policy Olympics, they’d receive four gold medals today,” said Schumer. “It is long past time for this administration to help families and workers compete in a stagnating economic environment—economic stimulus should be at the top of the agenda before this administration throws in the towel.”

Low-Income Workers Cite Need for Better Government Services

Though many low-income workers believe that economic success can still be attained through hard work, the majority believe that government policies have contributed in some part to their difficult financial situation. In a new study sponsored by Harvard University, the Washington Post and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, more than half of the low-wage workers surveyed believed that government programs aren’t helping to improve their quality of life.

The study paints a picture of low-income workers who are anxious about an economic future and their growing vulnerability to economic fluctuations. Many have been forced to borrow money or sell possessions in order to afford food and fully half of respondents claimed that they could only stay financially afloat for a month if they lost their current job.

Low-income workers included in the study called upon the government to make affordable health insurance, cheaper gas, and financial assistance for higher education and public works jobs a top priority. Respondents also noted several government programs that have had a substantial impact on their lives, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and children’s health insurance programs funded through Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

The combined concerns of low-income workers could soon become priorities for middle-income workers as well as declining economic conditions begin to penetrate higher up the economic ladder. Beth Shulman, a scholar at the Future of Work Project notes the great potential power of these grievances to spark widespread political action. “I don’t think we want to live in a country where people are working and doing what they are supposed to do but yet they can’t get the basics,” said Shulman.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bitter Winter Ahead as Fuel Costs Soar

Soup kitchens and food pantries across the country are already anticipating the increased need for their services in what will likely be a desperate winter. Home heating costs are expected to increase up to 100% from last year as the cost of heating oil has spiked. These increases will make it difficult for even middle-class households to afford other basic expenses such as rent, food, and healthcare.

In the past several months, rising food prices have already contributed to increased demand at emergency food providers as low-income families have been unable to afford the food they need. Experts warn that the cost of fuel will intensify the current demand and will potentially force many middle-income families to seek emergency food services.

State governors and attorney generals from across the nation are pressing for extended coverage from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), though the average 2008 family heating grant of $359 will only slightly offset fuel costs.

New York State has already reported an over 40% increase in the number of homes whose utilities were shut off due to back payment in April 2008 as compared to April 2007. The City may join Boston officials in preparing for crisis by beginning to identify warming centers where City residents can go when temperatures dip to dangerous levels.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Bloomberg’s Homelessness Initiative Fails to Deliver Results

The number of New York City families living in homeless shelters has not decreased despite Mayor Bloomberg’s anti-homelessness initiative which increased spending on homelessness prevention services by 20%. The initiative began in 2004 and aimed to reduce homelessness in New York but did not put forth any concrete target goals.

The Bloomberg administration has touted progress reports as essential measures of city initiatives. However, according to a report issued on August 7th by City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, Chair of the General Welfare Committee, Bloomberg’s initiative has failed to deliver timely evaluations of anti-homelessness programs. De Blasio supported the intention of Bloomberg’s offensive, but emphasized that it’s just not enough to set goals without reporting on the results of this initiative.

De Blasio’s report follows the July announcement of a new citywide formula for calculating poverty which sets the Citys current poverty level at 23%, higher than the federal estimate of 19%. The announcement of the new formula was not accompanied by any statement addressing the overall decline or increase of poverty levels during the Bloomberg administration.

Bloomberg’s initiative has increased spending for the Human Resources Administration which administers the federal Food Stamps program. HRA has suffered from processing delays and widespread inefficiency, leading to an April court order that forced the department to comply with food stamp processing deadlines. The Bloomberg administration also continues to enforce the finger-imaging of food stamp applicants, despite the states repeal of the finger-imaging requirement in 2007.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Calls for Improvements Ahead of 2009 Child Nutrition Reauthorization

In the wake of the 2008 Farm Bill reauthorization, legislators and anti-hunger advocates are preparing for the 2009 Reauthorization of Child Nutrition and the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Programs. The Child Nutrition Program includes funding for subsidized free and low-cost school and summer meals for children, while the WIC Program offers nutrition assistance to low-income pregnant or breastfeeding mothers and children under 5. Funding for these programs will likely be affected by the recent increase in food prices which have significantly raised the cost of both WIC-authorized items and school meal production, and concurrently led to higher demand for nutrition assistance.

Representatives of the USDA have argued for simplification and standardization of the school meal application process, which would rely on government data to expedite applications. USDA representatives also support increasing the number of children eligible for free meals by eliminating the social security number requirement for applicants. Participants in recent town hall meetings sponsored by the School Nutrition Association identified the need for improved and uniform nutrition standards, and have called upon legislators to eliminate reduced-price meals in favor of free meals for all qualified applicants. All parties stressed the need for increased federal funding for both Child Nutrition and WIC.

The Child Nutrition Act was signed by President Johnson in 1966 as an improvement upon the earlier School Lunch Act of 1946. Upon signing the Act, Johnson stated that good nutrition is essential to good learning.

The USDA is currently holding listening sessions in U.S. cities to gather opinion about reauthorization priorities. Comments are also being accepted via and may be faxed to (703) 305-2879.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Interactive Maps and New Summer Meals Sites Make it Easier to Feed New York Kids

NYCCAH has partnered with the city to create new, interactive Summer Meals maps, making it even easier to for New Yorkers to find Summer Meals sites in their neighborhoods.

The Summer Meals program offers free lunch and breakfast to all children under 19 years of age regardless of their income, citizenship status, residency, or public school enrollment. Children are entitled to meals just by showing up at a Summer Meals site.

This summer, NYCCAH has worked to provide summer meals at fifteen soup kitchens and food pantries, which joined the over 700 City Summer Meals sites operating in 2008. The new Summer Meals map allows users to search for sites by borough or download a comprehensive list of sites across the City.

“We greatly appreciate that the Mayor’s Office and the Department of Education worked with us to pilot these new sites at panties and kitchens,” said NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg. “Now that there are additional sites and that they are easier to find, we need to get the word out that these free Summer Meals are available. Given our current food prices crises, every bit of free food that struggling families can access for their children helps.”

Summer Meals will be served through August 29.

Monday, August 04, 2008

USDA Announces Increased Funding for Senior Farmers’ Markets

On July 30, 2008, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced that Congress allocated $21 million in grant awards to 49 state agencies and tribal organizations for the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program in final Fiscal Year 2008 grant awards. Of the $21 million total allocated in the final awards, New York State received $1,906,553.

The $21 million allocation represented $5 million more to this program than the Bush administration previously allocated in FY 2008 grant awards in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) budget.

The Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs at farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs.

The program targets low-income seniors, defined as individuals who are at least 60 years old and who have household incomes of equal to or less than 185% of the federal poverty income guidelines.