Friday, November 21, 2008

Keeping the Green Going for City Food Pantries

A new partnership between NYCCAH and City Greenmarkets is ensuring that fresh bread and produce sold at the Carroll Gardens Greenmarket makes it to the tables of those who need it most. Surplus food from the Sunday Greenmarket will be donated to the Hanson Place Campaign Against Hunger, a client-choice food pantry in Fort Greene throughout the 2008 and 2009 market season.

Hanson Place serves over 135,000 meals a year and has seen demand rise amid an increasingly uncertain economy. Like many food pantries across the City, Hanson place has had trouble sourcing fresh produce to pantry clients. “This donation of fresh produce will help serve the children, seniors and families who rely on our food pantry,” said Hanson Place director Tamar Auber.

It’s a plan that both helps hungry New Yorkers and cuts down on waste, says Councilman Bill de Blasio. Said de Blasio, “Wholesome produce should not be a luxury item, and commonsense partnerships like this one can help to increase availability of such healthy foods for low-income New Yorkers.”

NYCCAH and Greenmarkets plan to reproduce the donation model at Greenmarkets and emergency food programs across the City.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Costco Says “No Deal” for Food Stamp Recipients

Costco may not seem like a exclusive club, but it remains inaccessible for the nearly 28 million Americans receiving food stamps who can not use their benefits at Costco stores. This illogical blot on the record of an otherwise socially-conscious company has been keenly felt by the residents of the Queensbridge, Ravenswood and Astoria housing projects in Queens, all of which are in walking distance of the Long Island City Costco. Representatives of the warehouse buying club claim that the $50 membership fee would prohibit food stamp recipients from shopping at the store anyway.

With the number of city supermarkets dropping by 1/3 in the past five years, warehouse stores—along with bodegas and discount stores—often function as an alternate source of food for low-income New Yorkers, who have been disproportionately affected by the supermarket exodus. Given the fact that the federal government not only reimburses retailers the full price of food stamp transactions and provides chain retailers with free equipment to accept such purchases, the choice not to accept food stamps is a “glaring omission,” said Queens city councilmember Eric N. Gioia. With national food stamp enrollment on the rise, refusing to accept food stamps is not only socially irresponsible, it’s also bad business.

The Long Island City Costco, which opened in 1996, benefited from a zoning loophole which allowed them to open in a residential area, but has relied on a customer base from across the five boroughs. For Long Island City residents, says Berg, “Costco is essentially placing a sign in their window that says ‘Your Business Not Wanted.’ ”

Monday, November 17, 2008

Full and Ready to Learn

It’s the most important meal of the day, and at public schools across the city, it’s finally available to everyone. Following years of advocacy from NYCCAH and other anti-hunger groups, the City is expanding a pilot program that will make breakfast available in the classroom for students at 299 schools over the next two years. Before the expansion, in-classroom breakfasts were available in only 50 schools.

Since 2003, the City has offered free breakfast to all public school students regardless of income, but participation rates have remained low. By bringing breakfast into the classroom, the city hopes to lessen the stigma associated with receiving free breakfasts and to cut down on tardiness among students who would otherwise be forced to eat breakfast before their first period class.

“Any program that feeds hungry children, improves education, reduces tardiness and absenteeism is clearly an overwhelming public good,” said NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg. Berg and other anti-hunger advocates will call for Congressional funding to make in-classroom breakfasts available nationwide.

For educators, in-classroom breakfasts act as vital aid in the teaching process: one that works better and costs no more than serving the meal in the cafeteria. “We think it’s a terrific — terrific — way to ensure that our children are getting proper nutrition in the morning,” said Kathleen Grimm, New York City deputy chancellor for finance and administration.

The message is clear to City students, whose satisfaction is the best arbiter of the program’s success. As members of a third-grade class in Queens finished their in-classroom breakfast, 8-year-old Carol Ossieli observed: “It makes me full and happy. I’m ready to study and learn.”

Social Services Slashed Again Under Paterson’s Proposed Cuts

On November 13, Governor Paterson unveiled a proposal that would enact sweeping state budget cuts, including cuts in human services. Paterson has warned that the plan “represents a series of difficult choices across virtually every area of State spending.” Although it is not yet clear how much funding for emergency food programs will be cut from the most recent proposal, any reduction in funding will be deeply felt by these programs because the state government has slashed the Hunger Prevention Nutrition Assistance Program (the HPNAP) by 22% since April 2008.

The plans most drastic cuts will hit education and health care. School aid would be decreased by $836 million and Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals would also be substantially reduced.

The plan would allegedly generate $5.2 billion in state funds over the next two years, eliminating the state’s 2008 deficit and securing future payment on the 2009 deficit. Governor Paterson has declined to cut into the City’s $1.2 billion “rainy day fund” or to raise taxes in order to raise state revenues.

“The most effective way to make the state stronger through this crisis and minimize the harm to the economy and vulnerable population is using every means at the state’s disposal, such as excess reserve funds and progressive revenue enhancements,” added James Parrot, Deputy Director & Chief Economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Non-profit groups rallied against the proposed cuts at government office buildings across the state. “We went through this in the 70’s, it was the worst period in New York’s recent history, and it lasted over two decades,” said Ed Ott, Executive Director at the New York City Central Labor Council, of the proposed plan. “It is the job of the government to go and find the money and keep essential services. We don’t want another 25 bad years in this city. If they cut us out, we won’t climb out easily.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reusable Pantry Bags May Help EFPs Circumvent Bloomberg’s Proposed “Bag Tax”

In an effort to raise city revenue and cut down on waste, Mayor Bloomberg recently unveiled a proposal that would charge shoppers a tax of 6 cents for every plastic bag they receive at the register. The proposal follows on the heals of a July initiative that required grocery stores to accept used plastic bags for recycling and, if passed, would allegedly generate a revenue of $16 million a year.

However, some advocates are concerned that Bloomberg’s proposal to charge shoppers for each bag they use might unfairly burden low-income New Yorkers who are already overburdened by skyrocketing food prices. It also remains unclear whether emergency food programs will be asked to pay the same tax as grocery stores and bodegas.

Whether or not food pantries are eventually subject to the bag tax, the proposal brings attention to the high cost of plastic bags for many food programs. Though many city pantries rely in part on bag donations from pantry customers, almost all supplement these donations with purchased plastic bags. The average New York City food pantry distributes over 300 bags each month, which leaves nearly 2 million bags per year added to City waste or left to litter neighborhood streets. As demand at City pantries continues to rise, both the economic and environment costs of disposable bags are taking an even greater toll on pantries and their surrounding neighborhoods.

This year, through a 2008 grant from the Citizen’s Committee for New York City a NYCCAH-sponsored network of food pantries in Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant were able to offer reusable bags to their regular customers. The reusable bags met with great approval from pantry customers as well as pantry staff, who were able to cut down on their plastic bag expenses. “It’s ridiculous, the amount of waste created by plastic bags,” said Eric Shoenfeld, a customer Community Development Support Corporation’s food pantry. “It’s important that we keep in mind the environment and work towards a greener planet.”

The pilot project may serve as an alternate model for food pantries hit by plastic bag taxes.

For more information on reusable pantry bags see the most recent issue of Feed the Solution, NYCCAH’s newsletter for emergency food programs, or visit the website of the Brooklyn Alliance for Community Services.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Where’s the Fraud?

Each election year, conservative politicians drag out a familiar refrain: low-income Americans, when granted access to basic rights like voting and receiving food stamp benefits, will inevitably exploit these rights and defraud government agencies en masse.

Data has repeatedly shown not only that these claims are false, but that conservative lawmakers have poured millions of dollars into fighting a battle with an all but non-existent enemy. “The conservative establishment has gone to great lengths to make it difficult for low-income Americans to register and cast votes,” says NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg in a recent Huffington Post editorial. “That is why the miniscule number of people who illegally vote is dwarfed by the tens of millions of eligible people prevented or discouraged from voting.”

It’s a scenario nearly identical to the food stamp (recently renamed SNAP) benefits application process here in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg continues to enforce the policy of finger-imaging all City food stamp recipients, despite the USDA’s statement that finger imaging does far more to detract eligible applicants from applying for food stamps than to weed out the miniscule number of fraudulent applications. In 2006, the City detected only 31 cases of food stamp fraud through finger-imaging, while, according to data from the Urban Institute, nearly 21,500 eligible New Yorkers were deterred from applying to food stamps by the finger-imaging policy. “There are a lot of bad government policies out there, but few rise to the level of sheer stupidity as this one does,” says Berg.

Ignore for a moment the fact that rich Americans who accept government funds are not made to submit to finger imaging. Or that over one in five New York City children continue to live in homes that can’t afford enough food. Economic data alone attests to the wastefulness of these policies. In 2006, New York City spent $800,000 on finger-imaging. That’s $25,806 on each case of detected fraud.

For families deterred from receiving even the minimum food stamp benefit, it’s clear where the real hoax lies.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Pledge to Make History, Again

At the end of an historic election season, Americans are calling upon President-elect Obama to again make history by ending hunger in America once and for all. The Obama-Biden anti-hunger plan combines measures that strengthen federal nutrition assistance programs and increase the long-term food purchasing power of low-income Americans by raising the minimum wage and providing affordable health insurance to all Americans.

President-elect Obama would utilize funds from his proposed $25 billion State Growth Fund to prevent further state funding cuts to nutrition programs, whose ability of local agencies to adequately feed food-insecure families has been recently jeopardized in the name of . In the past year alone, New York State has cut nutrition funding by 22%, even as individual soup kitchens and food pantries face the crisis of sharply increasing demand. The Fund would help safeguard state governments against negative economic pressure, while alleviating some of the burden of increased taxation otherwise needed to cover state budget costs.

The President-elect has also pledged to end child hunger in America by 2015 through a series of initiatives, including: offering free school meals to all children living in homes that receive Food Stamp/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, expanding the federal Summer Meals program and increasing support for community food banks.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is among the many Americans who have urged President-elect Obama to not only stick to the optimism of his campaign platform, but to tend towards overestimating the need of the American people in the interest of creating long-term economic stability. Says Krugman: “My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.” For food insecure Americans, it is this kind of concrete commitment that will offer real hope for a future free from the specter of hunger.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Where There’s a (Political) Will, There’s a Way

Hunger is taking a serious toll on the American people: Hunger causes childhood illnesses, developmental disabilities, and other health problems. Taxpayers pay $90 billion a year as a result of the continuing problem of hunger. Despite the severity of the hunger crisis, however, both presidential candidates largely ignored the issue of hunger in their campaigns. Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern and 2008 World Food Prize laureate and former Senator George McGovern in a recent Boston Herald editorial said that the next administration should lead a strong national effort to solve the problem of hunger in America once and for all.

If the next President takes the lead in making real policy changes, Senator McGovern, aged 86, and Representative McGovern, aged 48, both believe that they may yet see an end to hunger in their lifetimes. In particular, they call upon the next President to allocate the necessary funds to not only end domestic hunger but also to work towards ending hunger around the world by integrating anti-hunger initiatives into foreign policy. They propose that the next administration appoint a federal hunger czar who will oversee a single, comprehensive plan to end hunger that will be supported by every sector of government. The ultimate goal of such a plan, they argue is “to increase the independence, purchasing power and food security of every human being.”

Considering the extent of hunger at home and abroad, they argue that legislators must approach the problem of hunger with the same bipartisanship and sense of immediacy as they did the recent financial bailout. “Hunger is a political condition. We have everything we need – including enough food – to end hunger in the United States and around the world. However, we lack the political will to make ending it a priority,” said Senator McGovern and Representative McGovern.

Both Senator McGovern and Representative McGovern have worked extensively on both domestic and international hunger policy. Senator McGovern’s work with the McGovern-Dole international school feeding program has sparked a global campaign to increase school feeding in order to enhance the health and education of children, especially young girls. As co-chair of the Congressional Hunger Center, Representative McGovern has overseen bi-partisan efforts to develop domestic and international hunger policy.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Mayor Bloomberg Expands In-Classroom Breakfasts in Effort to Combat Economic Insecurity

On October 30, Mayor Bloomberg announced 18 new initiatives to help New Yorkers endure economic hard times. New measures include expanding the in-classroom free breakfast program, allocating $1.3 million in funds for frozen vegetables at food pantries and extending further assistance to seniors applying for food stamps.

The in-classroom breakfast program acts as a direct defense against child hunger by making free breakfasts available to students in their first period classrooms. In traditional school breakfast programs, students receiving free meals are forced to eat in a separate room, thus increasing the stigma associated with receiving free meals. The new initiative will expand the in-classroom breakfast program to 300 more schools in addition to the 50 City schools currently serving in-classroom breakfasts. “This is a major advance that will be a model for the whole country. We know breakfast improves educational performance so in-classroom breakfasts are both good hunger and good education policy” said NYCCAH Executive Joel Berg.

These anti-hunger initiatives were accompanied by the Bloomberg administration’s promise of new jobs in the construction and “green” sectors as well as job placement assistance for those recently laid off from financial service jobs. The administration will also raise funds for the Center for NYC Neighborhoods, which intervenes on behalf of New Yorkers facing foreclosure, and assists them in regaining financial stability.

Mayor Bloomberg emphasized the importance of existing city agencies in carrying out the proposed initiatives, stating that the creation of new spending programs would be irresponsible in the midst of economic downturn. “City agencies can do what these initiatives accomplish—make swift and focused efforts to help New Yorkers help themselves,” said Bloomberg.

Food Stamps Offer an Effective Economic Boost, Say Economists

As Congress deliberates the future of a second economic stimulus package, economists have affirmed that food stamp increases offer a far greater sustained payoff for the economy as a whole than individual tax rebates. Recent data from Moody’s Economy shows that each dollar spent on food stamps boosts gross domestic product by $1.73, while the return on tax rebates is only $1.26 on the dollar. Other methods for improving the economic security of low- and middle-income Americans, including extending unemployment insurance, result in similarly high rates of return, while corporate tax cuts result in a net loss of 70 cents on the dollar.

The precipitous drop in retail sales in September made it clear that the first economic stimulus package earlier this year – which focused on individual tax rebates – was unable to effectively bolster the economy. As the economy continues to decline, lawmakers are looking for new means to increase low-income Americans’ spending power and – especially considering economists’ support – increasing the food stamps allotment has emerged as an important component of a possible second economic stimulus.

“Economists are quite in agreement that food stamps, unemployment insurance, and adjusting the paychecks of the bottom half of American workers would have a far greater effect,” said Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer in a recent interview with Dow Jones.

Call your Senator today to encourage them to support increasing food stamps benefits as a part of the second economic stimulus package.

How do I contact my Congressional representatives?

- Use 1-800-473-6711* to call your Members of Congress.

- Call the Capitol Hill switchboard at: 202-224-3121 or 202-225-3121.

- Library of Congress website: