Thursday, July 23, 2009

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We just want to let everyone know that our blog address has changed.

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Thanks for staying up-to-date with the Coalition's latest news.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

“Fresh” bridges the gap between food systems work and anti-poverty work

In Fresh, Ana Joanes focuses on the people who are re-inventing the food system in the United States. Joanes offers practical alternatives to the current food system in the U.S., an industrial model that has led to food contamination, environmental pollution, depletion of natural resources, and morbid obesity. Unlike some recent books and documentaries by organic food advocates that ignore hunger, “Fresh” bridges the gap between food systems work and anti-poverty and anti-hunger work. Tickets are still available for a screening and panel discussion in NYC this Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. as well as for future shows in Boston, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and Berkeley.

The film features Growing Power, a program based in inner-city Milwaukee that fights poverty and has created a model to promote sustainable, local agriculture. Growing Power's founder, Will Allen, recently won a Macarthur Fellowship (a so-called "genius award”). Growing Power proves that America can indeed fight hunger and bolster the nutrition of low-income neighborhoods at the same time is promotes a more sustainable type of local agriculture.

Many anti-hunger organizations are less supportive of the community food security movement because most of the projects – like Growing Power – are still small-scale. Joel Berg, Executive Director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, however, argues that anti-hunger advocates should support expanding initiatives like Growing Power rather than dismissing them. As Berg stated, “The bottom line is that the continuing rhetorical and philosophical fights between community food security and anti-hunger advocates are both silly and counterproductive. If they can’t even agree with each other, they’ll never be able to make the changes necessary society-wide. Both sides need to embrace the reality that we are all in this together.”

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Senator Gillibrand Meets with Anti-hunger Advocates, Pledges Support

“The reality that hunger still plagues far too many of our citizens in New York and throughout the nation has never been more apparent than it is during these troubling economic times,” said Senator Gillibrand yesterday at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Senior Residence. “I will lead the fight in the Senate to ensure that our seniors and those suffering from food insecurity have access to programs and services that provide healthy, nutritious food.”

At the beginning of the Passover holiday, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand met with local elected officials as well as leaders from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty (Met Council), NYCCAH, the Food Bank for New York City, and City Harvest. Senator Gillibrand is a member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging, discussed hunger, food insecurity, and a number of other issues facing low-income seniors.

Said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, “We are thrilled that Senator Gillibrand has pledged her support for ending hunger as a top priority. In the next year, we hope that she will take a leadership role in the Senate Agriculture Committee to support a strong Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act as well as other legislation that will assist low-income Americans during the recession and will help end hunger in our time. I couldn’t think of a better way for her to begin her career as a New York Senator.”

Senator Gillibrand also supported President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which provides important support for food banks, school lunch programs, and SNAP/Food Stamps. In particular, the ARRA invests $20 billion over the next two years to increase SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, an average increase of 13.6% for each recipient.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Not an April Fool's Joke.

Today (April 1st, 2009), SNAP/Food Stamp recipients receive 13.6% more per month. This increase is due to the American Recovery Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which increases SNAP/Food Stamp benefits, gives states extra money to administer SNAP/Food Stamps, and also includes additional nutrition provisions.

Here is the break down of what the ARRA provisions mean for New York State:

National and New York State Breakdown of ARRA Expenditures



New York State


$374.19 billion

$24.63 billion

SNAP/Food Stamp Benefit Increase

$19.9 billion

$1.289 billion

SNAP/Food Stamp Administration

$291 million

$30 million

Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)

$500 million

$34 million

Senior Nutrition Program

$100 million

$7 million

If you haven't already done so, please call your Congressional Representatives to thank them for their support in passing this critical legislation. Despite the important advances made in ARRA, however, there is still work to be done. In New York State, we must work together to urge Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Paterson to accept the ABAWD waiver.

In addition, in order to maximize the effectiveness of these important increases, New York City must increase its outreach for Food Stamp/SNAP benefits, improve HRA's ability to process claims by following Public Advocate Gotbaum's recommendations to improve technology, and must stop its wasteful and ineffective practice of finger imaging Food Stamp/SNAP recipients.

Monday, March 30, 2009

PA Gotbaum, Advocates Call on HRA to Improve Its Automated System

On March 22, 2009, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum released a study based on surveys with 148 HRA employees. These surveys, Gotbaum stated, showed that serious, but fixable, obstacles have hindered the effectiveness of the HRA’s automated system, which began in 1997. In the surveys, the HRA eligibility specialists reported several obstacles that made it difficult to process claims in a timely manner, highlighting that they did not have enough staff, that computers were not reliable, and that the appropriate interpreters were often not available.

Said Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, “Considering that 18,000 more New Yorkers received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in January 2009 than in December 2008, it is now more important than ever that HRA staff members have all the resources they need to deal with the increased demand for these vital programs. We urge HRA to implement the changes that the Public Advocate’s report recommends – especially simplifying the application procedure and providing appropriate support to HRA staff – so that HRA staff members have all the resources they need to assist low-income families in this difficult economic time.”

In the report, Gotbaum recommended that the HRA take a series of critical steps to correct the problem, including: hiring more staff for high traffic centers, improving technology necessary for processing benefit applications, and ensuring that interpreters are available in all HRA office. This survey is a follow-up to a survey of New Yorkers seeking benefits in November 2008 which found that individuals visiting HRA offices had to wait for excessive amounts of times, had to return to HRA for multiple visits in processing their claim, and were hindered in receiving their benefits due to technological failures.

In the General Welfare Committee Budget Hearing concerning the HRA on March 23, 2009, Gotbaum yet again reiterated the importance of improving the automated system in order to serve New Yorkers and to prepare for an increased number of applications as the recession continues. Gotbaum said: “Public benefits have always been a lifeline to low-income New Yorkers. But now, when jobs are scarce and every dollar counts, it is all the more critical that HRA adjust its policies and correct the problems at its Job Centers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Advocates Call on Governor Paterson to Reverse Mayor’s Decision

On March 7th, NYCCAH joined Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Comptroller William Thompson, and other advocates in urging Governor Paterson to accept the ABAWD waiver for New York State in order to override Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal of the waiver which would extend the length of time in which single adults could receive SNAP (f.k.a. “food stamps”) benefits while they search for work.

As the
joint letter to the Governor emphasizes, accepting the ABAWD waiver is a good moral and economic decision because it would bring $155 in federally-funded SNAP benefits into the New York State economy. Said Joel Berg, NYCCAH’s Executive Director, “Individuals – with or without children – still need to eat. By not accepting the waiver, New York City is refusing a life line paid for by the federal government. As anyone trying to find work in this economy could understand, it’s even more difficult to find a job when you’re hungry. Wasting city dollars to create make work jobs instead of actively accepting federal benefits that promote true work and self-sufficiency is the ultimate lose-lose.”

The Mayor continues to spout false claims about what the waiver would mean. For example, the Mayor stated that “People with dependents have to work so there’s no reason that people without dependents shouldn’t have to work. We, even in this market, are able to help an awful lot of them. If you want help, you’ve got to help yourself.”

His facts are simply wrong. First, he incorrectly suggests that the waiver would allow single adults to receive benefits without having to look for work and that they would have fewer work requirements than those with kids. In fact, by accepting the waiver, food stamp recipients without children would have exactly the same work requirements as those with children.

Secondly, in alluding to work placement, the Mayor again incorrectly confuses the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF, more commonly known as “welfare”) program with food stamps/SNAP suggesting that it would allow single adults to receive benefits without having to look for work and have fewer work requirements than those with kids.

Governor Paterson did take recent positive action on nutrition assistance. His New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) David Hansell recently announced that more working families with high child care costs may now qualify for SNAP and other nutrition assistance benefits.

Please support extending SNAP benefits to single adults searching for work by calling Governor Paterson’s office at 518-474-8390 and ask the Governor to build on his anti-hunger progrsss by overruling mayor Bloomberg.

Also, please add your support to the comments on Public Advocate Gotbaum’s recent article on this issue in the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

NYC Mayor Denies SNAP Benefits

Mayor Bloomberg refused to accept funding that would have given able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) more time to find employment while receiving SNAP benefits (f.k.a. Food Stamps). This funding is available through a provision in the federal stimulus bill.

As Public Advocate Gotbaum and Joel Berg (NYCCAH’s Executive Director) emphasized in a recent letter to the editor in the New York Post, the ABAWD waiver is designed to specifically designed to address hunger during a time of high unemployment.

It is important to note that, despite some incorrect statements in the media, ABAWDs who are currently receiving food-stamp benefits are already required to search for work. The provision in the stimulus bill only extends the amount of time for ABAWDs to find a job.

NYCCAH joined other advocates at a press conference with Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum to emphasize the importance of the provision, not only to the recipients, but to the city economy overall. Stressing this point Gotbaum stated, “Food stamps are an essential part of the stimulus because the money ultimately goes to our city’s small businesses: grocery stores and bodegas, green markets and vegetable stands.”

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, echoed this message stating, “this decision is certainly a ‘lose-lose’ both for the City and for its low-income residents.”

The Bloomberg administration says it is not obligated to extend Food Stamp benefits to anyone not enrolled in the Work Experience Program, a program that requires benefits recipients to work a minimum of 20 hours a week at unpaid jobs to receive their benefits. But as noted in a New York Times Editorial, “forcing people to take make-work jobs to qualify for food assistance takes valuable time away from the search for a real job. That’s counterproductive.”

Please contact Mayor Bloomberg and let him know that you support the acceptance of the provision that would extend SNAP benefits to ABAWDs.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“The Beginning of an End”

Yesterday, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a nationwide effort to stimulate the economy and help Americans by creating jobs and providing necessary services. While not claiming that it would fix the economic crisis immediately, President Obama did comment that the Act would “set our economy on a firmer foundation.”

The compromise package of $789 billion will create or save 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, 215,000 in New York state alone. Particularly important to hungry Americans, this Act provides critical funding for the following nutrition assistance programs, including: $20 billion for SNAP (f.k.a. “food stamps”), $500 million for Women, Infants and Children nutrition (WIC), $100 million for Emergency Food and Shelter (funds homeless shelter and feeding programs), and $100 million for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) over two years.

Please call or write your Congressional representative to say “thank you” for their work in passing this Act which will help all of us recover from these difficult economic times.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Food in the Public Interest" Report

“750,000 New Yorkers do not have access to healthy food. That must change,” Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said in a press conference in Union Square on Saturday. Joined by advocates from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and other food justice groups, BP Stringer held the press conference to announce the release of a report entitled “Food in the Public Interest: How New York City’s Food Policy Holds the Key to Hunger, Health, Jobs and the Environment.” This report is the product of an on-going partnership between the BP’s Office and food justice advocates throughout the city who also worked together to plan the “Politics of Food” conference in November at Columbia University.

As the New York Times reported, “Food in the Public Interest” calls for the city to make healthy food more available by supporting farmers’ markets and supermarkets tax through zoning incentives, limiting the proliferation of fast-food restaurants, and supporting local food producers. The media – for example in the Daily News, NBC, 1010 Wins, and Fox – focused on the report’s recommendations on the food shed issue.

However, it is also important to note that the report highlighted “Hunger” as a main policy area, stating that the “need for a food safety net is still relevant in New York City today” and that the recession will “likely result in a greater need for food assistance.”

The report makes several recommendations that assist the Coalition’s on-going advocacy efforts: Lobby for more federal funding for food programs; increase the number of eligible New Yorkers using food stamps; eliminate the existing state and local finger-imaging requirement; expand the number of places where food stamps can be used; and ensure that enrollment is available at soup kitchens and food pantries.

Although the report is only the beginning of an on-going process of engagement between the local government, advocates, and community members, it is an important first step in creating the necessary links between advocacy and policy changes.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Senate Considers Recovery Act

As a recent CNN article demonstrated, as the economy continues to fail, more people are turning to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) in order to avoid hunger. Said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, “The main purpose of the program is to wipe out Third World starvation in America, and it's worked.” Berg and other advocates are optimistic about the improvements included in the economic stimulus plan now being debated in the Senate.

The proposed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act includes the largest investment in nutrition assistance funding in decades. On Monday, the Senate began to debate the $885-billion stimulus plan. In particular, the bill includes a section of policy recommendations specifically geared towards “Alleviating Hunger”: for example, it includes $20 billion for SNAP, $200 million for Senior Nutrition Programs, and $726 million to increase the number of states that provide Afterschool Meals for Children.

Thanks to your help, an $819 billion version passed the House last week, but there are now several challenges to its spending levels in the Senate debate. It is critical that Congress approves the funding levels proposed in this bill immediately to provide assistance to individuals and families throughout the United States as soon as possible.

Please contact your Senators today to support the bill and the current level of anti-hunger funding. If you are in New York, please call: Senator Charles “Chuck” Schumer (D - NY) at (202) 224-6542 and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D - NY) at (202) 224-4451. Alternately, you may phone the United States Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Let’s Not Let It Become “Yes, We Could Have”

President Barack Obama followed his historic inauguration on January 20th with quick action to “bail out” the many Americans who continue to suffer as a result of the economic recession.

On Wednesday, January 29th, the House approved an $819 billion economic recovery plan which includes, among other items, $20 billion over the next two years for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program).

As Joel Berg wrote in a recent op-ed entitled Progressives Should Stop Carping and Start Fighting, “As an anti-hunger advocate, I am overjoyed that the bill would provide the largest investment in new nutrition assistance funding in decades.” Directly addressing some progressive critics, Berg called for anti-hunger advocates of all political persuasions to support the bill’s funding levels.

So, what if the Congress finally passes the “Bailout for the Hungry.” Then what? Although the stimulus package is a promising first step, it will not end hunger. As Neil deMause recently wrote, “At his inauguration, Obama called on America not to shy away from ‘big plans.’ Fully funding food stamps would be a great start.”

In this historic moment of renewed energy and hope, we must commit to ending hunger: by advocating for changes in government policies, organizing, and engaging in long-term volunteer work. Promisingly, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s recent Sixth Annual Martin Luther King Serve-a-Thon brought out both elected officials and volunteers from all over New York in support of Dr. King’s other dream: ending poverty.

Said State Senator Liz Kruger, it is time to “renew our commitment to ending hunger” and to ensure that “in these troubled times … the government to help those who are most in need.”

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ag Nominee Calls for “New Vision” to End Child Hunger

In Senate confirmation hearings on Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary-nominee Tom Vilsack promised to bring a “new vision” to the department of agriculture and vowed to prioritize initiatives that help families afford enough nutritious food.

“In a powerful, rich country, none of us should be satisfied that there are children going to bed hungry,” said Vilsack.

Vilsack noted that progress has already begun on President-elect Obama’s pledge to end child hunger by 2015. Secretary of Health and Human Services nominee Tom Daschle recently met with Vilsack to discuss collaboration between the two departments, including work on programs that would increase children’s access to fresh fruit and vegetables and improve the quality of school meals.

“It’s going to be important for us to promote fresh fruits and vegetables as part of our children’s diets,” continued Vilsack. “That means supporting those who supply these products and making it easier for consumers to buy locally grown products.”

The Agriculture Department faces a hard year, with US agricultural exports expected to fall and the demand for emergency food continuing to rise. As Secretary, Vilsack would first be responsible for enacting the $290 billion Farm Bill, passed last year after months of debate and administrative delays. The Farm Bill included $289 billion in federal nutrition funding over the next ten years.

In addition to those fund, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act could also provide critical funding to help Obama achieve his campaign pledge. The Reauthorization Act includes funding for free school meals and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which provides a first line of defense against child hunger. Vilsack and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chair Tom Harkin emphasized the importance of the $15 billion Reauthorization Act for combating childhood hunger and obesity. The Food Research Action Center (FRAC) urged Vilsack and agricultural committee members to push for higher enrollment rates in child nutrition programs, especially free lunch programs, where enrollment has hovered at 50% of qualified recipients.

The Senate panel, including ranking Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, approved of Vilsack’s nomination. Vilsack’s fast-track nomination could be approved as early as January 20.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reviving King's Dream to End Hunger

When Dr. Martin Luther King surveyed the state of American life over 40 years ago, he saw a nation fractured by racial inequalities and poverty. While Dr. King is often remembered as a civil rights leader who fought the oppressive racial divisions in the United States, history often overlooks King’s dedication to eradicating poverty and hunger, as evidenced in his Poor People’s Campaign. In addition to his “dream” of ending racial divisions, King also dreamt of the day that all Americans would have enough to eat.

The United States could have ended hunger in the 1960s and could end hunger today, says NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg. “Had America ever chosen to do so, it could have wiped out domestic poverty and hunger far more rapidly than it could have achieved King's goals of racial equality or world peace,” says Berg. President Johnson’s War on Poverty was the first federal campaign to seriously combat the causes of poverty, and it succeeded in cutting national poverty rates in half. The unprecedented campaign was a temporary victory for low-income Americans and the Johnson administration. But the War on Poverty lost political steam in the 1970s and, as a result, in 2007 there 14 million more Americans living under the poverty line than in 1973.

What we need now, says Berg, is not a recapitulation of old programs but a new, and creative political will to eliminate hunger and poverty: one that lends real weight to federal anti-poverty initiatives, and acknowledges the many parties responsible for moving those in poverty towards self-sufficiency. “Increased government support, economic growth, community involvement, and a focus on personal responsibility are all needed to solve the problem,” says Berg.

President-elect Obama vowed to end domestic child hunger by 2015 – a sign that there may be increased government support for ending hunger in our time. As citizens, it is our job to push the new administration to keep its promise to low-income Americans so that Dr. King’s dream of ending hunger can finally become a reality. Let’s think of it as our collective resolution for 2009.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Senate Ag Leaders Support Food Stamp Stimulus

Faced with a continuing recession and an uncertain economic future, Senate agricultural leaders have voiced their support for food stamp increases in the next stimulus package.

Following the lead of President-elect Obama and economic advisors on both sides of the aisle, Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Chairman Herb Kohl (D-WI) have called for a boost in food stamp allocations, which they believe will offer a swifter economic payoff than rebates issued in the last stimulus package.

According to a report by financial analysts at Goldman Sachs, every food stamp dollar spent generates $1.73 in economic activity, compared to a $1.26 rate of return on tax rebates.

In a December statement, Senator Harkin declared that food stamps would be central to the next Congressional stimulus plan. “We’ll have the votes,” said Harkin.

The timeline for a finalized stimulus plan remains unclear, as lawmakers continue to hammer out the details of tax breaks and focused spending increases. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stated that the House will forgo its President’s Day recess if a stimulus package has not been drawn up by February 16.

Current estimates gauge spending for Obama’s proposed stimulus package at nearly $800 billion over the next two years.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Case Closed?

For the past decade, New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) has cited declining welfare rolls as proof that the City is effectively moving benefits recipients towards self-sufficiency. But the numbers tell a different story, say NYCCAH Executive Director Joel Berg and City Councilmember Bill de Blasio.

From November 2007 to 2008, the City’s welfare caseload dropped by 16,000 even as the number of people forced to use emergency food programs spiked and the number of homeless families reached a 25-year peak of 9,720. According to the city’s own data, unemployment rates also climbed by 25% percent last year, challenging HRA’s assertion that former welfare recipients have transitioned to long-term employment.

“Over the past few years – and especially during the current economic downturn –families removed from the welfare rolls are unable to find substantial work opportunities and are instead being pushed deeper into poverty and increasingly forced to use food pantries and soup kitchens. That’s not real welfare reform – that’s a counterproductive policy of punishing poor people for being poor,” said Berg.

In New York City there are two programs that compose what is commonly known as “welfare”: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Safety Net Assistance. TANF is intended to support families with young children or pregnant mothers with little or no income for up to five years and is provided by federal, state and local funds. Safety Net relies on state and local funding to provide extended benefits for those who have exceeded the time limit of TANF and can be renewed for up to two years.

Federal law requires states to place half of all TANF recipients in jobs or in employment-training. Following the federal tightening of work restrictions in 2006 and HRA’s creation of the Back to Work Program—a city-wide “work-fare” model whose proposed aim is to connect welfare recipients with long-term employment—advocates have questioned whether HRA’s employment programs are designed to serve clients or merely comply with the federal mandate. As jobs have been harder to find, government officials are questioning the efficiency of HRA’s “work-first” model.

“Until HRA provides people with real education and training opportunities that prepare them for living-wage jobs, we are just rearranging the deck chairs,” said de Blasio.

A recent report by Community Voices Heard (CVH), an organization of low-income welfare activists, found that only 9% of Back to Work clients found jobs through the program. CVH called on HRA to focus their employment efforts on the skills and interests of the individual client and work towards finding high-growth, living-wage jobs for benefits recipients in order to effectively transition clients to employment.

HRA continues to refute CVH’s findings, claiming that CVH data fails to take into account the many challenges that the department faces. Despite the possible veracity of HRA’s refute, however, until HRA complies with one of CVH’s further suggestions—greater administrative transparency—clients and advocates will continue to challenge HRA’s claims to effective welfare reform based on the status of those purged from the City’s welfare rolls.