Gotham Gazette Sat, 25 Jan 2020 00:12:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Johnson Unveils Plan to Address Hunger and Food Inequity 48433082297 f0af3fb88d z

Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Thursday announced a plan to address hunger and the lack of equitable access to fresh food in New York City, laying out a package of legislative proposals that the Council will consider over the next year.

Food insecurity — the absence of or insufficient access to affordable, nutritious food  — affected nearly 1 million New Yorkers as of 2017, according to a new City Council report that Johnson released at Cypress Elementary School in East New York. The school is the first in Brooklyn that has a greenhouse and incorporates nutrition education into the curriculum.

The Council’s report, titled “Growing Food Equity in New York City,” found that food insecurity particularly affects individuals living in poverty, seniors, and people of color, and it pervades higher education — 48% of students at City University of New York said they had experienced food insecurity in the last month.

Johnson, a Democrat who is exploring a run for mayor in 2021, outlined measures that would address neighborhood inequities in access to healthy food through improvements in food governance, reducing food waste, promoting healthy school lunches and nutritional education, and expanding urban agriculture.  

The proposals include the creation of a citywide food plan, a push to help seniors receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (also known as food stamps), and increased city funding for coupons called Health Bucks, which are provided to low-income New Yorkers to buy fresh food at any city farmers market.

“Adequate access to nutritious food is a human right,” Johnson said. “This principle isn’t just for developing countries. It’s something we must follow right here in New York City, one of the richest cities in the world.”

The food equity plan is the latest big policy announcement that Johnson has made since becoming speaker. In March, Johnson proposed a plan for municipal control of the city’s subways and buses, followed in May by a sweeping criminal justice reform agenda. 

As part of the food equity plan, the Council will work to expand existing programs that have already been successful such as Health Bucks, nutrition programs in schools, and lunches cooked from scratch at public schools. One bill would require that schools send information about summer meals programs to families, and another would create an Office of Urban Agriculture that would focus on incorporating city farming and gardening into city planning.

The Council and the Department of City Planning will also work to expand the number of neighborhoods eligible to receive the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) zoning bonus. FRESH offers financial assistance and zoning incentives to grocery stores that provide affordable and fresh food in communities that lack access to nutritional food.

Johnson said the City Council will also advocate at the state and federal level to protect and expand access to SNAP benefits. In June, the Trump administration announced plans to change SNAP eligibility requirements. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly 3 million people would lose their food assistance as a result. Johnson said the Trump administration’s “relentless attacks” on SNAP are an enormous threat to the city as food stamps generate up to $5.3 billion in economic activity and the president’s “fear-mongering” has discouraged some who worry they would lose their immigration status.

“Shame on the federal government for using food as a weapon to disenfranchise vulnerable communities,” Johnson said. “Shame on the Trump administration for denying the rights of food to families and seniors while heavily subsidizing corporate interest.”

The speaker was joined on stage by Council Member Rafael Espinal, a Democrat who represents East New York. Espinal noted that 16% of New Yorkers go to bed hungry every night, and 20% of those city residents live in Brooklyn. The Council member has helped pass legislation that set up the city’s first website dedicated to urban agriculture and authored a bill with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to create a comprehensive urban agriculture plan.

Espinal spoke of his own experiences with food insecurity growing up in East New York. He said healthy food was hard to come by, but his father’s garden helped reduce the number of times his family had to drive for miles to buy fruits and vegetables.

“I grew up learning about soil, harvesting and maintaining produce, eating healthy food, and how to become a healthy adult,” he said. “The majority of kids across New York do not have the same opportunity, and to this day most communities are deprived of this kind of experience.”

Another piece of legislation the council will consider would improve and codify the Office of Food Policy, which the speaker said has been under-resourced. Getting New Yorkers more accessible, healthy food options should be one of the city’s top priorities, Johnson said.

“What I really want to see, and what’s at the heart of the food justice movement, is for all of our communities to have greater control over their food options,” Johnson said. “Food is power. We feel it when we eat it. We feel it when we feed our children. We want that power in the hands of our communities.”

by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Johnson Unveils Plan to Address Hunger and Food Inequity Thu, 01 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation lander menchaca hunger

CMs Lander, left, and Menchaca confer on Wednesday (photo via @NYCCouncil)

At an oversight hearing Wednesday about the city's efforts to fight hunger, members of the City Council general welfare committee questioned a panel of de Blasio administration officials about key city programs. Council members asked about participation in the Supplement and Nutritional Assistance Program (also known as “SNAP” or “food stamps”), Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) efforts, and other components of anti-hunger services.

About 1.4 million New Yorkers - 16.5 percent of the population - are food insecure, according to data from the 2015 NYC Food Metrics Report. And as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an advocacy group, has found, 48 percent of food insecure New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 were employed (2012-2014). Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

Participation in SNAP for eligible New Yorkers has decreased under Mayor Bill de Blasio, as it did under his predecessor. Though approximately 1.7 million New Yorkers received SNAP assistance as of this past November, Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg estimates that around 500,000 people in the city are eligible but not enrolled.

“It seems that the reduction in benefits by the federal government is probably one of the largest reasons for why there has been a decrease in SNAP participation,” Human Resources Administration Chief Program Officer Lisa Fitzpatrick said at the Council hearing Wednesday.

Representatives from HRA, the city agency that handles the benefits, testified that the city is only aware of the SNAP participation rate among eligible senior citizens. It was calculated by using information from the Benefits Data Trust and Medicaid rolls. That number - 50 percent as of 2014 - may have increased because of a senior citizens outreach program launched by the de Blasio administration to get more eligible seniors signed up for food stamps.

Why HRA does not collect similar data about the larger population and food stamp participation was a question raised at Wednesday’s hearing.

City Council Member Brad Lander, a member of the committee, asked administration reps how good the city can make its understanding of the “universe” of eligible New Yorkers not receiving SNAP.

“The strategy has been less about ‘Can we get an actual concrete number?’” Barbara Turk, the food policy director in the mayor’s office, said. Turk proceeded to explain ways in which SNAP eligible people are engaged and encouraged to apply, such as during interviews from city workers on related subjects.

Though much relevant data is released in the city’s annual Food Metrics Report, the number of New Yorkers eligible for SNAP that aren’t receiving it is not.

“The question isn’t ‘Are we working hard?’” Lander asked. “The question is do we have the tool for evaluating how that’s going?”

“And I understand why it’s complicated,” Lander continued, “but I’ll be honest, it sounds like for a range of sensible reasons, you really don’t.”

Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee, expressed similar concern when the topic came up later in the hearing.

Levin asked if the percentage of senior citizens not receiving SNAP benefits entitled to them changed because of the senior citizen outreach program launched by the de Blasio administration and nonprofit partners in September 2014. Turk said that “it’s a number that moves around a lot” and did not give a concrete answer.

“We want to make sure that it’s working and data should be reflecting the efforts and so we should be able to see the impacts and the trend numbers,” Levin said, mentioning, by contrast, that the city has observed a rise in high school graduation. “I think a good way to know how this program is working is whether or not that number is going up to 52 percent, or 53 percent or 55 percent.”

HRA emergency food assistance, SNAP enrollment outreach to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, and other topics related to city policy on hunger were also discussed at the hearing. After the panel of de Blasio administration representatives, advocates from the Coalition Against Hunger, the Citizens’ Committee for Children, and other organizations testified. Advocates added depth to the severity of the problem being outlined at the hearing and largely said that they were supportive of HRA Commissoiner Steve Banks' leadership.

It is possible that the SNAP participation rate could soon increase thanks to a change in state policy: one of the proposals included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State budget book, released on Wednesday, would raise the state’s Gross Income Test for SNAP eligibility from 130 percent to 150 percent of the poverty line. This would make the benefits available to 750,000 households that previously could not get them, according to the budget book estimate.

by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette

At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation Thu, 14 Jan 2016 03:36:21 +0000