Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1126 Thu, 02 Jul 2020 12:32:22 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9439-bill-to-mandate-nutrition-standards-new-york-city-food-meals-adams-kallos https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9439-bill-to-mandate-nutrition-standards-new-york-city-food-meals-adams-kallos pantry si project

Food being prepared during the coronavirus crisis (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and New York City Council Member Ben Kallos of Manhattan, both Democrats, announced new legislation last week that would mandate nutrition standards for the “grab & go” and home delivered meals provided by the city, which have become essential sources of food for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers during the coronavirus crisis.

As unemployment in the city has skyrocketed from 4% to past 14%, children are not attending schools where they often get free meals, and older New Yorkers are not going to senior centers where they get fed, the city has provided tens of millions of free meals over the course of the more than two-month near-shutdown of the city. But as the city has ramped up its food operation, there have been some issues and questions, including over the healthfulness of the meals.

The announcement by Adams and Kallos, who have both taken an interest in food and wellness since well before the pandemic, comes “as several New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs have expressed concern about the quality and nutritional standards of the food distributed through the GetFoodNYC initiative, launched in response to the growing number of New Yorkers who have lost jobs or income due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” their announcement of the bill said.

The bill would set nutritional standards for snacks and meals funded directly or indirectly by city government, as assigned by the city’s health department or another agency chosen by the mayor. Some exceptions would apply, such as when the meals are regulated by federal or state entities. The legislation would require the city to review menus and food distribution on occasion for compliance and to provide support so that regulated providers meet the nutritional standards, and the agency in charge would have to garner feedback at least once a year from food recipients.

As the crisis took hold of the city, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio established the GetFoodNYC hub, where New Yorkers can access various resources and information, including access to SNAP (food stamps) benefits from the Human Resources Association (HRA), a map of hundreds of food pantries and meal pick-up sites in the city, and food delivery assistance. The “grab & go” meal system now provides 500,000 meals per day to anyone who needs food, no questions asked, between 7:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, at 435 sites across the five boroughs.

Halal meals are available at all sites, and Kosher meals are available at 18 sites. Food delivery is ramping up to reach 1 million meals per day by this week, de Blasio recently announced.

“We have sick care in our city, our state and our country,” Adams said at a press conference, explaining the rationale behind the bill. “Wait until people get sick and we treat them instead of the underlying cause. The real irony is that our city, literally and figuratively, feeds the health-care crisis through the non-nutritional, sometimes unhealthy food programs. Our tax dollars are being used to make us sick, and that needs to be emphasized. Our tax dollars are used to make us sick.”

During the press conference, doctors spoke about the value of nutrition and how it can be preventative and help New Yorkers have better health outcomes, which is increasingly important during a pandemic. Yami Cazola-Lancaster, a health-care professional who spoke during the press conference, suggested that certain plant-based foods, such as lentils or canned beans, are nutritious, would not be more expensive for the city to provide, and would help produce better health outcomes.

“I think that the most important thing that government can do is to lead and protect its people,” said Cazola-Lancaster. “Now, it's a sensitive issue because right now we want to address hunger, we want to address true scarcity. However, we have evidence based information about the power of food, the power that food has to both prevent and potentially reverse disease. So this is really important all the time for our citizens, but it's especially important right now because we're dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and New York has been hit so hard. So right now as the government provides food to people who need food, it's in the best interest of everybody to provide more whole plant foods and it doesn't have to be more expensive than what we're already able to do.”

On May 21 de Blasio was asked specifically about seniors, many of whom are getting home-delivered meals during the pandemic, and issues with the food that some have reported. The mayor said the food seniors are getting is held to a “high standard.”

“While this is emergency food to ensure no New Yorker goes hungry, the city also ensures meals meet nutrition requirements. For the senior meals program, for example, meals have sodium limits and required servings of protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains,” de Blasio said. “Due to scale, some vendors are providing shelf-stable boxes, while others are providing fresh food or frozen food as well. If food quality does not meet the program’s standards, the city addresses it directly with the food providers, and has ended contracts with providers who were not living up to their commitment.”

“It is important that we utilize everything in our power to ensure we do not feed the health-care crisis,” Adams said. “The legislation that Councilman Kallos is introducing today, would use smart, innovative ways of looking at the foods that we eat everyday. New York is on our dime to make sure that food is healthy and nutritious, to not to react to chronic disease but to start the process of giving people a healthy diet so that they can live a healthy lifestyle.”

“But what happens for those who don't have a choice, those relying on our ‘grab & go’ meals or home delivered meals from our city and when they don't even have a choice,” Kallos said. “Candy and potato chips and Bugles and things like that. That is a sometimes treat. That is not something that is part of a core diet and we need to make sure that for those who don't have a choice in the matter or literally relying on the city for their food, that we are providing them with healthy options so that if they eat that diet, they will not only be healthy but lose weight.”

Even before the pandemic and its fallout, the city was home to more than 1 million food insecure individuals, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have lost their jobs since mid-March, drastically increasing the need for emergency food. New York City is home to over 1.1 million seniors, according to a 2017 report by the City Comptroller, many more of whom are homebound due to social distancing restrictions and senior center closures, increasing the need for meal delivery and other food programs. As more New Yorkers rely on meals provided by the city, nutrition becomes more important.

“We are dealing with low-income communities that are already facing this epidemic where we are seeing higher numbers,” Kallos said. “We're seeing an increase of diabetes amongst our black and brown population, particularly New Yorkers who are black are seeing more diabetes than most other populations. And when we're literally handing them candy, that's not something that's going to help. Additionally, I'm a person of the Jewish faith and we're seeing seniors, Holocaust survivors, who are trying to get access to healthy food and they're being provided non-Kosher meals that they literally have to choose between their religion, where they were able to keep Kosher during World War II and the Holocaust, and trying to survive this pandemic. And that's just not a choice anyone should have to make.”

Adams said he was set to meet with de Blasio’s emergency food team on Friday to discuss nutrition, which is largely absent from the Feeding New York plan that the city released. There are no specifics about nutrition in the plan beyond saying the city will “provid[e] meals that not only are nutritious, but are also culturally and ethnically appropriate.” Kallos said that nutrition is on the radar of de Blasio’s “food czar,” Kathryn Garcia, but said he and Adams are pushing the new legislation because no action has been taken so far to remedy the problem.

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by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Adams, Kallos Introduce Bill to Mandate Nutrition Standards for Food Provided by the City Tue, 26 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Moves to Meet Need for Culturally Diverse Emergency Food https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9403-new-york-city-meet-need-for-culturally-diverse-emergency-food-halal-kosher-coronavirus https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9403-new-york-city-meet-need-for-culturally-diverse-emergency-food-halal-kosher-coronavirus emergency food site nyc

The City continues to try to meet food needs amid the coronavirus crisis (photo: @NYCHRA)


The coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on food access, with unemployment skyrocketing and increasingly more people relying on food assistance, food pantries, and meals provided by the city. Additionally, as New York City is home to many different races, ethnicities, and cultural traditions, concerns have arisen about whether the city’s massive emergency food program, including food delivery, is reflecting that diversity, causing further food stress on communities.

New York City established the GetFoodNYC hub, where New Yorkers can access various resources and information, including access to SNAP (food stamp) benefits from the Human Resources Association (HRA), a map of food pantries and Grab & Go meal sites in the city, and food delivery assistance. 

Even before the pandemic and its fallout, the city was home to more than 1 million food insecure individuals, while hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have lost their jobs since mid-March, drastically increasing the need for emergency food. New York City is home to over 1.1 million seniors, according to a 2017 report by the City Comptroller, many more of whom are homebound due to social distancing restrictions and senior center closures, increasing the need for meal delivery.

While the city has put an immense new food access program into effect, led by “food czar” Kathryn Garcia, the city’s sanitation commissioner and one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most-trusted aides, to serve more than 10 million free meals in April alone, challenges have emerged. One, particularly with home delivered meals, is access to culturally appropriate food such as Halal, Kosher, or Pan American meals. After some outcry, the city has taken several steps toward meeting more of these diverse food needs.

“We've been making sure there's food for every New Yorker and we've tried to also make sure that for those with a special food need that we could be responsive,” de Blasio said during an April 23 press briefing. “So, we've been creating Kosher food programs and Halal food programs to recognize that we're all in this together, we want to respect all the people, all the faiths of New York City. This is part of what makes New York City so great, that we have that mutual respect and we understand that we all come together to create something greater than the sum of the parts.”

De Blasio reiterated his promise that “no New Yorker will go hungry, any New Yorker who needs food, it will always be there for you during this crisis, your city will provide, there's no question.” He announced “there will be 400,000 Halal meals available at 32 specific Department of Education sites, remember overall we have 435 sites and I'll keep reminding people, anyone that needs food, whether it's to go to one of those DOE sites or home deliveries, whatever you need, call 3-1-1 or go to nyc.gov/getfood.”

The 32 sites would be “where there are large Muslim communities” while “another hundred thousand [Halal meals] will be distributed through partnerships with community-based organizations, food pantries, soup kitchens. So, over half-a-million meals will be distributed during Ramadan and it's a reminder, this is a place that truly believes in equality and it's something that is a profound New York City value.”

New York City is of course well-known as home to an extremely wide variety of cultures, religions, languages, immigrant populations, and cuisines, making food choice an ongoing concern when it comes to government programs, including school meals, even during non-pandemic times. Those concerns now overlap with emergency measures, and additionally so for those who require meal delivery.

“There are a number of meal types available through both the Emergency Home Food Delivery program and the Grab & Go meals at DOE sites, including Kosher, Halal, and vegetarian,” said Joshua Goodman, a spokesperson for the city’s emergency food operations, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “As we continue to grow and expand these emergency food efforts, we hope to continue to offer more. It's important to remember that this is an enormous operation, involving hundreds of staff across City agencies, dozens of contractors, hundreds of sites - we're proud to have gotten it up and running quickly, and are now seeing what we can do to continue to expand and meet the needs of more food-insecure New Yorkers.”

Kosher meals are available at 18 schools, according to the Department of Education website.

The complex needs are staggering, according to city officials. “The amount of food that’s needed to be home delivered so we can be observant of, certainty the nutrition standards, but also the cultural and ethnic needs that we have is very overwhelming,” Kate MacKenzie, director of the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, said during a recent digital discussion hosted by Hunter College Food Policy Center.

In terms of delivery of specialty meals, new protocols have been put into place, according to City Hall, but they require in-person sign-up.

“This is self-identified at sign up, in the case of Emergency Home Food Delivery, and it is based on request at the DOE sites,” Goodman said. “We do not ask people to prove they keep Kosher or Halal, for example - people request what they need and the City provides it at no cost. Halal meals are available at every site, and the list of Kosher sites was developed in consultation with community advocates.”

During the initial rollout of the DOE program, Kosher meals were particularly hard to come by, prompting criticism from representatives of communities that need them.

“Thursday was a disaster. Friday was a disaster,” State Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein told The Forward. “It is not acceptable to have 100 people in line, and just turn them away without food — that cannot happen in 2020 in the city of New York.”

The Middle East Eye reported that some of the initial Halal meals delivered and provided as part of Ramadan were described as “mush” and a “pile of goop,” prompting concerns about the quality of the culturally-appropriate food.

This is particularly a problem for seniors, who are receiving the bulk of home delivered meals. Seniors are likely to be homebound and under stay-at-home orders for a long time, making food access hard, given that deaths due to COVID-19 have predominantly occurred for people over 65 years of age.

“In the prepared meals for seniors, we are trying to make it so we have identified who needs Kosher, Halal, who needs Pan-Asian,” Garcia said May 7 on WNYC radio’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “In the senior center, particularly if they go through their senior center, they are able to designate more types. If you go through 311 the two options are Kosher and Halal, and then regular.”

Some seniors have struggled to attain their culturally-appropriate meals, while others have said that delivered food is a collection of snacks, rather than a meal.

“The most frequent complaints we have about the ‘meals’ are from seniors who receive a package of shelf-stable products like applesauce and granola bars, instead of an actual meal,” said Ben Thomases, the executive director of Queens’ Community House, which offers a broad network of services at 32 sites in 14 Queens neighborhoods, including meal delivery, which has increased in response to COVID-19. 

“The things that are in the food boxes, they are emergency food boxes,” MacKenzie said during the Hunter event. “The contents of those boxes still adhere to the city’s nutrition standards, but they might be cans of tuna, yes there are granola bars, yes there are raisins and mixed nuts, these are intended to be emergency meal kits.” She added there would be a conversation about “the future” of the meal program, “But currently we are still feeding people emergency provisions.”

That conversation has moved ahead to some degree as the city has expanded its culturally-appropriate meal offerings.

The city is also training staff of the dozens of shuttered senior centers to enroll their members in home meal delivery. Tara Klein, a policy analyst for United Neighborhood Houses (UNH), said this could improve service, and “things are moving in a more positive direction.”

“It allows senior center staff to go in and enroll somebody directly,” she said. “It makes it a little easier for older adults to get registered and get their food. They’re also making it a little easier just to check on individuals, and see when meals are scheduled and all that.”

Thomases said differently. “The city has chosen to create a brand new food program for seniors, rather than working through its existing network of providers,” he said. “We have the capacity to further expand our meal production and delivery, but instead the city has instructed us to enroll people in the new centralized system. This system has been plagued with problems including difficulty enrolling new people, inaccurate addresses, missed deliveries, and inconsistent food quality. These types of problems are to be expected for a massive new system, which is why the city should have used its network of existing providers.”

“On [May 1] we issued an RFI, request for information, from nonprofits who might be interested in and capable of supplying that system, that GetFood system, so we can be even more responsive, particularly to different cultures and ethnic needs that we’re always striving to do better at,” MacKenzie said. She added that if a nonprofit is able to supply at least 1,000 meals per day, the city will consider doing business with it to help ease supply.

“There have been gaps in getting cultural meals, I think Kosher meals in particular were very slow to roll out, and at first some of the meals were not good quality,” Klein said. “But I think now as the city is focusing more on using nonprofits and they are attuned to the fact that there are culturally specific meals needed, things are getting a little better.”

Thomases’ organization will be answering the RFI, he said, arguing that using nonprofits will help improve outcomes. “New York City has an outstanding nonprofit sector with talented and committed leaders and staff. During ordinary times, the city relies on nonprofits to serve our communities and meet the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” he said. “All the more so, during this crisis, the city should be including non-profits in planning the rollout of new services, and relying on non-profit expertise in service delivery.”

“The city‘s response has been really impressive,” Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said during the Hunter event of the overall emergency food response. “They have done in a few weeks what normally government would take a few years to do. There have been bumps. I’m an advocate and it's my job is always to say thank you, next, what more do we need to do.”

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by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Moves to Meet Need for Culturally Diverse Emergency Food Sun, 17 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Mayor's Recipe to Combat Hunger Missing Key Ingredient: Healthfulness https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9337-mayor-de-blasio-recipe-combat-hunger-missing-healthfulness-eric-adams https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9337-mayor-de-blasio-recipe-combat-hunger-missing-healthfulness-eric-adams 4 mbdb recipe

Mayor de Blasio holding a food package (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New York City officials’ recently-released plan for how the city will keep New Yorkers fed during the COVID-19 public health and economic crisis does exactly that: tells us how New Yorkers will be fed. But where it missed the mark altogether is that it lacks any direction as to how it will keep New Yorkers well-fed.

The lack of consistent access to healthy food, which has been a looming issue in New York City, has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The de Blasio administration’s “Feeding New York” report outlines a plan to meet immediate needs and build long-term resilience in our food system. I stand by the administration when it comes to combating food insecurity and ensuring that New Yorkers do not go hungry in the midst of stay-at-home orders, job loss, and financial struggles.

However, the report, and more specifically the city’s food policy, neglects to adequately address nutrition and health when making food readily available to New Yorkers. Inattention to the nutritional content of food is concerning at a time when the public is at war with the health threats posed by COVID-19.

Those with serious underlying medical conditions, including multiple diet-related diseases, are at higher risk for illness from this novel coronavirus. Fortunately, wholesome, plant-based eating has the power to mitigate and sometimes even reverse ailments, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Less meat, dairy, and eggs. More fruits and vegetables. These diet changes would result in less fat and cholesterol and more fiber and essential phytonutrients. New Yorkers with diet-related conditions could significantly boost their immune function and bring their bodies into a state of greater overall health, which would thereby reduce the risk of complications.

Furthermore, the glaring racial disparities of COVID-19 can be at least partially traced to food injustices. As Mayor Bill de Blasio acknowledged: In New York City, the virus has disproportionately affected people of color. What does it mean when we see that while those who are Latino account for 29 percent of the population, they also account for 34 percent of total COVID-related fatalities? And how can it be that those who are categorized as black account for 22 percent of the population, but 28 percent of total fatalities?

These numbers tell a grim story. Grim, but unsurprising, as communities of color, populated by those who are identify as African-American, Caribbean-American, Latino, Asian, and American Indian/Alaska natives face the results of diet-related health disparities — unsurprising, given their poor nutrition profiles, which are high in fat and sodium, and low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

That the New York City Department of Education (DOE) spent $16.9 million on milk and yogurt, compared to a mere $6.3 million on fresh fruits and vegetables in 2019 is emblematic of the city’s inadequate procurement of healthy foods. New York City prides itself on being a city that advances public health and sustainability. It’s unconscionable that the same city is spending almost three times what it is spending on fruits and vegetables on the unhealthy dairy products shown to be detrimental to people of color.

Agencies, food banks, and other institutions must shift their procurement practices to be increasingly plant-forward. Broader city expenditures on meat, dairy, and eggs versus fruits, vegetables, and grains should also be made transparent.

It is imperative that we prioritize feeding our communities foods that can boost their immune systems and reduce their risks for susceptibility to chronic disease. In addition to social distancing and the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), a nutritious diet can play a significant role in preventing more deaths. Feeding our communities cannot only be a logistical, tunnel-visioned conversation of quantity; it must also be one of quality.

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Eric Adams is the Brooklyn Borough President. On Twitter @BPEricAdams.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Mayor's Recipe to Combat Hunger Missing Key Ingredient: Healthfulness Thu, 23 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
'No New Yorker Goes Hungry': De Blasio Announces Next Steps to Combat Food Emergency https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9316-de-blasio-plan-food-emergency-coronavirus-hunger https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9316-de-blasio-plan-food-emergency-coronavirus-hunger hunger food pantry

De Blasio visits a food pantry in Brooklyn (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)


As the coronavirus crisis was unfolding in New York City last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio named his sanitation commissioner, Kathryn Garcia, as the new “food czar” to lead the implementation of a massive effort to ensure New Yorkers don’t go hungry. With the city already home to over a million “food insecure” people, the scale of the need accelerated quickly as hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers lost their jobs, school buildings closed, and food pantries struggled to stay open.

The city announced over 400 sites where families with children could pick up food each weekday, then expanded that offering to adults without children, allocated millions of dollars in emergency food bank funding, began coordinating delivery of meals to seniors, and took other initial steps.

According to experts on hunger and food insecurity, one of the major challenges New York City faces amid the current crisis is identifying the population that needs assistance because of the rapidly evolving situation in the city. The city appears to be taking sweeping measures to try to ensure everyone who needs food gets it.

On Tuesday, de Blasio visited the Campaign Against Hunger food pantry in Bedford-Stuyvesant to thank workers there and highlight the importance of emergency food, then dedicated the bulk of his Wednesday coronavirus briefing to the city’s new anti-hunger plans.

“Today I am announcing a $170 million initative to make sure every New Yorker gets what they need and no New Yorker goes hungry,” de Blasio said from City Hall on Wednesday morning, announcing that over the last month the city had provided over 4.5 million free meals. “Thank god we have a strong foundation to build on. All those food pantries and soup kitchens, all the amazing organizations out there that have been doing work all over the city for years and years.”

Called Feeding New York, the plan includes four main planks: First, scaling up and adjusting existing food delivery systems through the Department of Education and Department for the Aging, working with the Office of Emergency Management and under Garcia’s leadership, along with other partners. Second, hiring drivers licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission to deliver meals, yielding 11,000 individuals already to both bring needy people meals and provide earnings to drivers who are hurting.

Third, securing the supply by using $50 million to invest in a food reserve that will hold 18 million meals in case of a disruption in the food supply chain. And fourth, protect grocery store workers by telling stores they should “require customers to wear face mask coverings to protect employees and customers” and ask any non-compliant customers to leave. The city is also coordinating with vendors to ensure non-medical personal protective equipment can be accessed by grocery stores, and that the stores can directly place orders for equipment.

“Now, I was in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, but this challenge is literally in every neighborhood, because if you have no money, how do you get food?,” de Blasio said on Wednesday. “And we know that the massive unemployment that we're experiencing is literally every zip code, every part of the city. So, whoever you are, wherever you are, if you need food, we're here for you, and there should be no shame. I want to emphasize this. It’s no one's fault that we're dealing with this horrible crisis. Anyone needs food - we're here for you. You don't have to think twice. Of course, it's for free. Just pick up the phone or go online. And if you need information, you can go to nyc.gov/getfood. You can call 311. You can find all the places, all the ways we'll get you food. Please do not hesitate and spread the word to everyone you know.”

The mayor estimated that the city will have served about 10 million free meals in the month when April ends, and that May could rise to 15 million meals.

De Blasio’s announcement also comes on the heels of dire warnings from food banks in New York City and across the nation, and announcements from both the state and city governments of $25 million each to help food banks acquire food and pay personnel as the largerly volunteer-run nonprofits struggle to staff their operations. In her role as food czar Garcia is also working with those nonprofits, as well as entities at all levels of government, private companies, and various city agencies.

“The real focus is on both the supply side and also on operations to make sure we are getting food to our most vulnerable,” Garcia said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show last week. “Some who were vulnerable before and some who have become vulnerable because of the epidemic.” The city is striving to make sure the pandemic “doesn't become a tragedy about hunger,” she said.

"Despite this crisis, we will not let any New Yorker go hungry, " de Blasio said last week after visiting a school meal hub at P.S. 1 in Manhattan. "With more New Yorkers asking where their next meal will come from, our 435 Meal Hubs are here to serve them. And none of this would be possible without the hard work of the meal service workers on the front lines. We cannot thank them enough for their service.”

While this is not the first time that New Yorkers have experienced times of crisis leading to food insecurities across the city, it may be the worst or among the worst in modern times given the massive job loss and lag in income so many are facing, even as the federal government has passed a stimulus to send people checks and the state is working through a backlog of unemployment insurance claims. There’s a tremendous amount for Garcia and others to figure out, though the city’s approach appears to be to cast as wide a net as possible and not require anyone to justify a need for food.

“Our biggest challenge, which is very different from what we saw, for example, in [Hurricane] Sandy, is that we don't have a population that's already identified that needs assistance, right? The population keeps growing,” said Grace Bonilla, administrator of the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), during an online panel discussion convened at the end of March by The Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center. “The rate of growth from neighborhood to neighborhood is different. And I'm speaking for an agency that has to operationalize food, making sure that we're meeting the needs of so many people as they're losing their jobs. Then that also is a moving target.”

Kate MacKenzie, the director for the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, agreed, explaining that delivering services to New Yorkers becomes hard when you have to continuously reevaluate the same problems when populations grow or change.

“The fluid state of everything, right? Of the number of people that we need to feed, of the trucks on the road. Everything changes by the hour. So trying to solve for something that the next day needs to be solved for again,” MacKenzie said.

With school buildings closed to teachers and students, and many children relying on schools for multiple meals a day, it was a natural move for the city to turn schools into the 435 meal hubs across the five boroughs, which are open on weekdays. A spokesperson for the mayor said that individuals and families can collect enough food for the weekends on Fridays.

As city government takes a more active approach to managing the exacerbated hunger crisis -- a crisis that was immense even before coronavirus decimated the local economy -- the city’s food pantries, soup kitchens, and other such places where food insecure people can get food have also kicked into another gear, but they are struggling to stay open and secure and provide enough food.

There has been huge demand on the food pantry system with this coronavirus pandemic. According to a City Council press release from the end of March, 32% of food pantries and soup kitchens had quickly shut down, with more expected to follow, thus leading to the push for the $25 million in emergency aid that was announced soon after.

Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said on the Max & Murphy podcast that “they are having trouble operating. It is important to note how ill-equipped they were to deal with the hunger problem even when times were good. As wonderful as these agencies are -- they’re run by the best people I’ve ever met in my life, most of them are volunteers -- even in good times, less than one-tenth of the dollar amount of food that the federal nutrition assistance programs provide, and if you include all the federal programs, probably less than one-twentieth of the food that SNAP, what used to be called the food stamp program, the school meals, or the women, infants, and children’s program provides.”

Meanwhile, the recent federal stimulus package will provide New York with $38 million for Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) Commodities, nearly $16 million for TEFAP Administration, and a little under $35 million for The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), according to Derek Thomas of FPWA.

Before the emergency city and state funding was announced, the City Council called for the $50 million, $25 million from the state and $25 million from the city, to help food pantry and food assistance programs remain open through the crisis.

“According to Met Council, the combined $50 million will provide funding for over 19 million meals, which will allow for 2.1 million balanced and healthy food packages each consisting of nine meals per USDA guidelines,” a press release said, also noting that more money would be needed after the $50 million.

The money was approved soon after. De Blasio was then asked about it at an April 11 briefing, and said that while it will help, he believes the food situation will get worse before it gets better, and that improving access to food for New Yorkers will be increasingly important.

“I'm not confident yet that everything that is going to be needed is in place. That's why I named a food czar, Kathryn Garcia, and that's why I've said to her, whatever it's going to take, we're going to put forward the resources to make sure that everyone has food. We literally have to have a simple standard,” de Blasio said. “No New Yorker goes without food and what the folks in the Department Education are doing, which is amazing, 435 sites that have now been up over the last week or more where anybody, any adult can come in and get breakfast, lunch and dinner, grab and go as for as many family members as possible. That to me is the kind of thing we're going to have to do on a really big scale going forward to make sure that everyone has food.”

That line of thinking led to Wednesday’s announcement of the additional efforts in the new Feeding New York plan.

On WNYC, Garcia stressed the challenges with the volunteer base at typical nonprofit emergency food providers, in response to a caller question. “We think it’s absolutely critical to support this particular network,” she said. “This is where we are seeing the most challenges with being able to staff things, with many people being ill or sheltering.” Seniors often volunteer at soup kitchens and food pantries, and also happen to be the most vulnerable population to the novel coronavirus.

“We do have standardized guidance for people, our volunteers, who are wanting to do some home deliveries, who are working in kitchens or pantries or any volunteer capacity for that matter,” MacKenzie said during the Hunter discussion. “Volunteerism is an essential function, but it’s also trying to reconcile that with social isolation. Practices and protocols. So that is something to be mindful of. I think particularly, this is the marathon, this isn’t a sprint here. And whether it’s this week or in June, there’s going to be opportunities for people to plug into a way that makes sense for them.”

City Hall is now making an effort, as part of the Feeding New York plan, to deploy city staff to 14 food pantries across the city that are short on volunteers and are recruiting more through NYC Service, Garcia said at Wednesday’s briefing with the mayor.

Berg mentioned remote opportunities for people to get involved. At his own organization, there are opportunities to work the phones, calling grocery stores and other important entities, and working on the national hunger hotline.

Still, Berg stressed the importance of the larger, government-backed programs that help people secure food, with the nonprofit network playing a key supporting role.

“There are 800 to 1,000 of these agencies and while that sounds like a lot, there are 8,000 retail establishments that accept SNAP,” Berg said on Max & Murphy. “Most of these agencies, in good times, were only open maybe once or twice a month or sometimes once a week or a few hours a day. It’s no shock that a volunteer-run system with many of these people running these programs who are senior citizens, that a fair amount of them have been forced to close down.”

Other organizations are also trying to fill the gap and feed more New Yorkers. On April 8, de Blasio announced that New York Road Runners will donate $100,000 to the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City to provide 10,000 meals to frontline healthcare workers.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, established by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has donated $6 million to World Central Kitchen specifically for meals for health care workers in public hospitals. De Blasio praised his predecessor for that gift during Wednesday’s briefing.

The benefits programs run by HRA that help New Yorkers access food are becoming increasingly important as people lose their jobs amidst this crisis. Bonilla said that HRA has worked hard to move its services online while retaining the ability to process applications.

“Normally, on any given day we would get 6,000 applications [for assistance],” Bonilla said. “We’ve got about 16,000 in one day. That was at the beginning of the crisis, and we are trying to make sure our folks are working from home so that we can keep them safe, but that they are also able to process the unprecedented number of applications we are getting.”

Garcia explained that New York State has put in an application for Pandemic Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (PSNAP), which is pending with USDA. Another program the New York congressional delegation has been advocating for is Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP), which relies on a federal disaster declaration.

As the city moves into a second month of extreme social distancing and stay-at-home orders, vulnerable populations, especially seniors, must be at the forefront of the operations, officials and advocates alike have said.

But with the closure of senior centers and the move to expanded food delivery, some seniors have not been getting the food they rely on.

“Now there's a different initiative for those, for the senior citizens who need help for folks who are homebound, for folks who are vulnerable and that the only solution for them is a delivery. There's also a growing delivery system,” de Blasio said at his briefing on April 7.  “This is something Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez [the Department for the Aging Commissioner] has been working on from the beginning and it's building all the time. So, anybody who truly needs a home delivery can call 3-1-1 and we'll get them that delivery. Or they can go to nyc.gov/getfood to sign up.”

As part of the new $170 million plan, Garcia explained that the city is going to register entire buildings of seniors run by NYCHA, city agencies, and nonprofits. In addition, case workers can directly enroll New Yorkers into the free meal delivery system.

[New Yorkers can find the nearest meal hub or food pantry here, find more information on food access here; or text NYC FOOD or NYC COMIDA to 877-877]

***
by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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'No New Yorker Goes Hungry': De Blasio Announces Next Steps to Combat Food Emergency Wed, 15 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: City's Hunger Crisis Exacerbated by Coronavirus Fallout https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9270-max-murphy-podcast-hunger-coronavirus-crisis-berg-food https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9270-max-murphy-podcast-hunger-coronavirus-crisis-berg-food 1 mxm doe600

Meal handouts from school during coronavirus (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


April 1, 2020 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Hunger and the Coronavirus Crisis

joel berg 150Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, joined the show to discuss the city's hunger and food insecurity crisis, which is becoming exponentially worse due to the coronavirus outbreak and its fallout. Berg discussed the problems and solutions.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: City's Hunger Crisis Exacerbated by Coronavirus Fallout Wed, 01 Apr 2020 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio Names 'Food Czar' to Combat Impending Hunger Crisis with 'Mobilization We've Never Seen Before' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9224-de-blasio-food-czar-impending-hunger-crisis-coronavirus-mobilization https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9224-de-blasio-food-czar-impending-hunger-crisis-coronavirus-mobilization action network mayor

Mayor de Blasio serves food (photo: Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office)


As the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has spread in New York, people have begun buying food off the shelves of local supermarkets to prepare for prolonged periods of isolation in the face of the virus. Public schools and senior centers are closing, many of which provide vulnerable New York City residents with food and meals, and tens of thousands of people appear to have already been laid off from their jobs, all leaving New Yorkers increasingly worried about food access.

While food is still coming into stores, some nonprofit emergency food providers report added premiums as demand has risen and struggles to afford the quantity of food they need during this crisis, leaving many poor New Yorkers increasingly vulnerable to food shortages. A huge surge in unemployment and lost work-hours could quickly push many New Yorkers to the brink of not knowing where their next meals will come from or how they’ll feed their children.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking a number of steps to ensure access to food for the city’s most vulnerable -- roughly 20% of New York City residents live in poverty, and just over 14% of New York City residents are food insecure, and rely on services such as food pantries and soup kitchens for meals, according to Food Bank For New York City, -- including meal handouts at shuttered schools and new measures announced this weekend.

As part of larger efforts to combat the spread of coronavirus and its impacts, de Blasio on Saturday announced a restructuring of some of his senior leadership, including naming Kathryn Garcia, currently the city’s sanitation commissioner, as “COVID-19 Food Czar,” responsible for creating, operationalizing, and overseeing “a structure for working New Yorkers to get the food they need during this pandemic. Garcia will also work with City and State agencies, including the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy, as well as food distributors to take any action necessary to ensure the city’s food supply continues without disruption.”

Meanwhile, Food Bank and other nonprofit emergency food providers and their allies are also attempting to combat the impacts of the pandemic’s reach throughout society.

“1.5 million New Yorkers rely on the Food Bank For New York City every year,” the Food Bank posted on Instagram March 16. “As the #COVID19 health crisis continues to unfold, that number will grow. Our warehouse remains open and our trucks are on the road to ensure food is delivered to our network of over 1,000 soup kitchens and food pantries across the city."

On March 17, Food Bank For New York City issued a call to New Yorkers for help.

“Amid mounting concerns around the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) public health crisis, Food Bank For New York City is calling on New Yorkers to support those struggling with food insecurity during this critical time. Food Bank anticipates an extreme rise in need for food and resources in the coming weeks, particularly among vulnerable New Yorkers such as seniors with chronic medical conditions, families with children who may lose up to two free school meals each day as NYC’s public schools remain closed for at least the next five weeks, and low-income and hourly workers,” it wrote in a press release.

“I'm desperately concerned that a lot of New Yorkers are running out of money and that's the money they use to buy food, among other crucial necessities,” de Blasio said at a Sunday press conference.”

Calling Garcia “one of our most extraordinary public servants,” de Blasio said that as Food Czar she will be working with many entities to “create a citywide network to ensure that food is available to those who cannot afford it.”

“It's going to take a mobilization such as we've never seen before,” de Blasio said, saying Garcia will “work with all of those agencies that currently do food relief, the Human Resources Administration, the Mayor's Office of Food Policy, obviously state agencies, Food Bank, soup kitchens, so many amazing nonprofit organizations. She'll work with all of them, but she's going to build something bigger and more comprehensive than we've ever seen in New York City.”

De Blasio said the work begins with “the assumption that food will become much more of an issue going forward and that many people will have a strain that they have not experienced previously because of huge disruptions in their own income.”

In a Sunday statement to Gotham Gazette, Garcia said:

“Ensuring that New Yorkers have a steady supply of food, whether that is a home-delivered meal or provisions from a grocery store, is a top priority. To ensure this, we have had to create brand new models to get food directly to those who need it. New York City is focused on ensuring that the COVID vulnerable population has food. That is the immediate need that we are solving for. We have the full food landscape on our radar, including the tremendous newly food insecure population as a result of job loss. Additionally, we have our eyes on the larger food supply so that we have constant awareness of any vulnerabilities and intervene. We are working with private food vendors, delivery services, and the robust emergency food feeding network to make all of this happen. We will have more to say about these efforts soon.”

The United Way of New York City has already developed a fund to help ensure all New Yorkers have access to food. “We have launched the UWNYC COVID-19 Community Fund to raise the critical funds needed for food and supplies,” Sheena Wright, president and CEO of United Way of New York City, said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “With support from New Yorkers across the City, this fund will allow us to assist in closing the gap. We want to help people who rely on pantries and kitchens to be well-resourced and prepared for this situation.”

David Greenfield, CEO of Met Council, said his organization has been preparing an emergency plan since the first case of coronavirus was identified in New York. Met Council provides food to 40 kosher food pantries in New York, serving, on average, 56,000 people per month, according to Greenfield.

“We’ve seen an explosion, really a shocking explosion and need and the people are coming to us from across the spectrum, from assessment, from anything, from housing, to social services, to seniors who are shuttered in their homes, to quite frankly, tens of thousands of people who have lost their jobs for the first time,” Greenfield said in an interview.

“I don’t think people appreciate the strain that not-for-profits are under,” Greenfield said. “Unlike government and private corporations that have deep benches of reserves, we don’t. We’re living generally month to month. And what's happened now is that because of this huge extra new need, we’re actually purchasing more food so that we can meet needs. For our organization alone, we have projected that this month, just in the next two weeks, we are spending an additional $1.1 million in our food department just on coronavirus response.”

Even before naming Garcia to the Food Czar role, Mayor de Blasio promised major pieces of a response to a potentially drastic deepening of the city’s food insecurity crisis.

New York City public schools were closed as of Monday, March 16. Given that many students rely on school for two free daily meals, officials are trying to ensure students still have access to food as the city shifts to remote learning for an indefinite period. During the first week of school closure, the city handed out meals outside of schools, from the morning through lunchtime, and, according to the mayor’s office, gave away roughly 560,000 meals.

Beginning Monday, March 23, de Blasio tweeted on Friday, “435 sites will be open for Grab-and-Go breakfast, lunch AND dinner for children. Any child under 18 is eligible. None will be turned away.”

The mayor followed that up by saying “We’re also partnering with @DoorDash to get food to the homes of medically fragile students. No child will go hungry. Not on our watch.”

According to a Friday evening press release from the mayor’s office, it’s actually going to be “439 hub sites citywide” where young people can get food, “100 of the sites were high participation sites in Summer, 2019, and the remaining sites are schools where more than 50 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced meals.”

The release also mentioned the developing partnership with Door Dash to deliver meals “to students whose medical needs are so significant that they should not be leaving the home even to get meals.”

It continues to say that “food delivery will also be made available to children who reside in City shelters.” Families can “search “Free Meals” on schools.nyc.gov or call 311 to find a site near them. Starting Monday, families can also text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877 to find a meal near them. A complete list of meal hubs is available here.”

The Food Education Fund, a nonprofit in the city, has created a webpage, the COVID-19 Food Hub NYC, to “share resources on available food sources for families and share general resources created by our partner organizations.” The website includes a map of food service providers donating to families of public school students in the city, how to volunteer, to donate, or to add resources to the website itself.

Senior centers in New York City were also closed as of March 16, suspending all activities but also still providing to-go meals to seniors who need access, and will make deliveries to those who cannot come to the centers themselves, according to de Blasio.  

As the city continues to see long lines at some grocers and runs on things like toilet paper, bread, and more, food continues to fly off the shelves and be replenished. De Blasio and others have stressed that the supply chains for food and basic household goods is sound. On March 16 he noted “a very intensive resupply in recent days,” but added that while this is good news, the bad news is everything is being snapped up quickly.

“But if there's someone in your life, someone older, someone with one of those preexisting conditions, someone who has a disability that keeps them from getting out and getting supplies they need, either help them by getting what they need for them or share your supply enough to help them out,” de Blasio said. But that was before much more restrictive orders were issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo, urged by de Blasio, to insist that people stay home as much as possible, forbid commuting for all those not deemed part of “essential services,” and stress the importance of not exposing the most vulnerable, especially older people, to infection with coronavirus.

These new restrictions, announced by Cuomo on Friday, make food access even more complicated for many. The governor did say that food delivery is an essential service.

And the supply chain remains a key aspect of the equation and nationally it is working well and increasing the amount of food distributed to meet demand, The New York Times reported on March 16. There will still be bare shelves at times as individuals nationwide continue to scoop up products and retailers figure out how to respond to demand quickly.

Greenfield argues that even though food supply is strong, it still disadvantages nonprofits. As grocery stores need more product to sell to meet need, they are willing to pay a higher premium, which forces nonprofit organizations, like food banks, to dish out more money to meet the demand they feel.

“We can’t compete with what they’re paying. They’ll pay anything. If you’re a grocery store, they will pay anything because their customers will pay anything. We budgeted a certain amount that we’ve always budgeted for the last 20 years,” Greenfield said. “We can’t afford to pay three times as much. We are, because we have no choice. What am I going to say, you can’t have eggs? So I’m buying it, but at the end of the day that’s costing me hundreds of thousands of dollars more.”

National advocates are pushing for food assistance as well. Hunger Free America wanted to see the federal government pass the “Families First Coronavirus Response Act,” a relief bill that would provide funds to make it easier for schools, senior programs, and food charities to provide alternative meals, and also create a “federally funded program to give extra food purchasing dollars to all families with children in closed schools,” according to a press release from Hunger Free. The bill was signed by President Donald Trump on March 18.

“This massive increase in the pre-existing hunger crisis demands a massive, highly-coordinated response by federal, state, and city government agencies, as well as corporations, nonprofit groups, and philanthropies,” Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, said in a statement. Once the Families First Coronavirus Response Act becomes law, he said, “one top priority for such joint efforts should be helping eligible families enroll in the new government food benefits available. The other key priority should be dramatically ramping-up the home delivery of meals to older Americans, children, and families who lost income.”

On a hyperlocal level, groups are taking action. The Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce is helping to lead the launch of an emergency food distribution center in Flushing. “The Flushing community is proactively organizing volunteers to contact local residents, including homebound individuals, who may need emergency food assistance ahead of a possible City lockdown this week,” a press release from the group said before Cuomo gave his orders that are not a “lockdown” per se, but amount to significant limits on what New Yorkers should be doing outside their homes and who they should be interacting with.

And some individual New Yorkers appear to be quickly responding on their own. A GoFundMe fundraiser page appeared late last week to raise money for the Food Bank For New York City. The page is called “Helping New York City During COVID-19” and was started by Frederick Joseph. It quickly surpassed its $20,000 goal, with the post noting that every $1 to the Food Bank provides five meals for those in need.

“Cancellations of large events, fewer people at restaurants, and school closings means that wage workers who live on hourly pay + tips are going to be having a harder time than usual making ends meet,” Joseph’s explanation of the fundraiser reads. “It also means that some adults and children who rely on meals from these places may struggle with hunger. We need to make sure that the non-profits who serve our communities have the resources both to keep their volunteers and staff healthy and to provide food to meet rising demand.”

As the situation develops, it is unclear how demand for food will change, especially since some are predicting this will be a six-to-nine month crisis, if not longer. “With schools closed and the overall uncertainty, we need a comprehensive approach to replacing these missing meals,” said Wright of United Way. “We will have to consider new food distribution strategies, maybe even going door to door to make sure people have the food they need. This is an unprecedented event, and I am not surprised that our food pantry and soup kitchen operators, who can, continue to serve their communities. I am so inspired by their dedication. They have modified their operations to adapt to this crisis, and we are so thankful for their fast response and commitment to meeting on-the-ground need right now.”

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by Katie Kirker, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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De Blasio Names 'Food Czar' to Combat Impending Hunger Crisis with 'Mobilization We've Never Seen Before' Sun, 22 Mar 2020 04:00:00 +0000
1.2 Million ‘Food Insecure’ New Yorkers and Added Strains on Emergency Providers Trying to Keep Up https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9143-1-2-million-food-insecure-new-yorkers-and-added-strains-on-emergency-providers-trying-to-keep-up https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9143-1-2-million-food-insecure-new-yorkers-and-added-strains-on-emergency-providers-trying-to-keep-up brannan cm food

(photo: New York City Council)


Food insecurity and hunger, which impact more than one million New Yorkers, don’t exist in a silo; instead, they are often connected to other challenges, like housing, health care, immigration status, domestic violence, and more.

A new report from the Food Bank For New York City released at the end of last week outlines those intersecting challenges, detailing how the city’s widening wealth gap and rising costs of living, among other trends and hardships many experience, are putting an enormous strain on millions of city residents, and also on the vast network of emergency food providers attempting to help them.

The report also draws a clear distinction between broader trends, nationally and locally, of lower unemployment and poverty rates on one hand and increased demand for emergency food in New York City on the other. And it points to unhelpful federal policies that undermine the work of emergency food providers and other social service organizations working with the city’s and country’s most vulnerable people.

Currently, more than 1.2 million New York City residents, or 14.4%, are food insecure, making up half of all food insecure people in the entire state, according to the Food Bank. That is 21% higher than the state rate of 11.9% and 12% higher than the national rate of 12.9%.

At its annual conference on hunger and poverty in Manhattan, the Food Bank released “New Yorkers Don’t Live Single-Issue Lives: The Intersections of Hunger,” and brought together a large network of charities, nonprofits, and public programs focused on food, immigration, and health-related issues. Food Bank For New York City President and CEO Margarette Purvis began the conference, along with leaders of other organizations such as BronxWorks, New York Common Pantry, and Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC, discussing the new report and those intersecting issues affecting New York’s most vulnerable communities.

“When expenses like housing, healthcare, transportation, and childcare pile up, food is often the first thing that’s sacrificed, driving families and individuals to the emergency food network,” Purvis said in her opening remarks.

Facing Greater Challenges with Fewer Resources
Despite a booming economy on the national and local levels, millions of vulnerable New Yorkers have found themselves struggling against expenses, debts, and the constant threat of homelessness. According to the report, nearly three quarters (74%) of food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the city have seen increases in the number of visitors over the past year (2019).

Specifically, 76% of emergency food providers reported an increase in families with children, 60% reported an increase in seniors, 58% reported an increase in immigrants, and 16% reported an increase in college students seeking emergency food.

Across every category, the most-cited barrier to food security was how the rising costs of living and other competing costs have outpaced income (65% of providers reported this for families with children, 68% for working individuals, 52% with regard to seniors and 32% with regard to college students). Other barriers reported by providers included 61% of providers reporting households with children being led by a single-income caregiver and 63% of providers reporting working individuals earning too low a wage. For seniors, it was reported that 62% of providers indicated low fixed income or 53% indicated little-to-no retirement savings.

The general lack of available money for food inevitably translates into a lack of healthy options for vulnerable New Yorkers, leading to increased reports of severe health problems. More than 70% of emergency food providers reported their clients have some nutrition-related preventable diseases, most commonly diabetes (86%), followed by high blood pressure (84%), obesity (83%), high cholesterol (75%), and heart disease (70%).

“We know there is a direct link between poor nutrition and these medical conditions,” said Andre Thompson, Director of Food Programs at New York Common Pantry. “When New Yorkers cannot afford to purchase nutritious food, their health suffers as a result.” Cost, unsurprisingly, is the most common barrier to healthy food choices cited by the report, followed by access/availability and education.

Poor health and living conditions of New Yorkers has also forced many of these organizations to provide additional services. Nearly 60% of emergency food providers also run health services or health clinics, around 30% provide clothing and transportation, and about 20% provide subsidized housing assistance and furniture, for example.

Federal Policies Add Questions
With these challenges in mind, one in two organizations reported that in the past year, they provided more food to more clients and plan to do so again in the upcoming years.

Currently, 54% of emergency food providers are confident in their ability to meet demand, while 28% are unsure, and 18% know that they cannot. Their greatest operational challenges cited in the report are developing cash reserves (57% reported), raising unrestricted revenue (38%), and managing or pursuing growth (30%). If a larger budget were provided, 78% said that they could immediately plan much needed expansions to their programs and services, 39% could cover costs while waiting for grants and 36% could expand or renovate their facilities.

Instead, these issues have been exacerbated by the fact that 80% of providers consider policy changes by the federal government as a major or moderate threat to their operations; the report went so far as to describe the Trump administration’s latest policies as “harmful if not punitive to those struggling the most.”

Some of these federal plans and proposals include stripping public assistance from many unemployed people, changing the federal definition of poverty, eliminating SNAP eligibility for millions of people including over 200,000 New York residents, and removing regional price variations in utility cost calculations for benefits. Rather than provide additional support to these overburdened organizations, these policies are designed to restrict or deny participation in public assistance programs, potentially driving more individuals and families, at loss of public benefits, to turn to an already overburdened network of private services for food assistance.

Immigrant Communities
Under Trump, the Food Bank points out, immigrants are being identified and targeted by immigration enforcement through their involvement in public programs such as SNAP. 

Immigrant families are discontinuing participation in these programs out of fear of deportation, fear that it will affect their immigration status, or more general privacy concerns. According to the Food Bank’s November Research Report, nearly 9% of emergency food providers reported that their visitors asked to remove their names from the contact list or database, compared to only 2% the prior year. Another study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly half of community health centers reported more immigrant patients declining to enroll themselves in Medicaid in the past year.

In order to protect their clients’ identities and ensure that immigrant communities feel safe using their services, 73% of emergency food providers in New York City have made changes to their operations, according to the Food Bank report. The most commonly reported change throughout this network was to provide home delivery for those not willing to show up to distribution centers (36%). They also provided immigrant communities new and specific services (25%) as well as distribution hours that were not publicly listed in order to protect the privacy of those seeking meals (22%).

Another possible threat to immigrants will go into effect on February 24. Under the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services’ new definition for “public charges,” programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, and housing assistance will become a determining factor in an immigrant’s application for permanent residence or a green card. This highly controversial move means the federal government is attempting to move toward disallowing immigrants to come to or stay in the country if they are deemed too burdensome.

Javier Ramirez Baron, the Executive Director of Cabrini Immigrant Services of NYC, expressed strong concern that the new rule has “created an incredible amount of fear in our community. Even those who would not be impacted are afraid they will be penalized for accessing vital services.” His fears echoed that of the New York City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), which estimated that 304,000 New York City residents, including U.S. citizens and green card holders who would not be subject to a public charge test, could be discouraged from participation in crucial public benefits.

'The Charitable Network Cannot Replace Government Public Assistance'
The report concludes: “Though New York City’s network of emergency food providers is already operating under tremendous strain, it is striving to meet the increased need by focusing on the intersectionality of hunger with the other issues their clients face. However, the charitable network cannot replace government public assistance. Public and private efforts must together focus investments on the intersections of hunger and poverty that follow vulnerable New Yorkers through every aspect and phase of their lives.”

Notably, the Food Bank's annual report and conference came just after the New York City Council passed several pieces of legislation aimed at fighting hunger and food insecurity, among other related problems, including codifying the city's Office of Food Policy and requiring it to develop a ten-year food plan, as well as requiring city agencies to make efforts to enroll more eligible seniors in SNAP.

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by Zachary Kourgialis
@GothamGazette

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1.2 Million ‘Food Insecure’ New Yorkers and Added Strains on Emergency Providers Trying to Keep Up Wed, 19 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6086-at-hearing-on-hunger-council-presses-de-blasio-administration-on-snap-participation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6086-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.

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by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

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At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation Thu, 14 Jan 2016 03:36:21 +0000
Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6082-council-to-assess-hunger-problem-city-efforts-to-reduce-it https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6082-council-to-assess-hunger-problem-city-efforts-to-reduce-it de blasio food thanksgiving

Mayor de Blasio serving food (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


The City Council’s Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on hunger in New York City on Wednesday morning at City Hall.

Council Member Stephen Levin, the chair of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette he and his colleagues want to get a broad assessment of hunger in the city, as well as specifics related to de Blasio administration efforts to mitigate the problem, which is the result, in large part, of high poverty rates.

At the hearing, Levin added, the committee would review increasing and decreasing barriers to the federally funded Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (otherwise known as SNAP or “food stamps”), SNAP enrollment, the status of food pantries, state hunger programs, and other components.

“We want to hear what initiatives this administration is taking,” Levin said. “We’re eager to hear what recommendations they’re able to put forward and hear...what they’re working on.”

Under Commissioner Steven Banks, Mayor de Blasio’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) has increased SNAP access, eased work requirements for agency clients, and enacted several other reforms. De Blasio also expanded the “breakfast after the bell” program for all public elementary schools, which advocates praised while recommending universal free school lunch.

Still, hunger remains a harsh reality for many New Yorkers.

As of last November, HRA was providing nutritional assistance to 1,686,941 New Yorkers, 45,406 fewer than a year before. In addition to the food stamps, one in five New Yorkers are assisted by the Food Bank of New York City, the major hunger relief organization that receives funding from the city, which reported in a recent survey of its agencies “that they had run out of food, or particular types of food, needed to make adequate meals or pantry bags” last September.

Continuing a decline that began under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, SNAP participation in the city has gone down under de Blasio. According to New York City Coalition Against Hunger executive director Joel Berg, a main cause of the decline is federal divestment of half a billion dollars in New York City SNAP funds.

“The amount of the benefits decreased and the caseloads decreased,” said Berg, who estimates that about 500,000 New Yorkers are eligible for nutritional assistance but don't receive it. “And so, there’s no question that lower benefit levels do also reduce participation.”

Lisa Levy, Coalition Against Hunger’s director of policy, advocacy and organizing, will testify at Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of the organization, Berg said.

Because SNAP is federally funded, the City Council is limited in actions it can take on nutritional assistance policy. “We have been investing more resources in food pantries through the Food Bank of New York City,” Council Member Ritchie Torres, a member of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette. “But as with many issues, we are hamstrung by a Congress in Washington that is disinvesting, ever more deeply, in the city.”

Though New York City’s employment has recovered from the recession, Berg insists that this has not translated to reduced hunger. “The lines of pantries and kitchens are still as long as ever,” he said.

According to research from Coalition Against Hunger, many food insecure New Yorkers do indeed work. The group found that between 2012-2014, 48 percent of food insecure New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 worked. While significant minimum wage raises being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others would likely reduce that number if enacted, there could be an unintended consequence of the wage hike for New Yorkers receiving nutritional assistance.

Berg, while praising the wage hikes, does worry that, “In some cases, particularly with single people, the amount of SNAP benefits they lose could exceed the value of the wage increase,” said Berg, who has advocated for raising the income level needed to receive food stamps to expand eligibility.

Council Member Levin indicated that he would look into the wage hike issue. “It’s hard to kind of predict, and I think you’d have to kind of drill down on the individual case and really that individual and that family’s situation,” he said. “But certainly, it’s something that we should be asking about.”

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by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been updated.

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Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It Mon, 11 Jan 2016 22:22:40 +0000