Food banks and other food rescue organizations are facing a decrease in federal funding and private donations this holiday season, and food bank officials say inventories across the state are at record lows. More than one million New Yorkers, including one in every five children, rely on emergency food programs to get by, according to the Food Bank for New York City.
"We absolutely must continue to support the critical work of New York's emergency food network, and I am pleased we can be of some assistance during this particularly tough holiday season," said Governor Spitzer. "These volunteers help ensure that our state's most vulnerable residents - the indigent, children and seniors - receive the food they need to remain healthy and productive."
John Evers, executive director of the Food Bank Association of New York State, said, "By directly addressing the issue of hunger and increasing state aid to the food banks, Governor Spitzer shows us first hand that he understands the mission of emergency feeding programs and the difficult financial picture we are facing."
Part of the unprecedented decline in available food is due to decreased private sector donations related to the economy and part is due to a reduction in federal support for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, TEFAP, the governor's office said.
Desperate and hungry in New York City (Photo by Andrew Benedetti)
As authorized by the farm bill, Congress appropriated $189.5 million for TEFAP for FY 2007, about the same level of funding as the previous year.
The farm bill is the federal legislation that covers the country's largest anti-hunger programs, including TEFAP, the Food Stamp Program, and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
But the current farm bill expired September 30, and the new farm bill, called the Food and Energy Security Act of 2007, is now working its way through Congress.
The House passed its version of the bill this summer, but earlier this month the legislation stalled in the Senate in a partisan dispute.
In addition, President George W. Bush has threatened to veto both the Senate and House versions of the bill, and some analysts say a new farm bill might not be enacted until after the November 2008 election.
Whenever the next farm bill does become law, Governor Spitzer says it is unlikely New York State will receive a restoration of the $10 million previously allocated in TEFAP funding.
The New York state budget for the current year already includes an increase of $5 million for emergency food. Coupled with this new addition of $5 million, emergency food providers say they will be able to maintain services to the hungry.
Today's increase brings the total state and federal funding available for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, HPNAP, that supports the emergency food providers to nearly $34 million, an increase of almost 50 percent over last year.
Gordon Campbell, chief executive of United Way of New York City, said, "Governor Spitzer's announcement today of $5 million additional for HPNAP is a wonderful and most welcome Thanksgiving gift to so many New Yorkers who, but for this program, would not be able to access healthy and nutritious foods. We at United Way are proud of our role in funding emergency food providers, enabling them to make nutritious foods and locally grown fresh produce available in low-income communities throughout the five boroughs."
The additional $5 million will be allocated to the eight food banks across the state and the United Way of New York City to purchase and distribute foods to about 2,500 food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the state.
Because food banks can purchase food in bulk at low rates, every dollar provided to the emergency food network is amplified. One dollar to the emergency food network can purchase and distribute four dollars worth of food.
The private not-for-profit emergency food network will now be able to maintain historical service levels at over 120 million meals provided per year.
The America's Second Harvest Network of food banks and food-rescue organizations provides emergency hunger relief services to an estimated 25.3 million low-income people each year, or roughly nine percent of all Americans. The organization says this represents an eight percent increase since 2001 and an 18 percent increase since 1997.
In New York state, the 10 America's Second Harvest member food banks and food rescue organizations serve 500,000 people each month.
According to the federal government's own measure of hunger, 70 percent of all client households served by the America's Second Harvest Network are "food insecure."
In addition to low incomes, recipients of emergency food typically do not have a lot of resources. America's Second Harvest says 12 percent are homeless, a 26 percent increase since 2001, and 46 percent do not have access to a working car.
Only 35 percent of the clients the organization serves are currently receiving food stamps. Recipients report that food stamp benefits last an average of 2.5 weeks a month.
The Bush administration has allocated at least $1 million in grants for public and private nonprofit community and faith-based organizations to improve awareness of USDA's Food Stamp Program for low-income households.
The purpose of food stamp outreach is not to provide food, but to inform and educate potentially eligible low-income persons about the nutrition benefits of the program, the eligibility rules and how to apply.
The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, serves more than 26 million people each month, and currently reaches about 65 percent of those who are eligible for benefits.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.