Times Union

Casey Seiler

11/26/13

http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol/archives/200307/anti-hunger-advocates-thanks-for-the-bread-but-wheres-our-task-force/

Advocates for the poor came to the Capitol on Tuesday to press their case that while the $4.5 million in aid to state food banks announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday was appreciated, there is more that he can do to assist the state’s neediest citizens.

The most recent cut to the federally funded food stamp program — also known as SNAP — adds up to a 5 percent cut in benefits for roughly 3 million New Yorkers in the program — a loss of $36 a month for a family of four, advocates say.

The advocates are also eager to see Cuomo follow through on a promise from January’s State of the State address, when he announced the creation of a Statewide Anti-Hunger Task Force, charged with leveraging the maximum amount of federal dollars for state programs that deal with hunger; boosting the use of New York food products and healthy foods in programs for the poor; and working with private-sector partners to multiply state efforts. (For more, see page 133 of “New York Rising.”)

“We call about once a month and they tell us, ‘Soon — any day now,’” said Mark Dunlea of Hunger Action Network.

Asked about the administration’s plans for the Task Force, Cuomo’s Director of Communication Melissa DeRosa responded with with a statement that includes the longest dependent clause since William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury”:

From launching one of the largest outreach campaigns to SNAP-eligible residents in the nation and removing unnecessary barriers to enrollment, such as eliminating humiliating fingerprint requirements and allowing online re-enrollment, to expanding the availability of fresh, locally grown food to communities in need by launching the FreshConnect program and allowing SNAP benefits to be used at farmer’s markets across the state, this administration has taken significant steps to extend food assistance to those who need it the most. We remain committed to stamping out hunger in New York and will be taking those next steps with the imminent launch of the Anti-Hunger Task Force.

Also Tuesday, Cuomo announced an example of the sort of public-private partnerships the task force will be charged with crafting: Walmart, PepsiCo and FreshDirect are joining the state to deliver more than 3,000 meals to families in need.

The meals will be provided by Walmart, with PepsiCo donating 2,800 beverages and FreshDirect donating 3,000 boxes to carry the goods. The meals will be assembled and distributed by members of the New York National Guard this week.

In addition, Walmart will donate more than $1 million to food banks and local charities across the state, including $55,000 for the Food Pantries for the Capital District, Inc., $30,000 for the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham, and $25,000 for Albany’s United Methodist Society Inc.

Here’s video of the activists, including Dunlea and Ron Deutsch of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, presenting their recommendations and a piece of craft illustrating that hunger is at record levels:

Here’s the anti-hunger coalition’s release:

Leading advocacy organizations joined together today to call on state and federal officials to do more to end hunger, poverty and income inequality as part of the annual Thanksgiving Action Against Hunger.

They thanked the Governor for yesterday’s announced $4.5 million in additional funds for food pantries and asked him to lead the charge to end hunger and poverty in New York State, noting that the problem has grown progressively worse during his tenure. Unfortunately, the November 1 cut to SNAP (food stamp) benefits will cost New York residents more than $300 million in lost food purchasing power.

After the press conference the groups delivered their ‘Plan To End Hunger’ to Governor Cuomo, Senators’ Skelos, Klein and Stewart-Cousins and to Assembly Speaker Silver. The Plan was delivered to highlight the need to do more to end hunger and poverty – more funding for emergency food; a higher minimum wage; stronger efforts to stop wage theft; and, progressive taxes. The groups also urged Governor Cuomo not to balance the budget by shortchanging investments in human service, education and jobs programs.

The group also launched its Faces Against Hunger campaign. This provides stories about New Yorkers struggling with hunger.

The groups noted that Thanksgiving is the one-day a year where communities unite to make sure no one goes hungry. Unfortunately, hunger is a 365-day a year problem and the problem has only gotten worse over Governor Cuomo first term. New York is experiencing unprecedented levels of hunger, homelessness and child poverty and the austerity budgets coming out of Albany have done nothing to address this growing epidemic.

The recent decimation of the federally funded SNAP (Food Stamp) program has also resulted in 3 million New Yorkers receiving a benefit cut of over 5% ($36 a month for a family of 4) as of the first of November. Congress is also debating additional SNAP cuts as part of the reauthorization of the farm bill. The press conference highlighted how these cuts will impact families this Thanksgiving.

“The recent cuts to SNAP have made it more difficult for already-struggling families to put food on the table. Congress may be on the way to finally passing a Farm Bill, but it appears that whatever compromise is reached will still be a cut resulting in a punch in the hungry belly of 49 million people who rely on the program. As food prices increase and benefits decrease, more families will find themselves in need of charitable food donations earlier in the month — but cuts to nutrition assistance will leave a hunger gap that cannot be closed by churches, pantries, or food banks,” said Rev. Deb Jameson of FOCUS Churches.

“It is appreciated that Governor Cuomo recognizes the need for more action to address hunger in our state by suggesting we all donate to the local food banks – but it is not enough. This good gesture does not solve the problem. We must recognize the human right for food and the NYS constitutional provisions to care for the needy. This means making sure all New Yorkers have enough to eat,” added Rev. Jameson.

SNAP benefits normally run out by the third week of the month. The recent cuts will mean a loss of an additional 2 to 3 days of the household’s food budget. Food stamps benefits are now only a paltry $1.41 per person a meal – meaning a family of four can spend $6 on their Thanksgiving meal. For $6 they can have ?a box of macaroni and cheese, 2 cans of white turkey in water (10 oz) and canned corn. A traditional Thanksgiving dinner costs more than $50 – the equivalent of nearly 3 days worth of SNAP benefits.

“We appreciate that there is place at table for all New Yorkers on Thanksgiving. However, hunger is a 365-day a year problem. The amount of food lost in the recent SNAP cut is equal to the entire value of charitable food donated in the country. Charity isn’t the answer. We need elected officials to commit to making food a human right,” stated Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of NYS.

“The problem of poverty and hunger in New York State is not caused by a lack of resources or wealth but simply a failure of leadership. Increasingly, communities of faith and charity are relied upon to provide food and shelter for New York’s families. As middle class careers are replaced by minimum-wage retail and fast food jobs, we cannot possibly meet the growing needs of New York’s working poor. We call on our leaders this Thanksgiving to end hunger by strengthening the social safety net, demanding living wages, and calling on the wealthiest among us to contribute their fair share,” said Sara Niccoli, Executive Director, Labor-Religion Coalition of NYS.

“Governor Cuomo does not seem to have an ounce of compassion for the hungry, homeless or children living in poverty in this state. If his past executive budgets are reflections of his priorities, he has made his ‘let them eat cake’ message to struggling New Yorkers painfully clear. The Governor makes sure that the bowls of huge, profitable corporations are overflowing with tax credits and while the bowls of seniors, children and struggling working families remain empty,” said Ron Deutsch, Executive Director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.

“As income inequality continues to grow, it should be no shock that the problem of hunger in our communities is growing too,” said Mark Emanatian, Community Organizer for Citizen Action of New York. “Our leaders in Washington and Albany need to wake up to the suffering and put the needs of their constituents before the greed of their campaign contributors.”

To combat hunger in NYS, Hunger Action Network launched the Faces of Hunger campaign to show the true story of those who go hungry in New York. According to a new AARP report, a growing number of seniors are victims of the hunger epidemic. Child poverty is also on the rise in NYS and over half the children living in many of our largest upstate cities are living in poverty and are the largest segment of the hungry population in our state. Nearly 40% of the guests of EFPs have a job. Half of SNAP participants have a paying job.

In his January State of the State address, Governor Cuomo announced that he would create a statewide anti-hunger task force. His main goals were to increase participation in federally funded anti-hunger programs and increase the use of New York farm products and healthy foods in anti-hunger programs. The Task Force has not yet been formally established.

Groups participating in the event include Hunger Action Network of New York State, FOCUS Churches of Albany, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, Citizen Action of New York, and New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.

Plan to End Hunger

Hunger Action Network released a 11-page plan on how to end hunger by expanding access to programs such as school meals, SNAP, and WIC. They call for a $10 million increased in funding for emergency food; the state provides $29 million to the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP). EFPs feed three million people annually, an increase of 60% since the Great Recession started in 2007.

Hunger Action also called upon both the city and state to improve its food response in emergencies. It wants government to increase its purchase of local food, protect the regional food shed, and to view food as an economic engine to provide living wage jobs.

Hunger Action Network also wants the Governor to do more to crack down on the problem of wage theft, which costs low-income workers in NYC a billion dollars a year. The Department of Labor has 15,000 open complaint cases with a 2 year waiting list. In addition to hire more investigators, groups want the law changes to make it easier for workers to collect any wage judgments against employers. They would repeal the minimum wage tax credit for companies that hire teenagers and instead invest the $40 million plus in wage enforcement. They also want to raise the minimum wage to at least $12 an hour, with indexing, and give local governments the power to set a higher minimum wage. They complained that the Governor had failed to appoint a minimum wage board to raise the pay for tip workers despite being directed to do so by legislators.

The plan also calls for more investment in job creation, including a public jobs program, and increased access to education and training. They want the state to crack down on the excessive use of sanctioning of welfare participants by local district for alleged violations of work and other rules; in virtually every case the judicial process rules that the district is at fault, not the participant.