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BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog

11 Million Emergency Meals Already Lost Due to Federal Cuts!

Help Save Critical Food Assistance In NYC

by Triada Stampas

Federal spending cuts have slashed the single biggest source of emergency food in New York City. This year alone, food pantries and soup kitchens across the five boroughs lost a staggering 11 million meals, depriving those residents in most desperate need. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) has been the mainstay of New York City’s emergency food network, constituting nearly half of the food that is distributed to low-income New Yorkers in past years. Food pantries and soup kitchens have told us they used to plan their meals around the food available in TEFAP; right now, their shelves are nearly bare.

Facing a shortfall of 11 million meals, emergency food providers are being forced to stretch resources and reduce services at a time of unprecedented need.
Nearly 3 million New York City residents have difficulty affording food. Households with children, the unemployed and low-income New Yorkers are struggling the most. Those 11 million meals could have gone to children, seniors and others in need – instead, food pantries and soup kitchens are coping with unprecedented need while their main source of food has dwindled.

Emergency food cuts have stricken communities in all five boroughs, with losses averaging 37 percent.

  • Bronx: 2.2 million meals lost
  • Brooklyn: 3.8 million meals lost
  • Manhattan: 1.4 million meals lost
  • Queens: 3.0 million meals lost
  • Staten Island: 0.4 million meals lost

You can help. There are two things you can do to help us out of this crisis:

Advocate. The Farm Bill, our nation’s key anti-hunger legislation, is up for renewal this year. Critical food resources like TEFAP and the food stamp program (SNAP) are at stake. Contact your representatives in Washington and tell them to help keep food on the table for our neighbors in need.

Donate. The long-term relief needed from the Farm Bill will take months or longer to materialize. Your donations will provide immediate help for those at risk of going hungry.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

Increased Participation in Summer Meals Proves it Takes a Village

by Roxanne Henry

The Food Resource Action Center (FRAC) recently reported that in 2011 participation in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP, also known as Summer Meals) was down, nationally, compared to previous years. Summer Meals provides universal breakfast and lunch to all children age 18 and under at schools and other sites in low-income neighborhoods during the summer. Although nationally there was a decrease in participation in the program, New York City saw a 3% increase. Part of this increase may be attributed to a city-wide collaboration where governmental agencies, community-based organizations and hunger advocates, including the Food Bank For New York City, implemented a more grassroots approach by canvassing low-income neighborhoods with localized Summer Meals outreach materials.

Summer Food Service Program
Summer Meals provides universal breakfast and lunch to all children age 18 and under at schools and other sites in low-income neighborhoods during the summer.
In addition to its annual outreach initiatives around Summer Meals (including recruiting member agencies to become distribution sites and on-the-ground outreach) last year, for the first time, the Food Bank For New York City distributed over 100,000 flyers to families with children throughout the city through our approximately 1,000 member agencies.

Although there was an increase in participation in the program, the numbers are still relatively low; participation increased to only 28% last year. This means that we have a long way to go. This year Food Bank is expanding its Summer Meals efforts and continues to work with the larger city-wide initiative to further increase participation in the program.

Thank You: The Child Tax Credit Is Safe

by Triada Stampas

Three weeks ago, the Food Bank reached out to supporters like you to help save a critical source of support provided by the Child Tax Credit (CTC) to our most vulnerable working families.

In a cynical move to offset the cost of the payroll tax and unemployment insurance extension, the House proposed cutting CTC refunds that benefit low-income, working families who file their taxes with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) rather than Social Security numbers.

Thanks to the actions of advocates like you, Congress protected this critical benefit which, simply put, helps keep food on the table for working families.

Though, in the end, Congress agreed not to require spending cuts to offset the extensions, Congress responded to the need for funding by initiating the auction of public airwaves for wireless Internet systems.

By removing a proposed cut that would have hurt our country’s most vulnerable, working families and identifying a revenue generating initiative that will speed digital communications, Congress has provided a perfect example of a fact that often goes unstated in Washington – we can reduce spending without hurting low-income Americans.

The Food Bank would like to thank our advocates for helping to save the Child Tax Credit! Please take a moment to visit our advocacy page for other actions you can take in support of New Yorkers in need.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

President Obama Aims to Protect Hunger Safety Net

By Triada Stampas

In order to pay for improvements to school meals programs in 2010, Congress and President Obama cut $2.2 billion from future food stamp (SNAP) benefits under the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.”

Signing the bill into law, President Obama promised to restore the funds. Last week in his budget request, he did just that, aiming to ensure no family loses the resources they need to provide food for themselves and their children.

In addition to the restoration of food stamp funding, the President’s fiscal year budget protects the nutrition safety net at a time when millions of Americans still grapple with unemployment and wage stagnation. Some highlights of the budget request include:

  • Increasing support for food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) by $9.25 million to keep up with rising food prices;
  • Fully funding school meal programs; • Designating funds to address food deserts, which means the lack of access to healthy, affordable food in low-income communities;
  • Adequately funding the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) to support the 9.1 million participants expected this year.

The President’s budget request is a promising starting point for federal budget negotiations. Over the next several months, Congress will hold hearings, propose alternative funding plans and ultimately vote on a final budget that may look much different from the version President Obama presented.

While the past year has seen a number of threats to SNAP and TEFAP , we remain hopeful that Congress maintains the strong support for nutrition programs laid out in the President’s budget. To make your voice heard, contact your senators and representatives and tell them to support these essential nutrition assistance programs.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

Saving USA, One Person At a Time

By Dominique R. Jones, Chief Program Officer, Food Bank For New York City

It’s tax season. And undoubtedly, millions across the country have one thing on their mind…REFUND. And why shouldn’t they? A refund can hold the promise of financial relief - life a little bit easier - and maybe even a month or two when struggling families don’t have to choose between paying rent or buying food.

Just last week, Mayor Bloomberg hosted a press conference at one of the Food Bank’s FREE income tax assistance sites in Corona Queens to commend programs like ours, especially in partnership with SaveUSA.

Media and attendees had an opportunity to meet a four-year client of the Food Bank’s income tax assistance program, Ray. Ray has benefitted from the Earned Income Tax Credit which provides additional return monies to filers at a vulnerable income level. Last year however, Ray had the opportunity to participate in SaveUSA, a new program to encourage saving. Ray deposited money from his refund into a SaveUSA account and in one year, the program matched every $2 saved with $1 return. Now Ray joked that a 50 percent return on investment was better than any rate on Wall Street, but the real value is in the dignity and empowerment that comes with those savings. Ray can finally buy his son the new pair of sneakers he’d been waiting on.

At the Food Bank, our goal is not just to fight hunger, but to fight the conditions that LEAD TO hunger. We don’t JUST want to help our neighbors keep food on the table, though that’s pretty important. We want them to have the opportunity to rise out of poverty and become self-sufficient. I am very proud of the Food Bank’s Free Income Tax Services program. Our tax service sites do more than just help New Yorkers file their tax returns – helping bring $65 million in refunds and credits to NYC – we do EVERYTHING we can to help, from making referrals to our food stamp specialists and providing health insurance information AND, you guessed it, connecting our clients to SaveUSA.

Speaking Truth to Albany: End Finger-imaging Now!

By Triada Stampas

This past Wednesday, I traveled to Albany to attend Governor Andrew Cuomo’s second State of the State address. I was overjoyed to hear the governor highlight child hunger and come out forcefully against one of the biggest problems in our state’s low-income benefits programs – the practice of fingerprinting during the application process for food stamps.

Since I couldn’t say it better myself, here is what the governor said:

“For all of our progress, there are still basic wrongs to right. There is never an excuse for letting any child in New York go to bed hungry. Statewide, 1 in 6 children live in homes without enough food on the table. Yet 30 percent of New Yorkers eligible for food stamps — over 1.4 million people — do not receive them, leaving over $1 billion in federal funds unclaimed every year.

“We must increase participation in the food stamp program, remove barriers to participation and eliminate the stigma associated with this program. And we must stop fingerprinting for food. No child should go hungry in the great State of New York and we will do all that we can to prevent it.”

In addition to calling for increased participation and the removal of barriers and stigma – including finger-imaging – from the food stamp program, he also called for a number of other initiatives that will help us and those we serve, including:

  • improving food access in food deserts;
  • foreclosure relief and tenant protection;
  • setting up a health insurance exchange to provide more New Yorkers with insurance and lessen healthcare costs;
  • and reducing (or, for some, eliminating) the state income tax burden on low-income New Yorkers.

It will take a lot of work to make all of this happen. But the fact that these issues all made it into this year’s address means that these are the items Governor Cuomo has pledged to prioritize and devote resources to seeing done.

We don’t see this happen every day, and we will be doing everything we can in the coming months and year to help make sure that true progress is made.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

What the Supercommittee’s “Failure” Means

By Triada Stampas

Though it does not seem likely that the Congressional supercommittee in charge of reducing the national deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years will be able to come together with a solution, they have not actually failed yet.

The supercommittee has until this Wednesday – the day before Thanksgiving – to produce a bill.

What are the stakes if the supercommittee is able to mend their differences? In their negotiations, all federal government programs will be fair game for cuts, restructuring or elimination. This would include the programs that are the foundations of our country’s hunger safety net – the food stamp program (SNAP), and the federal emergency food assistance program (TEFAP), which is the single largest source of emergency food in New York City and has comprised approximately half of the food distributed by the Food Bank For New York City in recent years.

So, then, what if the increasingly likely prospect that the supercommittee is unable to agree on a bill comes to pass? In that case, automatic across-the-board cuts of $1.2 trillion will take effect on January 1, 2013. Half of those cuts will be in non-defense programs, with certain exemptions (including programs such as TEFAP, SNAP and the Section 8 housing benefit). However, other essential programs that low-income Americans rely on including WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and community development block grants would be included in the cuts.

Right now, the leadership of the Agricultural Committee has provided a proposal to the Supercommittee that would restrict the ability of states to coordinate LIHEAP, the home heating subsidy, with food stamps. This “Heat or Eat” program, allows the 14 states that currently implement it to adjust the formula used to calculate food stamp benefits in order to provide Americans who struggle to keep the heat on over the winter months with a greater food stamp benefit so that they do not have to chose between keeping the heat on an keeping food on the table.

This proposed restriction would result in $4.2 billion in cuts to food stamp benefits nationwide. It would primarily affect people in public housing, seniors and people with disabilities. It would affect approximately 90,000 households in NYC alone, each of which would lose on average more than $100 in monthly food stamp benefits.

Both options put low-income Americans in distinct danger at every step of the deficit reduction process. It is important that we tell our legislators now that they need to protect our most vulnerable neighbors during deficit reduction. Help the Food Bank remind those in Congress that cutting these programs and forcing low-income individuals to choose between food or heat in the winter months is not an option.

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

A Lesson in Grace from a Food Stamp Recipient

By Rebecca Segall

After spending my summer as an intern at the Food Bank For New York City, I now know almost every statistic there is about food poverty in the city. But to understand what – beyond the numbers – that poverty truly means, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those relying on food assistance. While I did my best to be empathetic, I had a difficult time imagining such a humbling experience.

I’ve been vegetarian for years, and though it isn’t essential to my survival, it is a big part of living the way I want to. But in a position of need, I felt I wouldn’t be able to refuse any available food, especially food rich in protein. I decided that in my hypothetical life of food poverty, vegetarianism would be a necessary sacrifice.

That is, until I met Susan. On a trip to conduct interviews with people who have been helped by the Food Bank, I was surprised by how easily I could relate to a woman from Queens’ earnest account of poverty. It wasn’t until Susan mentioned she was vegetarian that I better understood a bit of why I could relate to her so well. After a lifetime of produce and tofu, Susan was not about to give up important parts of herself just because her circumstances had changed. To make this work, she uses her food stamps, which the Food Bank helped her apply for, at farmers’ markets.

Susan not only survives but pushes herself to practice the values important to her, even if they demand a greater struggle. I admired her determination and, thanks to her story, understood the Food Bank’s goal more deeply. It is not just to provide food, but to provide the means to live with dignity.

I will remember Susan, and hope to maintain my own values in the face of obstacles with the grace and perseverance that she displayed.

Food Bank in Huffington Post: Don’t Take Food from Most Vulnerable

by Lucy Cabrera

The following editorial by Food Bank President and CEO Lucy Cabrera was originally published in the Huffington Post, July 27, 2011.

As the debate over budget cuts heat up in Washington, let's hope cooler heads prevail when it comes to supporting something as basic as food assistance for those in need. Taking food away from those who are struggling the most should not be considered a budget fix. Without proper access to food, the system will begin to break down.

Cuts currently under debate by Congress threaten to drastically reduce vital food support for those already enduring the greatest brunt of the economic downturn. Proposed cuts to The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, would be devastating to those who are already struggling to just get by.

Today, key economic indicators show that the recovery is slowing and food costs are increasing. As a country, how can we talk about strengthening our ability to compete in the future by making decisions at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us? If the people in need whom we serve cannot be helped, we are putting more at risk than our economic recovery...

Read the full editorial on the Huffington Post.

What the Federal Budget Talks Mean for NYC

by Triada Stampas

With the ongoing budget and deficit reduction talks in Washington, a lot is unclear. However, budget negotiations that began this spring have broadcast loud-and-clear that the federal safety net for low-income Americans could be slashed to ribbons.


Tell President Obama & our Congressional leaders: Don't balance the budget on the backs of America's poor and hungry!

 In late April, the House of Representatives passed a federal Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 Budget Resolution that brutally cut funding for programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and low-income housing. At the same time, significant reductions in commodity purchases for the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) mean that food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters — the resource of last resort for those struggling to afford food — would be unable to maintain existing levels of service, let alone meet the additional need that reductions in SNAP, WIC and other benefits would clearly create.

With a broad blueprint for overall expenditures in its Budget Resolution, the House then passed a detailed spending plan in an Agriculture Appropriations bill that would make further cuts to TEFAP and other nutrition assistance programs. The combined impact of these cuts on the emergency food supply in New York City would be a loss of 10 million meals for New Yorkers in need, or approximately one sixth of the Food Bank’s food supply.

The current budget negotiations are occurring in a political environment dominated by concerns about the size of the federal budget deficit and spending. And pressure to limit federal spending and reduce the budget may come at the expense of safety net programs, as the House Budget Resolution and Agriculture Appropriations bill demonstrate.

Current negotiations between the White House and Congressional leaders will determine whether deficit reduction goals can be reached while protecting the most vulnerable among us, such as the poor, the sick, children and the elderly.

TEFAP and SNAP are the United State’s two major supports for low-income, food-poor Americans. Last year in New York City alone, TEFAP helped supply more than 28 million meals for New Yorkers in need, and SNAP provided low-income New Yorkers more than $3 billion for food purchases.

The ongoing negotiations carry even greater import as it is widely recognized that they will set the stage for next year’s reauthorization of the Farm Bill, which will set spending levels for TEFAP and SNAP for the following five years.

We hope that you will stay tuned for updates and opportunities to take action on this historic round of budget negotiations and their potential affect on low-income New Yorkers by continuing to read this blog, subscribing to Food Bank e-newsletters or joining us on Facebook or Twitter. Please consider taking action now — visit our Advocacy page to see how you can make a difference!

Triada Stampas works to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about the needs of the city’s network of emergency food organizations and the more than 1.3 million people who rely on them; and to advance public policy that meets those needs.

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