BANK ON IT: Food Bank For New York City's Blog
by Ashley Goforth
For the Food Bank, February means tax assistance is in high gear and heading full speed into the April 15 tax deadline. At the start of the month, the Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem hosted a press conference to kick of the tax season and to remind New York City residents that many of them may be eligible for free tax-return preparation and electronic filing at 14 sites citywide operated by the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program and online through the IRS and New York State Free File Alliance programs. On hand to discuss the merits of the program was Congressman Charles Rangel; IRS Commissioner Douglas Schulman; NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz; and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Robert Doar; Ed Black, President and CEO of the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA); and Brad Smith, President and CEO of Intuit Inc.
Then, on February 18, the Food Bank, Capital One Bank and the Brooklyn Community Foundation joined forces to bring attention to the program at the Fulton Street Capital One, where our program provides tax assistance for the northern Brooklyn community. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz joined Fran Freedman, LMSW, Deputy Commissioner, External Affairs NYC Department of Consumer Affairs; our Vice President of Agency Resources & Benefit Access Carlos Rodriguez and Capital One’s Brooklyn Market President B.J. Duffy to extol the benefits of free tax assistance.
The Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program provides low-income New Yorkers with free tax preparation services as well as information on how to access the various credits they are entitled to – including the Earned Income Tax Credit , a key piece of the public safety net for the working poor. One of the largest programs of its type in the country, the Food Bank's Tax Assistance Program has completed up to 50,000 tax returns for low- to moderate-income New Yorkers annually — helping to provide as much as $100 million in tax refunds.
If you think you may be eligible for EITC, use Intuit’s free EITC calculator today. For a listing of the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program sites, click here.
Food Bank For New York City continually works to raise awareness and support for hunger relief through media outreach and information sharing. Here are highlights of the recent stories that have featured the Food Bank:
CNN International, “Growing Number of New Yorkers Depend on Food Help”
CNN International visits the Food Bank’s Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem to examine a nationwide increase in need for food assistance...read more [includes VIDEO]
New York Daily News, “Queens Sees Huge Surge In Demand for Emergency Meals & Food”
Queens has seen a whopping 106 percent spike in the number of emergency meals being provided to hungry residents in the past two years — the second-highest increase in the city — according to a recent report on hunger from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand...read more
The New York Post, “Target Gives $5K to Boro Soup Kitchen”
Target Stores donates $5,000 to Food Bank network member Biblica Restauracion church and soup kitchen in Sunnyside, Queens...read more
by Paul Hernandez
According to a recent New York Times article, more and more Americans are taking part in the Food Stamp Program (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) — both because there is more need during this enduring recession, and because the stigma attached this resource has lessened.
When I was growing up, my family received food stamps for many years. At the time, I felt ashamed — not only because food stamps signified that we were poor, which we were, but also because it was unavoidably clear to anyone around when we used our food stamps. At the time, there were only certain items that you could buy with food stamps; at the same time the list of acceptable items was ambiguous. While generic cereals might be alright, brand name cereal might not. And, most times, you wouldn’t find out until you got to the cashier. I can tell you, there’s nothing worse than being a young teenager at your small-town grocery store when the checkout lady loudly announces , “You can’t buy diapers with food stamps.”
And, while food stamps are now provided on a card that you can swipe at the check out just like a typical debit card, at the time food stamps were provided in a packet that made them look like Monopoly money. Each stamp had a specific dollar value. And, as I recollect, stores had to give you change in real money and they often wouldn’t give more than one dollar worth of change. As a result, we had to keep your total within a dollar of the amount of food stamps you had, meaning that some months we ran out of ones or fives and would either have to leave some items at the register or run and grab some extra items just to bump up our total. I remember once buying an extra fifteen packages of gum so we could still get all the items we needed.
Much of that has changed today, and the food stamp program is growing because of it. Perhaps it’s time for people who stigmatize the program to rethink their preconceptions, especially those who qualify for but aren’t receiving food stamps. The Food Bank’s Food Stamp Outreach Program helps to connect qualified people with food stamps, and along the way works hard to reduce the stigma associated with accepting this benefit — essential for so many individuals and families. I know that if I needed food stamps today, I wouldn’t hesitate to apply, Monopoly money or no.
Meet other Americans who benefit from food stamps, many of whom have struggled with the decision to accept help, in the New York Times’s “Food Stamp Use Soars, and Stigma Fades.”
By Jesse Taylor
Emily is in her 80s and reminds me of my grandmother. While she is independent, I can see that she finds it difficult to carry the heavy, meal tray to her seat at the Community Kitchen, where I work. So I, or a volunteer, do it for her. Last night, Emily smiled and thanked me about a half dozen times. I just smiled back, grateful to be able to help.
Emily sometimes brings her six-year-old granddaughter to our soup kichen to eat with her, and she’s told me on more than one occasion how grateful she is that the Food Bank For New York City is here for her during this period of her life. Living on a fixed income of Social Security and a small pension, it’s difficult for her to meet her budget every month and without our soup kitchen, she say’s she wouldn’t be able to eat.
No one aspires to be impoverished and rely upon soup kitchen meals for day-to-day survival, let alone work their whole life to then find themselves on a food pantry line — but with the economy the way it is, there are more senior faces in the Community Kitchen's dining room than ever before. So many Emilys with nowhere to turn but the Food Bank's network of soup kitchens, senior programs and food pantries.
But for our Emily there is good news. Recently came to the Community Kitchen — this time to be enrolled in the Food Stamp Program (now known as SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). And, while I’ll miss her visits, it’s great to know that once she begins receiving food stamps, we won’t be seeing much of Emily in the Community Kitchen anymore.
City Council is holding a hearing today to address the need for a living wage for all New Yorkers. The Food Bank has come together with our partners in the fight to end hunger to form the Anti-Hunger Caucus of the Living Wage NYC Campaign to support this important effort. Read the caucus’s letter to City Council Speaker Christine Quinn below and show your support by signing our petition to the City Council!
Dear City Council Speaker Christine Quinn:
We want to acknowledge and thank you for your tremendous leadership over the past several years to increase access to affordable, nutritious food for all New Yorkers. It is because of this leadership that we ask you, on behalf of the low-income New Yorkers we collectively serve, to support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act (Intro. 0251-2010). This legislation would ensure taxpayer-funded economic development is a sound investment in living-wage jobs.
As you know, many low-wage full-time jobs, whether in retail or in other sectors of the city’s economy, do not pay workers enough to meet their households’ basic needs. We live in a city where the costs of many basic expenses — like housing, health care and food — are significantly higher than the national average. As a result, too many working New Yorkers who struggle to make ends meet are forced to rely on the services our organizations provide.
We share the belief that no full-time worker in this city should need to turn to a food pantry or soup kitchen to put food on the table. As with any measure that raises the incomes of low-wage workers, this legislation has the potential to stem an entrenched hunger crisis in New York City because it addresses the root cause of hunger — poverty — and it does so without expending any additional tax dollars.
Around the country, many cities have successfully enacted laws that establish a living wage standard for jobs created via taxpayer-funded economic development. It is in the best interest of New York City taxpayers and communities to replicate that success here.
Again, we thank you for your leadership in the fight against hunger in New York City. By joining the majority of City Council Members who already support the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act, you can attack hunger at its root, and lessen the poverty of many low-income New Yorkers who will be affected by this bill.
The Founding Members of the Anti-Hunger Caucus of the Living Wage NYC Campaign:
Food Bank for New York City, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Action Network of New York State, City Harvest and Westside Campaign Against Hunger
by David McCoy
The tax season begins in earnest for most New Yorkers in late January, but here at the Food Bank it really begins in early October. You see, the Food Bank’s Free Income Tax Services program utilizes close to 500 staff and volunteers — including approximately 250 IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers and translators fluent in more than five languages. From October all the way through January, when our tax sites open their doors, the Food Bank works hard to ensure that all the training and outreach necessary to provide top-notch tax services to New York City’s working poor is complete.
When tax day finally arrives, the months of hard work is rewarded by the impact our tax services team knows we are making on our city. This year, our Free Income Tax Services program helped complete more than 37,000 returns, providing over $65 million in tax refunds and credits for low-income New Yorkers. In addition to the benefit this brings directly to our tax service clients, it is also gratifying to know that bringing $65 million back into New York City is a boon to the local economy during the difficult economic times we still find ourselves in.
A program that brings tens of thousands of low-income New Yorkers to our doors to address their finances also provides a unique opportunity for the Food Bank to address food poverty on many levels. In addition to tax services, the Food Bank helps to connect our client to available services including food stamps and low-cost health insurance options.
Helping our clients make long-term changes to their financial health, our staff also provides an introduction to SaveUSA — a New York City program that helps low-income New Yorkers open savings accounts — as well as a new pilot program from the Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation for low-income entrepreneurs, financial management and tax preparation.
While the tax season ends for most people on April 15, the Food Bank continues to provide services at our Community Kitchen & Food Pantry in Harlem — helping our clients respond to IRS disputes and continuing to file current and past year returns.
As our work certainly carries on, I have to extend a huge thank you to all of our supporters — particularly our army of volunteers, tax-season staff and partners. We simply could not have brought more than $65 million to our low-income neighbors without your support.
If you would like to join the effort to bring tax assistance to NYC next year, email us with your information and we will email you detailed information when the 2012 tax season gets closer!
By Ashley Goforth
Filing taxes is no easy task. The idea of owing money or not getting what I expect back on my return keeps me up nights during tax season. Luckily, the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program can ease the mind of low- to moderate-income New Yorkers. In early March, I had the opportunity to travel to our Food & Finance Center in Harlem, the main site for the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program.
The atmosphere is similar to any financial institution: long lines, but comforting and confident assistance. Once your turn arrives and you ease into a questionnaire with your preparer — Single? Filing jointly? — a weight suddenly lifts off your shoulders. “My taxes are getting done!” you may think to yourself. When the preparer hands you the envelope to mail in your forms, a wave of relief comes over you.
Perhaps you feel savvy enough to tackle filing on your own, but as I said already, it’s no easy task and there may be many credits you are entitled to that our trained preparers can help you understand. At our Harlem site, twelve computers are ready for you to log on and file your taxes, with a certified volunteer preparer acting as your coach — ready with guidance at any step of the way. It’s a quiet moment, but when New Yorkers click that “Submit 2008 Taxes” button, knowing that they will receive unexpected funds that can help pay their bills or stretch their food budgets, is to see financial empowerment come alive.
Learn more and see if you may be eligible for the Food Bank’s Tax Assistance Program.
By Triada Stampas
Starting this month, more than 1.3 million New York City residents will see their buying power increase at supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers’ markets and anywhere else food stamp benefits are accepted. Perhaps the most immediate and tangible impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – more commonly known as the economic stimulus package – is a boost to food stamp benefits across the board, from a 13.6 percent increase in maximum levels, to even minimum monthly allotments going up from $14 to $16. With more New Yorkers than ever having difficulty affording food, this couldn’t come at a better time.
Not only is this a tremendous help to households that use food stamps, it’s a boon to the local businesses that accept them. And because food stamp dollars come from the federal government but are spent quickly and locally, they do an incredible job of stimulating local economies. According to the USDA, every dollar in food stamp benefits generates $1.84 in additional economic activity. Here’s how this translates for New York City: in December 2008, New York City residents received more than $182 million in food stamp benefits; the food purchases made with that money are fueling over $334 million in additional economic activity. So today’s benefit increases will go a long way to support our communities.
Check out other highlights of the stimulus package on our Federal Stimulus Fact Sheet, and please join us in thanking our Congressional delegation for making sure food stamp benefit increases made it into the stimulus package.
Dear Friends, The past year presented many challenges for the Food Bank For New York City. Unemployment reached a 26-year high. And 93 percent of our member soup kitchens and food pantries saw an increase in first-time visitors, as reported in NYC Hunger Experience 2009.
Responding to increased need, the Food Bank focused on our core strengths — food procurement, warehousing and a citywide network of approximately 1,000 food assistance programs that help meet our neighbors’ immediate needs. Working toward long-term solutions, additional Food Bank efforts continue addressing issues including nutrition and health education, tax assistance, food stamps and public policy.
While the country’s response to the recession appears to have had a real impact on hunger, most of the government increases in support were designed as temporary measures — and will soon end.
Over 2009, the Food Bank brought hunger awareness into new arenas. Social marketing campaigns encouraged healthy eating and Food Stamp enrollment, while online efforts — the launch of Bank on It, the Food Bank’s blog; our Twitter presence; and a YouTube channel — spread the word to new online communities.
In the coming year, the Food Bank is committed to providing meals and services for New Yorkers who continue to struggle in difficult times, while strengthening the safety net for those in need. And we will continue to rely on supporters like you. Whether you donate, volunteer or spread the word — every action helps keep our neighbors well fed. Thank you!
Lucy Cabrera, Ph.D., CAE
President and CEO