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Fighting Hunger in New York City page 2


Recognizing and Investing in EFPs as a Bridge to Government Nutrition Programs and Other Services

Recognizing the importance of connecting their participants with government and nutrition assistance programs, many EFPs throughout the five boroughs conduct outreach for programs such as FSP, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and also the School Breakfast, Lunch and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Hunger Safety Net 2007 findings strongly indicate that efforts by EFPs to link participants with programs including FSP are working: FSP enrollment among EFP households increased from 31 percent in 2004 to 46 percent in 2007, and income-eligible households who have been visiting EFPs for longer than one year are 23 percent more likely to be receiving benefits.

Still, huge potential remains for strengthening this natural bridge between EFPs and government programs. While more than one-half (56 percent) of EFPs provide information on FSP, 40 percent provide information on SFSP and only approximately one-third provide information on programs including WIC, TANF, EITC and School Lunch and Breakfast. Specific borough and EFP participant data from the report findings can help target FSP and other government nutrition program outreach and enrollment initiatives with the EFP network. For example, similar to 2004 findings, elderly EFP household members continue to have extremely low participation rates in FSP (only 19 percent of EFP households with elderly members receive food stamps). Increasing EFP staff training and resources is a further need as only one-quarter (25 percent) of EFPs have staff or volunteers who have been trained on FSP within the past 12 months and only 22 percent have FSP applications on site.

Good examples of the connection between EFPs and government nutrition programs include:

  • The USDA-funded pilot Food Stamp Paperless Office System (POS), developed by the New York City Human Resources Administration in collaboration with community-based organizations, and also supported by the City Council, which allows food stamp offices to complete applications electronically and makes applying for food stamps easier for eligible individuals utilizing EFPs. Spatial analysis of 2007 findings identifying the geographic locations of the highest percentage of city residents not accessing FSP can inform future expansion of POS.
  • The community-based food stamp outreach conducted by the City Council, through the "Food Today, Healthy Tomorrow" campaign, is a further example of working with existing resources like EFPs to link eligible New Yorkers to food stamps. The involvement of elected officials in promoting the program legitimizes participation and adds to the anti-hunger community's ongoing work to destigmatize food stamps.
  • The New York State Working Families Food Stamp Initiative[4], which aims to expand access to FSP for low-income working families, lends itself to promotion activities at EFPs as less than one-third (31 percent) of EFP households with employed members are enrolled in FSP (in contrast to almost one-half of all EFP households).

Similarly, the consideration of EFPs in targeted initiatives to connect low-income New Yorkers to other social services, including health insurance programs and nutrition education and awareness services, should be expanded. Health conditions including asthma, diabetes and heart disease are prevalent among EFP households, including one-fifth of children living in EFP households who have been diagnosed with asthma and more than one-third of elderly EFP household members who have been diagnosed with diabetes. While most EFP household members are covered by Medicaid and Medicare insurance programs, one-fifth have no health coverage, including one in every five (21 percent) EFP participants diagnosed with cancer, and 17 percent and 16 percent of EFP participants diagnosed with asthma and diabetes. While findings indicate that approximately 39,000 EFP household members (3 percent) have been diagnosed with obesity, it is extremely likely that this is a very low estimate, given that obesity awareness is low among the general population and obesity diagnosis may still be considered a relatively new focus in medicine.

Addressing the connection between poverty and heath conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, nutrition continues to be an important consideration at EFPs. A growing percentage of soup kitchens and food pantries distribute fresh produce (87 percent) and one-half offer one or more special food services such as nutrition counseling.

Solving Hunger Necessitates a Broader Focus on Food Poverty

Recognizing and investing in the pivotal role that EFPs play in connecting eligible low-income New Yorkers to government nutrition programs, health, and nutrition and education awareness programs and related services broadens the discussion about hunger. Report findings testify to the importance of widening the lens in this way as data show that any number of interrelated issues can affect residents' access to food. Engaging stakeholders from these various sectors that relate to hunger, such as food and nutrition, health, education, childcare, housing, government agencies and academics, brings a wider range of voices to the table to take part in the process of solving hunger. This collaborative process refocuses the discussion on hunger to one of food poverty.

Hunger as a Nucleus of Food Poverty Issues

The findings on EFP participants demonstrate that myriad social service factors converge on the waiting lines (and in the homes of those who wait on line) of soup kitchens and food pantries, illustrating that hunger is at the heart of the poverty picture. In addition to questions of enrollment of eligible EFP participants in government nutrition assistance programs and health issues as outlined in the previous section, income, education, disability and housing are other key factors to consider.

The majority of households relying on emergency food are struggling to make ends meet on extremely low annual incomes, including 29 percent with incomes less than $5,000 and 59 percent with incomes less than $10,000, and among EFP participants, 50 percent have less than a grade 12 education level. Still, as indicated above, the increase of individuals and families accessing emergency food includes a higher percentage of participants who are working and have higher levels of education. More than one-fifth (21 percent) of EFP participants are working (up from 19 percent in 2004), and the percentage who are employed full-time has increased 73 percent from one-third (33 percent) in 2004 to 57 percent in 2007. Almost one out of every four (24 percent) participants has been to college (including some college, associate's, bachelor's and graduate degrees), up from 15 percent in 2004. This trend may be linked to trends identified in the Food Bank/Marist College annual opinion polls showing a steadily increasing number of New Yorkers with higher income and education levels experiencing difficulty affording food.[5]

In addition, there has been a large increase in the percentage of disabled New Yorkers turning to EFPs for help — from one-quarter (25 percent) in 2004 to almost one-third (31 percent) in 2007, indicating that further analysis may be required to determine if this population has special needs or requires additional services not currently being provided.

Housing findings, similar to 2004, show that the majority of EFP households (79 percent) are living in rented accommodation while 11 percent of households are homeless and 7 percent own their own homes. Demonstrating that lack of affordable housing is a significant contributing factor to hunger, EFP households in rented accommodations pay an average of 59 percent of their average monthly income on rent, and the average monthly mortgage cost comprises 68 percent of the average monthly income for EFP households that own.

The Picture of Hunger at Various Levels of Poverty

Understanding that different sectors and government agencies consider different levels of federal poverty when determining need, this report analyzes hunger at a range of poverty levels. This broad view further helps to engage more stakeholders in discussions about food poverty.

In addition, Hunger Safety Net 2007 findings and other research[6] demonstrate that households up to and beyond 200 percent of poverty are having difficulty making ends meet. For example, of the almost 1.3 million EFP participants, approximately 180,000 have incomes above 125 percent of the poverty level (up to and above 200 percent of poverty — approximately $32,000 annually for a family of three).

Given this broader population of New Yorkers having difficulty affording food, the examination of access to services at 125 percent, 150 percent, 185 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level provides a spectrum through which the problem may be analyzed. The city's population accessing some form of food assistance (EFPs and/or FSP and/or WIC) includes 96 percent of New Yorkers at 125 percent of poverty, 84 percent of New Yorkers at 150 percent of poverty, 69 percent of New Yorkers at 185 percent of poverty, and 64 percent of New Yorkers at 200 percent of poverty.

Trend analysis on access to food assistance in the 2007 report, which is conducted at 125 percent of poverty for comparison purposes with the 2004 study, shows a substantial decrease in the percentage of New York City residents living below 125 percent of poverty and not accessing EFPs, FSP or WIC, from 28 percent in 2004 to 1 percent in 2007. Factoring into this change was a 39 percent increase in the population accessing only FSP and/or WIC and also a rise in the population accessing EFPs and FSP and/or WIC, which has more than doubled from 12 percent in 2004 to 31 percent in 2007, demonstrating that outreach efforts since the last report have been effective throughout the city.

Conclusion — Next Steps for Ending Hunger and Food Poverty

Hunger Safety Net 2007 illustrates the necessity for a combination of policy and programmatic approaches to guarantee that all New Yorkers have local access to affordable, nutritious food.

Strategies to ensure residents in need receive near-term assistance include increasing food supplies and funding for the city's EFPs.

The broader goal should be to recognize the vital connector role that EFPs play in communities throughout the city and developing and expanding initiatives that link EFP participants to government programs for which they are eligible. For example:

  • Supporting EFPs in their efforts to connect participants to relevant services, for instance by expanding the Food Stamp Paperless Office System (POS);
  • Facilitating enrollment in FSP and other nutrition assistance programs through projects such as the New York State Working Families Food Stamp Initiative; and
  • Developing measures to conduct outreach campaigns about relevant health, financial empowerment and career development programs at EFPs.

In the long term, solving hunger requires expanding the discussion and addressing the myriad of hardships faced by low-income New Yorkers. Viewing hunger in this way allows for a broader coalition of stakeholders from sectors including food and nutrition, health, education, childcare, housing, government agencies and academic institutions to join the anti-hunger community in developing comprehensive solutions. Bringing more voices to the table refocuses the problem of hunger to address the broader problem of food poverty.


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[1] American Community Survey 2006. United States Census Bureau.

[2] The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food at home in the New York metro area increased from 181.7 in 2003 to 200.5 in 2006. The CPI for all goods in the New York metro area increased 11.6 percent from 197.8 in 2003 to 220.7 in 2006.

[3] Anti-Hunger Policy Platform for New York State and City 2007–2012. (2006) New York State and City Anti-Hunger Organizations. The platform provides detailed recommendations on city, state and federal programs and policies.

[4] Part of the New York State Working Families Food Stamp Initiative will be implemented first in New York City and several upstate counties before being implemented statewide.

[5] NYC Hunger Experience 2006. Food Bank For New York City / Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, 2007.

[6] The Unheard Third 2006: Bringing the Voices of Low-Income New Yorkers to the Policy Debate. Community Service Society, 2007.

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