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NYC Hunger Safety Net 2007 Summary


NYC Hunger Safety Net 2007: A Food Poverty Focus (HSN 07) revealed that throughout New York City, 1.3 million residents were accessing emergency food programs (EFPs) in 2007 — an increase of 24 percent since the release of HSN 04. This increase revealed a complex story about greater access of services by households in need and a growth in need among households at higher income and education levels. On the one hand, increased access speaks to the success of outreach and the strength of ongoing community work to provide households in need with some form of help. On the other hand, the picture of increased hardship for a broader population of city residents begs for a broad focus on a continuum of programmatic and policy approaches in order to achieve the goal of ending hunger.

Increased Need — Insufficient Resources
That the increased demand (from 2004 to 2007) at soup kitchens and food pantries came at a time when basic resources for those programs were decreasing at an alarming rate is problematic and potentially catastrophic. Findings show that EFPs spent almost two-thirds (64 percent) of their budgets on food in 2007 (up from 59 percent in 2004), at the expense of allocations for paid staff, rent, utilities, equipment and supplies. These resource shortfalls likely drove changes in hours of food distribution and staffing levels seen throughout the city's EFP network. In 2007, soup kitchens and food pantries were open an average of one day less per week than in 2004. At the same time, the percentage of EFPs open less than once per week sharply increased from 1 percent to 12 percent while the number distributing food two or more days per week dropped considerably. Given these decreases, fewer programs distributed food on any given day of the week, with the largest drops seen on weekend days. With EFPs open less frequently yet serving more people, approximately one-half (49 percent) ran out of food almost one out of every six times they were open, causing residents looking for assistance to be turned away.

In addition, even as momentum built within the EFP network to connect participants to government nutrition programs, benefits were often too low to decrease reliance on emergency food. Among EFP households that received food stamps, approximately one-quarter (24 percent) ran out of their monthly allocation after one week, 60 percent ran out after two weeks and 84 percent ran out at the three-week mark, forcing residents to turn to soup kitchens and food pantries. Consequently, a growing number of city residents relied on a combination of EFPs and the Food Stamp Program (FSP) and/or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), which may partially explain the increase in EFP participants between 2004 and 2007.

EFPs as a Bridge to Government Nutrition Programs & Other Services
Recognizing the importance of connecting their participants with government and nutrition assistance programs, many EFPs throughout the five boroughs conducted outreach for programs such as FSP, 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). Findings strongly indicate that efforts by EFP staff and volunteers to link participants with programs including FSP worked, as FSP enrollment among EFP households increased from 31 percent in 2004 to 46 percent in 2007, and income-eligible households who were visiting EFPs for longer than one year were 23 percent more likely to be receiving benefits.

Still, huge potential remains for strengthening this natural bridge between EFPs and government nutrition programs by increasing the number of EFPs that offer information about government programs. The number of EFP agencies conducting outreach varies according to type of government program. While more than one-half of agencies provided information on FSP, 40 percent provided information on SFSP and only approximately one-third provided information on programs including WIC, TANF, EITC and School Lunch and Breakfast. Increasing staff training and resources is a further need as only one-quarter (25 percent) of EFPs had staff or volunteers who have been trained on FSP within the past 12 months and only 22 percent had FSP applications on site.

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 prevale 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 were covered by Medicaid and Medicare insurance programs, one-fifth had no health coverage in 2007. Addressing the connection between poverty and heath conditions, nutrition continues to be an important consideration at EFPs. A growing percentage of soup kitchens and food pantries distributed fresh produce (87 percent) and one-half offered one or more special food services such as nutrition counseling.

Hunger as a Nucleus of Food Poverty Issues
Recognizing and investing in the pivotal role that EFPs play in connecting eligible low-income New Yorkers to relevant government and community 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. In addition to questions of enrollment of EFP participants in government nutrition assistance programs and health issues as outlined in the previous section, income, education, employment and housing are other key factors.

The majority of households relying on emergency food struggled 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 had less than a grade-12 education level. Still, the increase of individuals and families accessing emergency food included a higher percentage of participants who were working and had higher levels of education. More than one-fifth (21 percent) of EFP participants were working in 2007 (up from 19 percent in 2004), and the percentage who were employed full-time increased 73 percent from one-third (33 percent) in 2004 to 57 percent in 2007. Almost one out of every four (24 percent) participants had been to college (including some college, associate's, bachelor's and graduate degrees), up from 15 percent in 2004.

Housing findings, similar to 2004, show that the majority of EFP households (79 percent) were living in rented accommodation while 11 percent of households were homeless and 7 percent owned their own homes. Showing that lack of affordable housing is a significant contributing factor to hunger, EFP households who were renting paid an average of 59 percent of their average monthly income on rent.

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 and demonstrates that households up to and beyond 200 percent of poverty had difficulty making ends meet in 2007. For example, of the almost 1.3 million EFP participants, approximately 180,000 had incomes above 125 percent of the poverty level (up to and above 200 percent of poverty).

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) included 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, conducted at 125 percent of poverty for comparison purposes with the 2004 study, shows a decrease in the percentage of 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, demonstrating that outreach efforts since 2004 were effective throughout the city.

Next Steps for Ending Hunger and Food Poverty
HSN 07 illustrates the necessity for a combination of policy and programmatic approaches to guarantee that all New Yorkers have permanent local access to affordable, nutritious food. Strategies to ensure residents in need receive near-term assistance include increasing funding for the city's EFPs; supporting EFPs in their efforts to connect participants to relevant services. In the long term, solving hunger requires addressing the myriad of hardships faced by low-income New Yorkers by bringing more stakeholders to the table and refocusing the problem of hunger to address the broader problem of food poverty.

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