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Vulnerable New York Should Have Access To Food, Nutritional Supports

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Governor David A. Paterson today announced that New York State is taking further steps toward assisting the State’s most vulnerable residents by authorizing a one-time, $1 million emergency increase in funding for regional food banks across New York. While visiting the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham, Governor Paterson also announced that New York has received an additional $364 million in federal funding for the State’s Food Stamp Program over the last 15 months.

As more New Yorkers are finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet, it is critical to ensure that the most vulnerable residents have sufficient access to food and nutritional supports. The State is seeing an increase in food stamp applications from populations that have not traditionally had high enrollment rates, including the elderly, individuals with disabilities, families with children, head of household college students and the unemployed. Governor Paterson highlighted that, due to changes implemented in the State’s Food Stamp Program over the past year, eligible low-income working families are offered greater access to food stamp benefits. Subsequently, enrollment in the State’s Food Stamp Program reached a statewide all-time high in November with 1.13 million households – consisting of 2.1 million individuals – receiving benefits. This represents an increase of 300,000 individuals from last year.

“As a result of the national recession, hunger prevention agencies in New York State are experiencing an unprecedented increase in requests for nutrition assistance, particularly from individuals and families that have never before needed such assistance,” said Governor Paterson. “This increased funding for food banks and additional federal funding for food stamps announced today are essential to ensure that the nutritional and dietary needs of New York’s most vulnerable residents are met. By contributing to the overall health and well-being of society during this recession, we can also help generate increased activity in our State and national economy, placing New York on a path towards economic recovery.”

The emergency $1 million for food banks for the current fiscal year is in addition to an authorization of $1 million for food banks announced in October of last year. Combined with today’s announcement, one-time emergency funding for New York’s food banks for this fiscal year is $2 million. The emergency funding for the current fiscal year is in addition to the $30.9 million in funding for food banks, soup kitchens, food pantries, and emergency shelters proposed as part of Governor Paterson’s 2009-2010 Executive Budget – an increase of $4.4 million over last year’s expenditures.

In addition to new emergency funding for regional food banks, New York has seen a dramatic increase in federal food stamp funds accessed by the State. Due to changes made to New York’s Food Stamp Program, the impact of the State’s Working Families Food Stamp Initiative, and the effect of the recession on household income – New Yorkers received a total of approximately $364 million in additional food stamp benefits over the last 15 months. In the fall, Governor Paterson announced that the State implemented changes to the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which resulted in an increase of more than $150 million in federal food stamp benefits for the year. Changes in the recently reauthorized federal Farm Bill provided an additional $20 million for food stamps.

New York State Department of Health (DOH) Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D. said: “Hunger and the resulting lack of nutrition are major public health threats to the most vulnerable among us. Thanks to Governor Paterson, New York is moving quickly to avert a hunger crisis and ensure that needy families have access to nutritious food through our network of food banks and emergency food relief organizations.”

New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) Commissioner David A. Hansell said: “We have taken dramatic steps to streamline access to the Food Stamp Program this year, and the increased enrollment shows that those who need these benefits are getting them. Working families are struggling enough these days, and should not have to struggle to get the benefits to which they are entitled.”

John Evers, Executive Director of the Food Bank Association of New York State, said: “Demand for food at emergency feeding programs in 2008 reached some of the highest levels in decades, a trend that food banks know will continue in 2009. Thankfully Governor Paterson continues to champion the hunger prevention and public nutrition role of the food banks. By providing an additional $1 million in food bank aid today, and proposing an increase in hunger prevention aid of $4.4 million in next year’s State budget, Governor Paterson is insuring that, even in extremely difficult financial times, no one in our State should be hungry and no one should be without nutritious food. We can’t thank Governor Paterson enough for his on-going support in our battle against hunger.”

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Mark Quandt, Executive Director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York, said: “We are very grateful to Governor Paterson for the $1 million emergency increase in funding for the State’s food banks and the food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters we serve. It will help us tremendously in our efforts to feed the rapidly increasing number of people in need in our State during this difficult economic period.”

DOH administers contracts with eight Regional Food Banks and the United Way of New York City to distribute food to community-based organizations that make this food available to those in need. Agencies that receive funding for emergency food distribution in New York State include: the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham, the Food Bank of Central New York in East Syracuse, FoodLink Inc. in Rochester, the Food Bank of Western New York in Buffalo, the Food Bank of the Southern Tier in Elmira, the Food Bank for Westchester in Millwood, Long Island Cares Inc. in Hauppauge, the Food Bank for New York City, and United Way of New York City.

OTDA has implemented several initiatives this year that make it easier for low-income families to receive nutritional assistance, including:

* The Food Stamp Standard Utility Allowance (SUA) was raised to reflect more up-to-date energy costs, resulting in at least $56 million annually in increased benefits to New York State. Affected households will see an average benefit increase of approximately $43 monthly or $513 annually. This increase will result in greater food stamp benefit availability for households with high energy burdens.

* The Gross Income Test for food stamp eligibility was changed from 130 percent to 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level for households with out-of-pocket child and dependent care costs. This will qualify approximately 11,000 new households for food stamp benefits, particularly those with significant child care costs.

* Allowing nonprofit organizations and local governments to access federal funding beginning in early 2009 to supplement their efforts to inform people in their communities about food stamps and help them enroll in the program.

* Implementation of the Working Families Food Stamp Initiative occurred. For households with at least one adult working 30 hours or more per week, or two adults each working at least 20 hours per week, OTDA has waived finger-imaging requirements outside New York City, and waived the face-to-face application interview requirement for qualifying households.

* The resource test for nearly all food stamp applicants and recipients statewide has been eliminated, expanding eligibility and encouraging savings for family emergencies, education and other long-term needs.

* Telephone interviews replaced in-person interviews at renewal for most food stamp households, reducing demands on county Department of Social Service offices, easing the process for participants and increasing benefit continuation.

* Through the State’s new website – www.myBenefits.ny.gov – residents of 12 counties can apply for food stamps at a location other than a county Department of Social Services office. In some cases, community-based organizations involved in this pilot program are bringing the application process to the community – to places that employ workers that could be eligible or to locations that would likely be frequented by those eligible. This website also allows anyone in the State to pre-screen themselves for food stamps, school lunch programs and a variety of other benefits from any computer with Internet access.