Last week, Comptroller Scott Stringer put out his proposal to create a $25 million emergency food program that would serve undocumented New Yorkers who have been left out of state and federal programs.
The mayoral hopeful’s plan also includes expanding SNAP outreach and purchasing power, increasing the cultural competency of city food programming and creating a “shared delivery zone” program to allow neighbors to accept food deliveries from online retailers at a central location.
“There is no excuse for a single person to go hungry in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, yet more than 1.6 million New Yorkers go to bed hungry in our city every night,” Stringer said. “My emergency plan to combat food insecurity meets New Yorkers where they are regardless of immigration status, cultural background or language.”
According to the comptroller, 400,000 more New Yorkers reported being unable to afford food compared to last year. A report from his office found that nearly one in four New Yorkers of color lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Data from the city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), however, indicate that 42,000 fewer people are receiving SNAP benefits today than they were in 2015.
Stringer said the problem is not due to a food shortage, but rather a “management shortage.”
“Our current food programs are simply not reaching enough of the New Yorkers of color and immigrant New Yorkers hit hardest by the economic devastation of COVID-19,” he said.
Stringer’s plan to create a $25 million emergency food program would use FEMA funding. The Biden administration earlier this year lifted the cap on FEMA reimbursement for pandemic-related costs, which allows for cities and states, resulting in $1 billion in funding for the city.
To improve SNAP outreach, the comptroller recommended creating a coordinated citywide outreach program to educate New Yorkers about the benefits of the program, as well as promote the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
He also suggested providing more funding for community-based organizations to conduct outreach and enrollment.
To make the process of applying for benefits programs easier, Stringer wants to create a single online portal where New Yorkers can learn about benefits and eventually share application data when possible.
The mayoral candidate also proposed increasing where and how EBT cards can be used to give New Yorkers using SNAP more purchasing power. While the cards can be used at most supermarkets and major retailers, few online stores accept SNAP.
He noted that most bodegas, green carts and halal and kosher butchers also don’t have EBT terminals.
Stringer said he wants the federal government to expand the SNAP Online Purchasing Pilot to include local grocery stores, small retailers and farmers markets. Congress should also amend federal law to allow SNAP beneficiaries to buy hot food, he said.
Finally, the comptroller called on the city to conduct an assessment of the city’s food pantry network to identify places underserved by emergency food providers but have high rates of food insecurity.
To fill that need, he would open pop-up pantries in spaces like community centers that have refrigerator space and mobile markets that bring fresh food to communities.
He recommended allocating an extra $25 million to ensure existing pantries can keep up with demand for the rest of the year.
On the same day, mayoral candidate Kathryn Garcia also released her food insecurity plan to enroll 100 percent of eligible New Yorkers in SNAP and boost community-based ideas like Health Bucks.
She also called on Congress to permanently expand SNAP by 15 percent and its coverage to include prepared meals, delivery fees and membership fees for bulk shopping programs.
The former city sanitation commissioner served as the city’s food czar at the height of the pandemic, leading the delivery of one million meals per day.
“Fundamentally, food insecurity is about income inequality,” she said. “Choosing the food that you want to eat is the freedom everyone needs to have.
“Even if we produce enough food, we need better jobs with higher wages to ensure workers don’t go to bed hungry,” Garcia added. “We will double down on job growth and economic mobility to address the root of the problem.”
The candidate’s plan would not only fund fresh and culturally relevant food, but also fight food waste by incentivizing the donation of unsold food and levying fines for businesses that do not comply.
Her proposal also involves supporting urban agriculture infrastructure such as rooftop gardens and hydroponic systems in schoolyard green spaces.
Garcia would reestablish a “food team” to address food access and insecurity, coordinating programs within different agencies.
In a statement, the mayoral hopeful said the way the city currently deals with food is too fragmented. She called for a more holistic approach that “efficiently cuts through barriers.”
“We need to empower communities on the ground,” she added, “and make our efforts at the city level fully coordinated so that no one falls through the cracks.”