NYC Food Policy Center June 2021 Food Flash

by Melissa Gallanter, RD
A roundup of food policy topics

What’s Hot: Hunger and Food Insecurity Continue As the Economy Recovers

Published on June 1, a New York State (NYS) Health Foundation report reviews ongoing food insecurity in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic, even as the state begins to open up and the economy begins to recover. Hunger and food insecurity have long been pervasive throughout NYC, impacting more than one million New Yorkers even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March 2021, more than one in five adults with children in their household reported that the children were often or sometimes not eating enough — the highest rate since June 2020, when data collection began. 

Overall, the key findings of the NYS Health Foundation report did show some improvements over the past few months. In March 2021, 12 percent of adult New Yorkers reported that there was sometimes or often not enough to eat, which was a decrease from the end of 2020, when 14 percent reported food scarcity. The report notes that the decrease is likely a result of the stimulus payments, renewal of federal contributions supplementing State unemployment benefits, and a 15 percent increase in food stamp benefits

Findings of the report highlight the disparities in food scarcity by race and ethnicity. In March 2021, more than one in four Hispanic adults, one in five black adults and one in twelve Asian New Yorkers stated that they had experienced food scarcity in the prior week. In that same month, one in twenty white New Yorkers experienced food scarcity. 

A testimony on the status of hunger in NYC and the impact of COVID by the Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, written this month, provides recommendations including simplification of enrollment processes for public assistance programs, increase and expansion of emergency food funding, and improvement of communication about food resources and free meals. 

Food Policy Watchdog: USDA to Invest More Than $4 Billiton to Strengthen the Food Supply Chain

In early June, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans to invest more than $4 billion to strengthen the nation’s food supply chains through the Build Back Better initiative. Build Back Better will focus on the climate crisis, communities that have been left behind, and supporting supply chain jobs. 

The June announcement supports the Biden Administration’s effort to strengthen the nation’s supply chains under Executive Order 14017 America’s Supply Chains. Funding is provided by the American Rescue Plan Act and pandemic assistance from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021

Build Back Better will include grants, loans and innovative financing assistance in the following areas: 

  1. Food production: The USDA will invest in the current and future generations of food producers and workers, including farmers, ranchers, and field workers, with direct assistance, grants, training, and more.
  2. Food processing: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s supply chains experienced bottlenecks that led to small and midsize farmers struggling to compete for processing access. The USDA will invest in supporting expansion of regional processing capacity.
  3. Food distribution and aggregation: This system was stressed during the pandemic because of long shipping distances and limited local and regional capacities. The USDA will focus on Investments in a resilient, flexible, and responsive food system infrastructure.
  4. Markets and consumers: The USDA is committed to supporting socially disadvantaged and small to mid-sized producers that don’t currently have equitable access to markets. 

Quote of the Month: 

“Hunger in America isn’t a new problem. But it is a solvable one. In 1969 the first and only White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health led to landmark legislation and less hunger. It’s time for new voices, new ideas, and a new White House conference to end hunger now.

Representative Jim McGovern, on Twitter

Rep. Jim McGovern (Massachusetts-D), among other House and Senate Democrats, is working to put legislative pressure on the White House to host a Food Insecurity Summit. Ending hunger and food insecurity has been part of McGovern’s agenda since entering Congress in 1997, and as a Chairman of the House Rules committee, he told CNN that the Rules Committee plans to work as an “unofficial committee on nutrition and human needs.”

McGovern also mentioned that he knows several Cabinet officials who support the White House conference and he asked the Appropriations Committee to designate $2.5 million in next year’s budget to fund a conference.

There was a clear need in 1969, as there is now, for a conference to focus national attention and resources on hunger and food insecurity. Initiatives that stemmed from the 1969 conference include the 1974 Food Stamp Act, the 1975 School Breakfast Program and Summer Food Program, and authorization of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supplemental assistance.

The White House has not yet committed to the proposed conference, and NPR reports that it is unclear if Republicans are willing to endorse the big spending that would be required to hold the summit. However, there is a need for another conference in order to advocate and commit to new initiatives in food security. 

Fact Check: How Can Students (and all New Yorkers) Access Free Meals This Summer?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, summertime brought increases in food insecurity for children. According to the USDA, more than 30 million students nationwide participate in free or reduced-price lunch programs, and more than 14 million students receive a free or reduced-price breakfast under the School Breakfast Program during the school year. When school is out for summer, these students often face what is known as the “summer nutrition gap.

To alleviate that problem, now that New York City schools are closed until the fall, the Meal Hubs that have been open all year long for students–and all New Yorkers–will continue to provide free meals. During the school year, these Meal Hubs were stationed outside 200+ public schools and were open for students learning remotely in the morning and general New Yorkers in need in the afternoon. 

New York City is still committed to making free “grab and go” meals available for all New Yorkers. Breakfast and lunch are available Monday through Friday, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. No registration, documentation, or identification is required, and vegetarian meals are available at all locations while Kosher and Halal meals are available at selection locations. 

To Find a location nearby, people can text “NYC FOOD” or “NYC COMIDA” to 877-877, call 311, or visit the GetFoodNYC online map or check their closest Neighborhood Food Resource Guide

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