Food Policy Bills in New York State Legislature: An Update from Assemblyman Steven Raga

by NYC Food Policy Editor

Guest article by District 30 Assemblyman Steven Raga, 40 Under 40 2023 Cohort

Every year, the New York State Legislature convenes from January to June to pass bills on a wide range of topics, including workers’ rights, affordable housing, and climate change initiatives. As the Assembly member for District 30, which includes parts of Maspeth, Elmhurst, Woodside, Jackson Heights, Middle Village, and Astoria, Queens, one of the issues that has been front of mind this legislative session has been food policy initiatives. 

Food security is a pressing issue in Queens, as 25 percent of families do not have reliable access to nutritious food. According to the New York State Department of Health, almost 31 percent of Queens residents reported they have been stressed or worried about having enough money to buy nutritious food this past year. But this hunger crisis does not affect only Queens. One in four adult New Yorkers experiences food insecurity.

Rising living costs, unemployment, and strenuous financial obligations force New Yorkers to make difficult decisions about whether they will pay the rent or put food on the table. Not having access to food comes with detrimental consequences: lowered concentration, becoming more prone to health conditions, and affecting one’s mental health. 

With the 2024 legislative session coming to a close, I’m excited to spotlight a few food policy bills that I believe can help alleviate food insecurity. All these bills tackle the hunger crisis from different angles: offering free halal school meals, increasing the SNAP minimum benefit allocation, prohibiting harmful additives in food, and establishing state agency food guidelines.

Halal School Lunches (A8909)

Currently, all students in the city’s public schools have access to free meals, but there are no halal meal options for our more than 100,000 Muslim students. As school meals are sometimes students’ only reliable source of food, my bill will ensure that our Muslim students also have guaranteed access to food in New York City public schools.

SNAP Minimum Benefit Program (A6214A/S7663A)

Another bill making its way through the state legislature is A6214A/S7663A, which is sponsored by Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas and Senator Rachel May. This bill would provide those who receive SNAP an additional state SNAP benefit payment each month to help fight rising food costs and decrease food insecurity. During the COVID pandemic, this additional benefit kept 4.2 million people out of poverty during the last few months of 2021, but was ended in March 2023.

Prohibiting Harmful Food & Drink Additives (A6424A/S6055B) 

Assemblymember Anna Kelles and Senator Brian Kavanagh have introduced a bill (A6424A/S6055B) that would prohibit the use of five additives in food products that are known to cause cancer and other health defects. These additives are commonly used to expand shelf life, but it has been proven that this comes at the expense of detrimental health costs to the consumer. This bill will ensure that profits aren’t being prioritized over consumers’ lives.

State Agency Food Guidelines (A6720/S4364)

Assemblymember Michaelle Solages and Senator Nathalia Fernandez introduced A6720/S4364, which would create standards for state agencies to follow when purchasing or selling food in state agencies or on state property. This would expand and promote clean, healthy eating among the populations they are serving. 

I encourage you all to call your representatives to make sure these bills are a priority for the legislature. Enacting these bills into law is a crucial step in making sure that access to nutritious food is no longer a privilege but rather a right for all New Yorkers. 

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