March 15, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203

(Albany, NY) Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy sponsored a resolution proclaiming March 15, 2001 as Hunger Awareness Day in New York State. According to Ortiz, "Although hungry families are well aware of the problem of hunger every day, we need to remind our colleagues and the general public that there are still needy people out there and the numbers are increasing." The Assembly resolution describes the extent of hunger in New York State – 2,000 food pantries and soup kitchens and 750,000 children receiving emergency food each month – and calls upon citizens to volunteer at a food program to better understand this problem. Assemblyman Ortiz is sponsoring a food drive at the Legislative Office Building in Albany and also sponsors legislation encouraging schools to donate excess food to emergency food programs.

A recent survey by the NYC Coalition Against Hunger found that the demand for food is so strong that over 47,000 hungry people were turned away each month because soup kitchens and food pantries did not have the resources to help them. At the same time less than 50% of New Yorkers eligible for Food Stamps are receiving them; less than 30% of seniors who need home-delivered meals are being served; and many children who could receive school breakfasts and summer meals are not taking advantage of these opportunities.

Assemblyman Ortiz has responded to this situation by requesting an increase of over $50 million in the State budget for food assistance. Ortiz’s budget proposal would restore $4 million for emergency food program support that the Assembly added to last year’s budget and add millions in additional funds for programs serving at-risk infants, children, pregnant women, seniors and struggling working families that have escaped welfare. The Task Force was successful in adding $30 million for food assistance over the last two years.

"We can be proud of our efforts to increase funding for the fight against hunger. Our support has helped programs provide extra food at the end of the month for working families struggling to leave welfare and succeed in the workplace. Food assistance is justified not only by our compassion for those in need, but also by fiscal responsibility in preventing expensive hospital stays for low-birthweight babies, nursing home placements for seniors, developmental and educational programs for students, and all the subsequent social ills caused by hunger and malnutrition," said Ortiz.

In addition to funding food assistance, Ortiz also is introducing legislation to remove barriers to participation in the school breakfast program(A.7002). Research studies have demonstrated that federal school breakfast programs lead to improved academic performance and attention-span among low-income children and also help reduce tardiness and absenteeism. According to Ortiz, "My bill will provide a financial incentive to school administrators to remove barriers to breakfast participation and provide an additional tool to ensure that the millions of dollars the State spends on improved educational outcomes are used effectively."

Another bill will address low Food Stamp program participation (A.7004). The federal Welfare Reform Law maintained the Food Stamp program as a safety net for families leaving welfare for work. In NYS there has been a 20% decline in working family participation. Much of this decline is attributed to a misperception that Food Stamps are welfare and that working families are no longer eligible. "It is important to our local communities to make sure that this important federal program is effectively used to help stabilize households, protect children’s health and educational development, reduce the burden on our churches and other voluntary agencies and prevent working people from sliding back to the welfare rolls. This bill will make changes to increase access to the program for deserving New Yorkers."

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