September 4, 2001
Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
(518) 455-5203
Assemblyman Warns of Increase in NYC Hunger

(New York, NY) Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), Chair of the Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy spoke to several hundred New York City emergency food program representatives at the 10th Annual Food For Survival Conference in Manhattan today and warned them about increased demand for their services due to welfare time limits and the Governor's unwillingness to negotiate a budget resolution with the Legislature.

According to Ortiz, "A recent report by the State Comptroller estimated that over 40,000 families will be reaching their 60-month federal welfare (TANF) time limits in December. The families are already receiving letters informing them about the deadline and they may think that there are no other programs available. They may be required to come in to the HRA office and apply for the State Safety Net program when their time limits expire. The letters and the re-application process may result in many families becoming confused, wrongly believing that their benefits are over and they can no longer receive help even though Safety Net and federal Food Stamps are available. The combination of confusion and delay could result in people having no resources and overwhelming the emergency food programs at their local church, synagogue or mosque."

The Assembly Majority has worked to provide assistance to families to help them transition from welfare to jobs, including job training, education, transportation and food assistance. "Over the previous two years, we in the Assembly Majority added a total of $30 million to the Governor's budget for hunger prevention, which benefited emergency programs with extra food, new equipment and new innovative projects. We approved another $16 million in our Assembly budget proposal this year but, unfortunately, the Governor would not work with us to ensure that the additional funds would not be vetoed," added Ortiz.

The problem of hunger in New York City is already significant and the combination of welfare time limits and lack of funds could make it even worse. 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.

Ortiz introduced legislation to address low Food Stamp program participation. 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."

Other Assembly Majority bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Ortiz would: provide assistance to schools increasing participation in school breakfast programs; establish a program to coordinate donation of excess, unused food from school meal programs to food pantries and soup kitchens; require automatic enrollment of TANF families in the Safety Net Program; and extend the State Food Assistance Program for elderly immigrants for two years and provide benefits to immigrant domestic violence victims.

"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. This should continue even during time limits, but we need the cooperation and support of the Mayor, Governor and President. 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.

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