New York State Assembly, Albany, New York 12248

News from the
Assembly Task Force on
Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy


Farm workers planting cabbage.

Photo by John C. Kinton, Monroe County. Provided courtesy of "The Taste, Face & Place of NY Farms!"
Photo Contest and Photo Exhibit

Felix W. Ortiz, Chair square Sheldon Silver, Speaker square Summer 2002
market Federal
Farm and

The federal government is currently reauthorizing several major food and farm programs such as the Farm Bill, the Child Nutrition Program, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program (TANF), which provides public assistance or welfare. The Farm Bill was completed and passed this Spring. A TANF bill passed the House at the end of June, and the Senate is working toward a final document. It is expected that Child Nutrition will be finalized in 2003. As a member of the Council of State Governments and the National Council of State Legislatures, Assemblyman Ortiz has traveled to Washington to advocate on behalf of New York’s program participants, program directors, farmers and consumers.

The 2002 Farm Bill produced some victories for New York farmers. Although many of the agriculture provisions benefited large farms in other areas of the country, New York’s dairy farmers, apple farmers, and onion farmers will receive needed financial support. An initial analysis indicates that New York dairy farmers will receive a total of $76 million, apple farmers will receive over $16 million, and onion growers will get $10 million. In addition to traditional payments to commodity producers the Farm Bill included a doubling of funding for the Community Food Security Grant Program, guaranteed funding for the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, a provision to encourage schools to purchase from local farmers, and other non-traditional agriculture provisions.

The Farm Bill included Food Stamp reauthorization and contained important provisions for New York. The primary benefit will be to restore most legal immigrants to the program. New York is home to millions of immigrants who work hard and pay taxes yet could not receive this valuable nutrition assistance as they struggle to get ahead in our State. There is also emphasis on improving access to the Food Stamp program, with grant money available, which will complement Task Force legislation to create a simplified application form. Other provisions simplifying program administration and providing state options should help New York. Not only will needy families and seniors be helped but millions of additional federal dollars will be used to shop at New York’s food and farm businesses.

In addition to Farm Bill provisions the U.S. Department of Agriculture is releasing $2.1 million to New York to bolster food and agricultural homeland security protections including a rapid detection and diagnostics network, plant pest and disease detection, animal-disease response, and animal disease surveillance.

Assemblyman Ortiz visits school foodservice workers at a Brooklyn school to discuss working conditions.


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Dear Friends:

We had a busy and productive legislative session. In the beginning of the year our Farm-to-School bill was signed into law and the Department of Agriculture and Markets and the State Education Department are already meeting to begin implementation. In the near future, when we visit a cafeteria I hope we will see Macintosh or Empire apples, coleslaw from New York cabbage, and New York Bold onion rings along with the usual carton of locally-produced milk.

In addition to helping our farmers, eating more local, fresh foods can help our children’s nutrition. This is vital given today’s epidemic of childhood obesity. Last year, we held a roundtable meeting on this topic, this year we held a joint public hearing with the Assembly Health Committee and at the end of June our Childhood Obesity Prevention Legislation had passed the Assembly and was pending in the Senate.

Of course we cannot help children, and their families, eat healthier if they cannot afford nutritious foods. As families leave welfare for work they often leave the Food Stamp program even though it is available for low-income workers as a "work support." This hurts children as well as food stores and farmers who lose potential sales. My bill to simplify the Food Stamp application passed both the Assembly and Senate and should help those families get the benefits they need.

At the Task Force we always try to work to build successful coalitions by helping various groups recognize mutual interests. Our farmworker tax exemption bill, which has also passed both houses of the Legislature, would provide a property tax exemption for farmworker housing and other related buildings. It should benefit the workers who use improved facilities as well as the farm owners who are struggling to compete in the global marketplace.

Although we had a successful year there is always more to do. Issues such as bioterrorism and food allergies and dietary supplements still need our attention. If the childhood obesity bill becomes law we need to work for funding in next year’s budget. When laws are passed the implementation requires the involvement of all the stakeholders to make sure it is done right. Because many of our food and farm policies and programs have a federal component we must also make our voices heard in Washington.

I thank all of you who provided support for our legislation, educated us about your programs and activities, and presented compelling testimony at our hearings and meetings. Your advocacy and knowledge can have a real impact. Those of you who actually grow and harvest our food or serve it to our needy children, families and seniors or market it in your stores and restaurants or just choose to eat New York foods are the people who really make food policy come alive every day.

Felix W. Ortiz

Assemblyman Ortiz joins with the New York Apple Association and NYC firefighters at a Brooklyn supermarket to promote a fundraiser using Empire apples sales to benefit victims of September 11th.


For additional information, contact:

Assemblymember Felix W. Ortiz
Room 542 Legislative Office Building square Albany, New York 12248
(518) 455-3821

Assembly Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy
Agency Building 4, 5th Floor square Albany, New York 12248
(518) 455-5203

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The following bills are part of the Task Force’s efforts to develop programs and legislation which benefit New York consumers, producers, and marketers of food, and provide oversight of State and federal food, nutrition, and agricultural programs. Our Farm-to-School bill was signed into law as Chapter 2 of the Laws of 2002. We had several bills pass the Assembly, two of which also passed the Senate and will be sent to the Governor.

Passed Assembly and Senate
A.5166/S.6606 (Ortiz) Farmworker Building Tax Exemption — Provides a real property tax exemption for qualifying farm or food processing labor camps or commissaries; such structures must meet applicable standards set by the departments of Health and Labor and the State Building Code. Once an exemption is granted no renewal is necessary unless the structures are no longer in compliance with the standards.

This bill would address two important societal goals, improved facilities for farmworkers and their families and tax relief for farmers who build or improve those facilities. Some farmworker housing and other facilities provided by farmers for workers have been criticized for not meeting health, safety and building code standards. At the same time many farms in New York are faced with high costs and low prices for commodities making it difficult for farmers to stay in business let alone make improvements to real property.

A.10216a/S.7135b (Ortiz) Simplified Food Stamp Application — Directs the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) to develop a simplified application form for the Food Stamp program. OTDA will develop the form in cooperation with Food Stamp outreach organizations, with a goal of reaching as many potential applicants as possible. The form shall be piloted in one social services district by October 1, 2002, and expanded to all districts by June 30th, 2003.

Food Stamp benefits are a work support helping struggling households, and seniors, succeed on the lower incomes they receive in entry-level jobs. These families are often relying on volunteer-run food pantries for food in record numbers when they could be spending federal benefits at local food stores and farmers’ markets. It is estimated that close to $1 billion in federal Food Stamps would flow into New York’s economy if all eligible households participated.

When families, individuals and eligible seniors do apply for Food Stamps they are faced with a lengthy application that asks many unnecessary questions not required by law. This often discourages applicants who are busy trying to get ahead in the workplace and don’t have time to follow through.

Passed Assembly
A. 746/S.536 (Cook, Ortiz) Farm Travel Guides — Authorizes the Commissioner of Economic Development and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets to devise a program to promote and distribute statewide and regional guides to farms, farmers’ markets and agri-tourism sites.

A.747/S.7568 (Cook, Ortiz) Kitchen Incubators — Establishes a kitchen incubator/shared-use kitchen facility program within the Urban Development Corporation to provide grant funding for the development or expansion of such facilities for services such as food production, technical assistance, business management and marketing, distribution, storage and retailing assistance.

A.820/S.1255 (Cook, Ortiz) Weight Loss Services — Requires persons selling or offering to sell weight loss services or weight loss products to provide consumers with a weight loss and dieting information notice.

A.2760/S.4054 (Cook, Ortiz) Food Safety — Requires the creation of an advisory board within the Department of Agriculture and Markets on food safety and inspection programs to advise the commissioner on enforcement of laws and regulations and make recommendations for changes.

A.4089b/S.4854b (Ortiz) School Food Donations — Directs the Commissioner of Education, in cooperation with the Commissioner of Health, to facilitate a program to coordinate the donation of excess, unused food from schools to food assistance programs.

A.7002/S.4308 (Ortiz) School Breakfast Incentives — Authorizes the Commissioner of Education to establish the school breakfast incentive program to provide grants to eligible schools that increase participation in the school breakfast program by removing barriers to participation.

A.7939a/S5451a (Ortiz) Childhood Obesity Prevention Program — Establishes the childhood obesity prevention program within the Department of Health to prevent and reduce the incidence and prevalence of obesity in children and adolescents.

New Bills
A.9284b/S.5706b (Ortiz) Air Temperature Standards for School Kitchens — Authorizes the Commissioner of Labor to promulgate rules and regulations establishing air temperature, ventilation and filtration standards and cooling requirements for school cafeteria kitchens.

A.10174 (Ortiz) Genetically Engineered Plants — Requires persons who sell or distribute genetically engineered plants, planting stock or seeds to provide written instructions to purchasers or growers of such stock on preventing cross-contamination with nearby plants.

A.10229 (Ortiz) Dietary Supplements and School Employees — Provides that coaches and other school employees shall not provide or suggest the use of certain dietary supplements to students.

A.10230 (Ortiz) Dietary Supplements Information — Requires marketers of dietary supplements which make certain claims to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claims.

photo Assemblyman Ortiz meets with advocates pushing for an increase in minimum wage and improvements to the Food Stamp program.
A.10270 (Ortiz) Dietary Supplements Steroids — Includes within the definition of anabolic steroids certain substances which are defined as dietary supplements.

A.10431 (Ortiz) Farm Purchases by Schools — Removes certain restrictions regarding the purchase of food items from farms by school districts.


Hunger/Homelessness The Task Force co-sponsored two hearings this winter, in NYC and Albany, on The State and Local Government’s Response to Rising Levels of Homelessness and Demand for Emergency Food. The purpose of the hearings was to inform the Legislature about the effectiveness of government and private programs and policies that address homelessness and hunger across New York State and receive recommendations for changes. Nearly 60 witnesses testified, including government agencies, homelessness and hunger advocate groups, shelter providers, and shelter residents and others who are concerned about these disturbing trends.

The downturn in the economy, including the ripple effects of the September 11th tragedy, inadequate incomes and unaffordable housing, have contributed to a dramatic growth in homelessness and hunger not seen since the 1980s, and have challenged the ability of State and local government, and service providers to respond.

Witnesses testified about the 3 million New York State residents — 37% of whom are children and 25% of whom are over 50 — who are served by emergency food providers annually. Since September 11th NYC area food programs reported that 64% of new recipients are using these services for the first time ever. The programs in place to respond to these problems are being stretched beyond their limits, resulting in needy families being turned away by both shelter providers and food pantries.

Despite a severe shortfall in revenue, Assemblyman Ortiz was successful in adding $1.6 million to the 2002-03 budget for emergency food programs. Ortiz also repeatedly visited Washington and convinced Congress to restore Food Stamps to immigrants in the final Farm Bill. As a result of the suggestions made at the hearings, Ortiz introduced the Simplified Food Stamp Application bill which has passed the Assembly and Senate.

Nutrition-Related Health Problems The Task Force also held a hearing to enable the Assembly to assess New Yorkers’ nutrition status and related diseases, especially among children, and to consider the Childhood Obesity Prevention Program bill. Over 20 witnesses testified including physicians, researchers, educators, dietitians, representatives of the food industry, the NYC School Lunch Program, anti-hunger advocates, AIDS activists, and others with expertise in nutrition, exercise, obesity and related health problems.

According to statistics presented at the hearing, obesity is now considered responsible for almost as many deaths as AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, motor vehicle accidents, murders, suicides, and fires combined. Obesity among New York children is found at higher rates than the rest of the country.

Many witnesses discussed the societal influences affecting eating behavior and lack of physical activity. Kelly Brownell, Director of the Yale Center of Eating and Weight Disorders pointed out that the National Cancer Institute’s budget for promoting fruits and vegetables is $1 million while one McDonald’s promotional campaign was $500 million and the total national budget for nutrition education is only one-fifth the advertising budget for Altoid Mints. Food industry representatives countered that consumers freely make choices and businesses meet their demands.

The valuable information provided and the accomplished experts who participated will provide much needed support for building an obesity prevention program to address this crisis in children before it becomes too difficult to treat in adults.

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