Foodlink Career Fellowship praised in governor’s ‘Justice Agenda’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his 2019 State of the State address this week, outlining his vision for New York State, and some of the policies his administration will hope to pass — with the help of a Democratic legislature.

With each State of the State comes a summarized agenda, published in a book released on the same day as the governor’s address. Within that book, called the “Justice Agenda” this year, are several sections about key issues, such as taxes, infrastructure, economic development, etc. In the section on supporting rural and agricultural economies, the governor’s office wrote:

“State support of the Finger Lakes region’s food ecosystem also includes enhancing career-development options. Foodlink, the region’s largest food bank and community food resource center, will establish a culinary arts apprenticeship program. This innovative new program — the first apprenticeship program of its kind in the state — will provide a career pathway for disadvantaged populations and expand the region’s skilled, food-production workforce.”

JUSTICE AGENDA: Download and/or read the booklet

Cuomo is referring to our new Foodlink Career Fellowship, which launched this past July. Its inaugural class of participants is now more than halfway done, and just a few months away from starting their externship at Wegmans. Last week, we heard that the Department of Labor officially approved the fellowship as the state’s first culinary training apprenticeship.

We hope to share more about this important achievement in the weeks ahead!

SNAP recipients urged to budget wisely during federal shutdown

***

The federal government shutdown — now the longest in our nation’s history — continues to impact millions of Americans’ ability to put food on the table.

When the USDA announced last week that funding was guaranteed for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) through February, it added that benefits for that month would be allocated on or before Jan. 20. For many, this is a full two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

POLITICO: Billions in food stamp payments to come early due to shutdown

“New Yorkers receiving their February SNAP benefits early need to carefully plan their food budgets as this will need to last through the entire month,” said Commissioner Samuel D. Roberts of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) — the agency responsible for overseeing SNAP in New York. “We will continue to work closely with our local partners to ensure that all SNAP recipients get their February benefits.”

MORE: Spanish version of information released by OTDA

Roberts wanted to ensure that SNAP recipients know that this is not an “extra” or “bonus” benefit and households will not receive a second benefit for the month of February.

“For many people, SNAP benefits rarely last a full month,” said Mitch Gruber, Chief Program Officer for Foodlink. “That’s why there is a concern around the nation about filling SNAP benefits for February earlier than usual. Many people will likely be without any food assistance at the end of February, which could be a real issue for our network of emergency food providers.”

While proper budgeting is the main point of emphasis for now, there’s a greater concern looming for March. In a Q&A provided by OTDA, the office had limited information for how SNAP will be impacted if the shutdown continues.

“OTDA has not yet received any information from the federal government about March SNAP benefits. We will continue to work closely with the federal government during the shutdown and will provide updates on our website at www.otda.ny.gov and through social media as it becomes available.”

Foodlink is communicating the latest news with our network of 400+ member agencies that serve thousands of SNAP recipients in the Rochester area, as well as our Curbside Market customers who depend on SNAP to purchase healthy foods every week. We will continue to update this blog as we learn more.

Hunger Group Opens National “Fed Food” Hotline and Web Portal during shutdown

A news release from Hunger Free America:

With increasing numbers of employees of the federal government and federal contractors nationwide forced to seek charitable food after missing a paycheck, Hunger Free America, a national nonprofit group, announced a new “Fed Food” toll-free 800 line and web portal to help anyone affected to locate free food and/or to volunteer their time to fight hunger.

Any employee of the federal government or a federal contractor — or any family member of such an employee — who is struggling financially as a result of the government shutdown, can call the toll free number 855-859-4647 or go to www.HungerFreeAmerica.org/FedFood to find food resources (such as government food programs and private food pantries) near them and/or to be connected with anti-hunger volunteer activities so they can productively utilize their time off work.

The toll-free line will have live operators answering calls Mondays – Fridays, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, and will take messages at other times. The hotline and web portal will be active as long as the shutdown lasts.

Explaining this new effort, Hunger Free America CEO Joel Berg, said: “We want to make sure that anyone harmed by the shutdown can get and/or give help. Last Friday, hundreds of thousands of federal employees affected by the shutdown missed their first paycheck. The lowest paid federal employees — at the GS 3 pay level — have starting salaries of only $23,043. Numerous low-paid employees of federal contractors have also missed paychecks. Given that one in five Americans overall have either zero savings or have debt larger than their savings, it’s clear that low-income federal employees could quickly run out of food after being denied even one paycheck. Many dedicated public servants will need extra help with food. This shutdown vividly demonstrates just how many Americans are only one missed paycheck away from hunger.”

In Ogden, Utah — home to thousands of IRS and U.S. Forest Service workers — Catholic Community Services of Northern Utah waived the income requirements to access its food pantry so that federal workers could utilize it twice a month during the shutdown. In Huntington, West Virginia, employees of the Ashland Federal Corrections Institution have been forced to get food from a local food bank. Coast Guard employees in Key West, Florida have accessed charitable food for the first time.

Continued Berg, “Since most of the federal nutrition assistance programs are now funded through February, we can help federal employees who may now qualify for them to access them while they last. Ironically, some of the employees that administer federal food assistance may be now be eligible to obtain help from such programs. We can also help all federal employees and contract employees locate private charities that provide food help, although food pantries nationwide were overwhelmed before the shutdown, and they only have a limited supply of food, so there is no absolute guarantee that when people contact us for food help and we refer them to a local food program, they will get all the help they need. But if we can help even a little bit, we need to try.”

Berg himself was a federal employee for eight years, working as an appointee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1993 to 2001.

“I know from personal experience that most federal employees are very hard working and highly dedicated to public service,” Berg said. “That’s why we also want to make it easier for them to use their furloughed time to serve the public by performing anti-hunger volunteer service.”

SNAP benefits threatened if federal government shutdown continues

UPDATE: The USDA announced Tuesday night that they will ensure that all SNAP recipients receive full benefits through the month of February. In doing so, they will not have to dip into $3 billion in reserve funds, which would have been necessary to partially fund the program, absent this new proposal. As of now, if the shutdown continues into March, no federal funding has been allocated for SNAP.

***

With no end in sight for the federal government shutdown, millions of Americans are starting to wonder: What happens to SNAP?

The Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) provides funding for 40 million low-income Americans, allowing them to purchase foods each month with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. More than 120,000 people in Monroe County alone benefit from SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

The most recent resolution funded the U.S. Department of Agriculture ensured that January SNAP benefits would be provided without interruption. Problems, however, could arise if the shutdown extends into February. Of course, the state and local agencies tasked with disbursing SNAP benefits also face an administrative nightmare due to the uncertainty surrounding this shutdown.

There is a $3 billion reserve fund that can be used to support the program in February, however monthly benefits nationwide run at approximately $5 billion — meaning there would be a likely shortfall and decrease in benefits unless localities are able fund the gap.

Foodlink Chief Program Officer Mitch Gruber has expressed Foodlink’s dissatisfaction with the shutdown and SNAP uncertainty in various interviews with 13 WHAM, WXXI and WDKX this week. If Rochester-area residents begin to lose a portion or all of their benefits, they become more heavily reliant on the emergency food system — the shelters, pantries and soup kitchens that Foodlink supports. Any disruption to SNAP would lead to an increased need at these emergency food providers — a need that food banks around the country may not be able to accommodate. (SNAP provides more than 10 times the number of meals than the entire Feeding America network of 200 food banks provides on an annual basis.)

Foodlink’s Curbside Market also accepts SNAP as a form of payment, and many customers use their EBT cards to shop at our market each week. Any cuts to SNAP would clearly impact our customers, and their ability to purchase healthy food for themselves and their families.

SNAP began in the 1960s with the lofty goal to utilize “the Nation’s abundance of food … to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population and raise levels of nutrition among low-income households.” SNAP has a strong, evidence-based track record in effectively meeting this goal. In fact, SNAP helped more than 8.4 million people lift themselves out of poverty in 2015 (the most recent year available).

Foodlink is urging our elected officials to end the shutdown, so families across the country can have greater certainty about putting food on the table.