Food banks unite in Albany for day of advocacy

The Capitol in Albany.

We weren’t quite as loud as the librarians (go figure), who seemed to arrive by the busload, but food banks around New York sent a loud and powerful message during their advocacy day Wednesday in Albany. 

The Food Bank Association of New York State (FBANYS), along with partner agencies and the New York Farm Bureau, spent March 1 in Albany advocating for three main items to be (hopefully) including in the next state budget. 

(1) Supporting the Farm to Food Bank bill, which provides tax credits (up to $5,000) for farmers who donate to food banks or other emergency food providers.

(2) An increase in Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) funding through the Department of Health. 

(3) Supporting the governor’s proposed Food Desert Elimination Grant Program.

Assemblyman Phil Palmesano joins Sen. Rich Funke for a discussion about the Farm to Food Bank bill on March 1 in Albany.

The day began with a Facebook Live discussion with Sen. Rich Funke, though several other legislators dropped by to speak briefly and offer their support. Funke, who represents the 55th Senate District (parts of Monroe and Ontario counties), has co-sponsored the bill with Assemblyman Francisco Moya (Assembly District 30 in Queens).

“This legislation that we’ve put together has been wildly popular throughout the state,” said Funke, whose father was a vegetable farmer in Genesee County. “There are very few people outside of the governor who have been opposed to this. We’re hopeful this time around that it will pass, the governor will not veto it, he’ll approve it, and get it moving. We think it’s a win-win for farmers and certainly those impoverished people in our district.” 

The FBANYS was supportive of the bill last year, and remains supportive as another attempt to pass it makes its way through the legislature and budget process. 

“In my mind, this is a very smart bill, because that healthy food will help feed the healthy communities that the governor is looking to support in New York State’s budget this year,” said Anita Paley, FBANYS Executive Director.

About 6 billion pounds of produce goes unharvested each year in the United States.

Assemblyman Francisco Moya speaks with Randi Dresner of Island Harvest about the Farmt o Food Bank bill.

Food bankers also spoke with representatives about the benefits of HPNAP funding and how our partner agencies rely on this funding to purchase food or pay for rent, utilities or key pieces of equipment (freezers, coolers, etc.) The FBANYS would like to see funding increase to $51 million to help close the state’s meal gap, which currently sits at 472 million meals.

Finally, more than 656,000 New Yorkers meet the criteria of living in a food desert — a term used to describe a low-income area with limited access to a grocery store. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included $1 million in his budget to help establish the Food Desert Elimination grant program, which would help non-profits (like ours) and others to create retail outlets in underserved communities. 

Collectively, our group spoke with more than a dozen legislators. Foodlink met with the offices of: Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (132nd), Assemblyman Joseph Giglio (148th), Sen. Tom O’Mara (58th), Sen. Pamela Helming (54th) and Assemblyman Bob Oaks (130th).

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