Foodlink’s advocacy committee last week submitted the following written testimony to the New York State Legislature at the 2023 Joint Legislative Budget Hearing for the Department of Health:
SIGN THE PETITION: Tell Gov. Hochul to fully fund anti-hunger programs
Foodlink welcomes the opportunity to deliver written testimony in support of the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program – a critical anti-hunger program included annually within New York State’s Department of Health budget.
Foodlink, a regional food bank located in Rochester, serves as the hub of the emergency food system across the Finger Lakes region of New York. We are proud of the many upstream solutions to addressing the root causes of food insecurity that we have launched in the past decade. Still, the core of our operations remains food banking – the safe collection, storage and distribution of emergency food to a network of food pantries, meal programs and shelters across a 10-county service area.
The Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program (HPNAP) has been, and continues to be, the financial backbone behind our food banking operations and the hundreds of emergency food providers in our network. This is true in Rochester and across the state, where an overwhelming majority of food banks and food pantries rely on HPNAP to fund their operations. In concert with the rising cost of food, we are requesting a modest 11% increase in funding — $63 million – for HPNAP in this year’s state budget.
The rising cost of food has forced more New Yorkers to visit their local food pantry – many for the first time in their lives. In the last six months of 2022, our network of food pantries collectively recorded 706,810 client visits – up from 542,731 visits during the same time period in 2021. This 30% rise in need mirrors – and for some food pantries, surpasses – the significant spike in need associated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Of course, the rise in food costs is not the lone factor driving the startling numbers we are seeing throughout our network. The expiration of several key federal interventions enacted during the pandemic have also played a role. Namely, the elimination of the Child Tax Credit and universal free school meals – two impactful and effective anti-poverty tools – contribute to increased visits our food pantry partners are reporting on a monthly basis.
This year’s enacted budget saw the first major boost to HPNAP in more than five years, a critical infusion of funds that has better equipped our state’s food banks, pantries, meal programs and shelters to support the rising demand for emergency food. Governor Hochul’s executive budget, however, has slashed HPNAP to its pre-pandemic levels of $34.5M, which is no longer adequate considering the current state of our emergency food system. Now is simply not the time to reduce funding for the state’s primary mechanism for supporting nearly 3 million New Yorkers experiencing food insecurity.
Foodlink’s network of food pantries benefitted greatly from an increase in funding this year. Still, this recent surge in client visits is expected to continue its upward trend with another looming emergency: the elimination of SNAP Emergency Allotments next month. A sharp reduction in benefits, between $95-200 for a majority of households – will drive even more families to their local food pantry in need of assistance. Foodlink is concerned that a reduction in HPNAP at this juncture will result in emptier shelves at food banks and food pantries at a time when need is skyrocketing.
Foodlink recently received a hand-written note from one of our partners in Lyons, NY. The food pantry coordinator wrote to us reflecting on their holiday food distribution, which was funded directly by the increased HPNAP allocation this past year.
“We helped 181 families (407 individuals) have a nice meal for the holidays … The produce boxes that arrived with the chickens this year were outstanding and very popular. Thank you, again, for all that you did to help us make this program a success.”
Carrie Hoey, Foodlink’s Member Services Manager, said: “We absolutely would not have been able to meet the increased demand this holiday season without the additional HPNAP funding. I don’t know what we would’ve done without it.”
Foodlink remains committed to keeping our pantry partners well-stocked, despite these challenging times. We are planning a series of additional emergency food distributions in response to the elimination of SNAP EAs, and our holiday season throughput was the largest in our history. None of this would be possible without strong HPNAP funding from the Department of Health.
We encourage the state legislature to include our $63 million HPNAP request in their one-house budget. Food banks and food pantries across the state are seeing unprecedented demand for emergency food, and a cut in state funding would have significant consequences on our ability to serve our neighbors in need.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our expertise in this matter, and advocate on behalf of the thousands of food-insecure households who depend on our services.