The following testimony was summarized by Foodlink Community Advocacy Specialist Tom Silva at a NYS budget hearing held on Feb. 17, 2021. The remarks were abridged slightly due to time constraints during the meeting. Foodlink’s complete statement is below.
Good evening and thank you to the members of our local delegation for providing us with this platform to discuss our budget priorities for this year.
My name is Tom Silva, and I am here to represent Foodlink, the regional food bank and Rochester-based nonprofit that leverages the power of food to end hunger and build healthier communities.
It’s clear that the elected officials here share a vision for New York State, and we applaud your advocacy for many issues that are critical to our work at Foodlink. Sadly, however, all of our elected officials have something else in common – each of your districts now have thousands of more food-insecure residents than they did 12 months ago. Food insecurity, defined as a household’s uncertain or limited access to healthy food, has risen by 41% this past year in Monroe County. That’s approximately 35,000 more people. These aren’t just stats — these are children, seniors, the ill and the recently unemployed – many of whom we meet each week at our drive-thru distributions across the county. Today at the Public Market marked the 500th food distribution we’ve organized across our service area in the past 11 months.
This sudden rise in food insecurity won’t disappear when vaccinations are widespread. At Foodlink, we know this is a long-term crisis that has pushed so many households into poverty. For that reason, we are asking you to include the following provisions in this year’s budget:
1) The Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program – HPNAP for short – is the lifeline for all emergency food providers throughout the state. Our region relies on these Department of Health dollars to fund the core of our food banking operation, and hundreds of food pantries and hot meal programs are equally dependent on this funding for food, storage and utilities. We were told last week that the Ag chairs are pushing for a $16 million increase to HPNAP to address the chronic rise in hunger in our state, and we encourage you to do so as well. The total allocation of $51M we are requesting is a 45% increase in funding, which aligns with Feeding America’s estimate that hunger in our state has increased by 46% since last year.
2) The Nourish New York initiative compensated farmers for distributing their harvest to food banks to feed people experiencing food insecurity throughout the pandemic. The governor’s budget proposes an additional $25M to be spent this year, but we are asking you to support up to $100M in total funding. We are also supporting Senate Bill 9032 (introduced by Senator Borrello from the southern edge of our service area) which would formalize the program and guarantee that crops can be diverted to help those in need, rather than plowed under.
3) Lastly, we recognize that the crisis facing our communities predates COVID. Our food bank and charitable programs are the final safety net for many people, but we know that private charity cannot even come close to providing the level of support required. For almost everyone we serve, the rent, medical bills, and children’s expenses eat first. We are asking you to pass all six bills in the Invest in Our New York Act to raise revenue for the state and fund the programs and policies that your constituents need to survive and thrive.
To underscore the importance of this final ask, I’d like to share a quote from a woman named Ms. Glenda – a Rochester resident and regular at the Beyond the Sanctuary Food Pantry, which is in Senator Cooney and Assemblyman Meeks’ districts. When we asked her what she would like elected officials to know about her situation, here’s what she said:
“I feel a little forgotten, [the] population of disabled, poor and disabled people, who were struggling before COVID …
I’ve had these financial troubles since before COVID, so I wouldn’t say COVID made them worse. The financial stuff, I’m still in the same boat either way. I think a lot of people don’t realize that there’s always been a level of poor population.
It took COVID for people to come together and ‘say you know, we need to help small businesses, get unemployment [benefits] out there,’ stuff like that, but I don’t’ feel like that effort was made for people who were already poor beforehand.”
We are advocating for you to prevent cuts to public programs and invest in high quality education, jobs, housing and healthcare. This is the time for our state to take bold steps to ensure we can continue to feed our communities today, and that they will be able to feed themselves and thrive going forward. Foodlink believes in the dignity of all people, and our vision for a community where no one will go hungry relies on structural change that can only be delivered in partnership with our government and elected officials.
Thank you, again, for allowing us time to speak with you tonight. We extend our congratulations to all of the newly elected officials here tonight, and we look forward to working with you to achieve our goals.