Queens congresswomen work to address sudden cuts in federal funding for food pantries

Queens Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Grace Meng (Photo courtesy of congresswomen’s offices)

Following news that the Department of Agriculture (USDA) canceled the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) in Queens and the Bronx, leaving food pantries without needed funding to help thousands of vulnerable families, Queens Congresswomen Grace Meng and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said they are working to assist those organizations.

The $19 billion CFAP began in April to provide immediate relief and critical support to the nation’s farmers as well as ensure Americans receive access to the food they need during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with overflowing hospitals and mass job loss.

This month, the Trump administration and the USDA announced a second round of the CFAP, amounting to $14 billion.

However, La Jornada, a non-profit organization that has served more than 125,000 families in some of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the borough during the COVID-19 pandemic, received notice from the USDA that it has canceled their CFAP program and will no longer receive the federal grants they need to continue feeding at-risk families in Queens.

Pedro Rodriguez, La Jornada’s executive director, began a petition in order to get the funding back.

“We are asking for your help to save our food pantry, so that we can continue to provide food to families in the northwest, Queens area,” the petition reads. “We do not want to stop helping the family in need during this trying time. A signature and a phone call is all is takes to make a difference.”

La Jornada worked with grassroots organization Together We Can to establish a food pantry with the Queens Museum in order to supply community members in Corona — one of the Queens neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic — with food and other basic needs.

A third of New York City’s food pantries closed in April, according to the de Blasio administration. Acting Queens Borough President Sharon Lee said interruption to La Jornada and other food pantries work would have damaging results.

“Food insecurity and hunger from the COVID-19 pandemic remain a very real and deep challenge for many in the Borough of Families,” said Lee. “Any interruption in food supply for Queens pantries in the middle of this pandemic would be a substantial blow to the growing lines of elders and families with children who rely on these pantries for food. Time is of the essence.”

Meng and Ocasio-Cortez said they are in contact with the USDA about the problem with area pantries and food assistance organizations.

“I have worked closely with La Jornada and many other local food assistance organizations and food pantries, and I’ve seen firsthand the critical assistance that they provide to Queens residents,” said Meng. “I am deeply concerned about impacts on their funding and we are looking into whether their contracts with vendors are ending, and whether they have been provided with information on how to renew them. Not having access to these funds would have a devastating impact on so many in our borough who depend on the services that La Jornada and others provide, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.”

Meng added that she worked to ensure Farmers to Families program would assist those who are experiencing food insecurity as a result of the pandemic, and will continue to do so.

Ocasio-Cortez said she is working with Meng and the USDA to remedy the situation and pointed to a House bill to address food insecurity in their districts.

“La Jornada and other area food pantries have been invaluable resources to our districts during this time — but of course we should not be in a situation that so heavily relies on non-profits to provide a lifeline for so many in our community,” said Ocasio-Cortez. “The House has passed a bill that would provide financial and nutritional relief to so many in our district facing hunger and economic challenges due to COVID-19. The Republican Senate’s refusal to allow a vote on these measures is appalling.”

Ocasio-Cortez encouraged constituents in need of food to call 311 (language assistance is available) and ask for “emergency food assistance” to access a list of alternative food banks and resources.

Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz, who’s conducted food distributions and helped food pantries in the neighborhood during the height of the pandemic, said funding these services is crucial.

“In a community that was already experiencing food insecurity prior to COVID-19, we saw the need skyrocket as thousands of our neighbors lost their jobs after the state shutdown,” said Cruz. “Food banks, such as La Jornada’s, have been critical in ensuring the survival of our community during the pandemic. As we prepare for a resurgence of the epidemic, it is crucial that funding continues so that our community does not have to go hungry.”

The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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