City Harvest recently released its annual report examining the number of New York City children visiting food pantries. Titled “Tiny Hands, Hungry Bellies: The State of Child Food Insecurity in NYC,” the report gave cause for concern on the matter, particularly in Queens.
According to the report, there were almost 11.4 million visits to food pantries by families with kids in 2022. This represents a 67% increase since 2019. Additionally, Queens has experienced a significant increase in children going to its food pantries. Since 2019, there has been a 87% increase in children going to food pantries in Queens.
Something that has further raised concerns for City Harvest is the fact that the report comes as New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ budget seems to be preparing to cut funding for agencies that play a big role in connecting food assistance programs like SNAP to New Yorkers in need.
According to City Harvest Director of Policy and Government Relations Jerome Nathaniel, a number of variables have led to such a large increase in Queens children going to food pantries. One thing he did point out was that the borough was at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many parts of Queens experienced some of the highest rates of COVID-19 during that time, including many households made up predominantly of immigrants or front line workers.
“There’s no coincidence that Queens is where you’re seeing some of the growth and demand,” Nathaniel said. “Also over the past three years, there have been a number of powerful government safety nets that were put into place, such as child tax credit and a host of other increases to the SNAP program. Most of those increases unfortunately have expired along with the public health emergency. When you think about the families with children that were benefitting from these programs and Queens being in many ways the epicenter of the pandemic, unfortunately that kind of leads to this perfect storm of increased pantry visits in the borough.”
In order to try and ensure those suffering from hunger in the city can be fed, City Harvest is partnered with more than 400 food charities across the city. This helps to provide food for these people in need.
Nathaniel said that the expiration of the child tax credit has created a large obstacle after the program had allowed for the creation of a lot of headway. He said the program had cut the poverty gap by nearly 50%, lifting millions of children out of poverty.
“When you lose a program like that, it really tells us that we need to make sure that we’re holding our leaders accountable,” Nathaniel said. “These programs protected so many children and families from poverty and food insecurity.”
Nathaniel noted the ending of the SNAP allotments has had the most recent and profound effect on families in the city. Many of the households that took part in SNAP had children residing there.
City Harvest has been keeping a close eye on the upcoming 2023 Farm Bill‘s policies and community feedback. The legislation will have an impact on the SNAP program, as well as all things related to nutrition and anti-hunger investments across the country.
Nathaniel views City Harvest’s advocacy campaign for the farm bill as an opportunity to increase SNAP benefits for all households through Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s “Closing the Meal Gap Act.” This act would strengthen the SNAP program for millions of people, including older Americans, people with disabilities, children, struggling parents, students, unemployed and underemployed people and veterans.
“We support it and are thankful that the Senator continues to champion it,” Nathaniel said. “We are hopeful that the farm bill gets discussed to the latter parts of this year. That’s an opportunity to increase SNAP benefits. A significant number of people who use emergency food and programs also participate in the SNAP program. It’s also a way to stimulate the local food economy and allow folks to be able to access food when and where they want and however they want. When there’s an attack on SNAP, there’s also a strain on the emergency food network.”
On May 8, City Harvest launched its 21st annual “Share Lunch Fight Hunger” campaign. Running through June 8, the campaign encourages New Yorkers to donate the money they would normally spend on lunch to help feed throughout the summer over 13,000 children and families in the city suffering from food insecurity. The campaign’s launch comes as the price of food in the United States continues to increase.