ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — The state of New York is failing to address a growing hunger crisis affecting seniors, veterans and children around the state, according to the managers of food banks and pantries that gathered Wednesday at the Capitol in Albany.
The group is asking lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to approve $16.5 million more for the state’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, an amount that they say amounts to a pittance when put in context of a $145 billion state budget.
The money is needed to respond to increased demand prompted by rising food costs and cutbacks in federal assistance programs, according to Natasha Thompson, president and CEO of the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, which distributed more than 10 million pounds of food to 151 agencies in six counties in 2014.
Overall, more than 3 million New York residents rely on emergency food programs. New York has a total population of 20 million.
“We are seeing 30 percent more people than we were before the recession,” she said.
The problem has hit veterans, seniors and working families especially hard, based on the clients who are utilizing food pantries, according to Susan Zimet, executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State.
When the entire state budget is considered, she said, “$16.5 million is not a lot of money.”
Cuomo’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year includes $34.5 million for the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, which was started by his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, also a Democrat.
A group of lawmakers _ including members of both parties in the Assembly and Senate _ has written to Cuomo and top lawmakers in support of the funding increase.
State Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican, said he is “ashamed” that the state isn’t doing more.
“The governor talks about social justice. He talks about the minimum wage. He talks about paid-family leave,” Bonacic said. “But the No. 1 priority should be making sure no New Yorker is hungry.”
A spokesman for Cuomo noted that Cuomo’s budget contains $45 million in new funds to fight poverty.
“This is in addition to his work to push to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, an act that would lift 2.3 million New Yorkers out of poverty,” said spokesman Richard Azzopardi. “Something we hope anyone who calls themselves an advocate for the hungry would support.”
A new budget is due from the governor and lawmakers on April 1.
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