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Thin Gruel For Soup Kitchens

March 11, 2010

Artilce by Neil deMause | Published: Mar 8, 2010 on

Publicly funded help for the needy, from food assistance to job training, dries up further under the proposed budget.

From now through March 24, City Council committees will be holding hearings on the preliminary budget presented by Mayor Bloomberg on Jan. 28. The annual budget gains momentum amidst a civic fog of dismay and uncertainty – dismay over the ongoing chaos in Albany, and uncertainty about how that, and the state’s generally poor economy, will affect the city’s $63 billion budget.

Council will gather its findings into a report to be delivered by April 8, which should inform the mayor’s Executive Budget to be released by April 26.

As New York City’s unemployment rate continues to climb above 10 percent, proposed spending cuts by both Gov. Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg are threatening to make life tougher for anyone who depends on government programs for food, cash grants or job training.

Potentially hardest hit: the city’s soup kitchens and food pantries. Emergency food providers had already seen the state’s Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program – which provides about $30 million a year to New York’s food banks – sliced by $2.3 million in mid-year budget cuts last year; Paterson is now proposing $1.2 million in additional cuts for 2010. Bloomberg then followed by threatening that if the governor’s cuts to aid to the city go through, he’d completely eliminate the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), which last year supplied about $10 million worth of non-perishable goods to New York’s emergency food providers.

Between the state and city cuts and the phasing-out of food aid provided by the federal stimulus program, says West Side Campaign Against Hunger director Doreen Wohl, her organization’s food pantry is looking at a loss of nearly $100,000, which represents about 200,000 meals. “In calendar year 2009, we provided 825,000 meals, so a loss of 200,000 meals is a quarter of the meals that we provide,” says Wohl – at a time when demand for food aid is still rising.

“We go through this dance every year, where the governor and the mayor propose cuts, and the legislature and the City Council reinstate them,” says Ed Fowler, director of Brownsville’s Neighbors Together, which runs one of the city’s largest soup kitchens. “But this year, they’ve upped the stakes.” EFAP alone, says Fowler, represents 30 percent of his food budget. “We serve lunch and dinner, and we’d probably have to eliminate one, at a time when numbers are going up.”

Bloomberg has actually proposed two separate flavors of budget cuts: There’s the mayor’s previously announced Program to Eliminate the Gap (PEG), which is designed to balance the city’s own books in coming years; on top of that, the mayor had his Office of Management and Budget draw up a contingency plan containing additional cuts that could be made if the governor succeeds in slashing aid to New York City. The mayor’s office stresses that the elimination of city food aid was included in Bloomberg’s contingency cuts as a worst-case scenario, but that hasn’t assuaged the worries of food providers.

One silver lining: Paterson’s budget includes a one-time $10 million infusion of federal stimulus dollars for New York state’s food banks, which should help offset the other cuts. Fowler warns, though, that it could only end up delaying the inevitable: “We’ve seen that once cuts are made, it’s hard to get them reinstated in future budgets. So maybe this year isn’t so bad, but I am worried about having to fight for ‘increased funding’ every year in the future.”

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 30, 2010 3:00 am

    shoot sweet story man.

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