Gov. Cuomo’s budget proposal for the 2013-2014 year may lead to drastic cuts to food banks and pantries statewide.
The recent proposal sent out in January would downsize spending across the board but funding for programs like the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program and WIC would be restructured completely.
“Hunger prevention programs have been a part of the state budget since 1984 and today it is just as revelant as ever,” Triada Stampas, senior director of government relations at Food Bank for New York, said.
Under Cuomo’s proposal, the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides federal and state funding to food relief organizations would be bundled together with 25 other state programs that would all use a single competitive funding pool for “Maternal and Child Health and Nutrition.”
“This will take 10 percent off of some of their budgets and these programs are too important to be placed in a pool that doesn’t have enough money to go around,” Stampas said.
The pool would be handled by the Department of Health which would divvy up funds according to need, forcing programs to compete against one another.
Swami Durga Das of the River Fund, in Richmond Hill, says if the proposal goes through, his food bank will automatically be at a disadvantage.
“We’re being put into a bundle labeled as maternal and child assistance programs,” he said. “As a food bank, we don’t serve them exclusively. The Department of Health could hold that against us when the time comes for money to be handed out.”
Food banks have been struggling with budget cuts over the past decade even with demand increasing.
“Cuts have been coming gradually through the years and the recession hit all of the pantries in the city hard,” Durga Das said. “Our client list has gone up about 30 percent so we’ve been in need of more funding for a while.”
Despite state funding for HPNAP still being up in the air, food banks such as The River Fund do receive half of their money through private donors and grants.
Still, Stampas, and eight other food banks in the state have been jointly coordinating advocacy around the state, getting promising responses from state senators and Assembly members.
“We’ve increased competition and decreased service and there is a problem with that,” State Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. said. “We will keep negotiating as we do and work to get these essential programs the funding that they need.”
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) also disagrees with the proposal.
“Not only will I advocate that the funding stream stand alone, but that it be restored to the prior years funding level of $43.9 million. Recipients of these programs deserve a level of stability that will not be provided through the governor’s proposal” he said.
HPNAP will have another month to convince enough of the Senate and Assembly to keep the funding structure as is. The deadline for finalizing the state budget is April 1.