Slater proposes pair of bills to affect food insecurity

Rep. Matt Slater, surrounded by local officials and representatives of several pantries in northern Westchester last week, highlighted legislation he has proposed to reduce food insecurity locally and statewide. .

The pandemic highlights how millions of people in Westchester and Putnam counties, and across the state, are one second away from needing help putting food on the kitchen table. Did.

Local state legislators have now introduced two bills at this session that will help reduce food insecurity locally and in New York as a whole.

Rep. Matt Slater (R-Yorktown) last week gave the state $250 million to bolster free school breakfast and lunch programs for children in needy families. It also called for funding a $300,000 initiative to help communities cover the costs of running municipal communities. A garden where all produce is donated to the pantry.

Neither item was included in Gov. Kathy Hochol’s $227 billion budget for fiscal year 2024 announced on Feb. 1, he said.

“I’m proud to be part of a bipartisan coalition that supports legislation prioritizing free breakfasts throughout schools and free lunch programs for children,” Slater said last Friday in St. Louis. said, surrounded by elected officials and representatives of the local food pantry, Mary’s Episcopal Church of Lake Mohegan, which operates the pantry. “This has to be a priority and should be funded in this year’s budget.”

While the pandemic may have weakened the extreme need for food assistance, soaring food prices have left many households under economic stress in need. Slater said one in seven of his New Yorkers is experiencing food insecurity, and is a member of Hunger Solutions New York, a nonprofit that advocates for policies and programs to help vulnerable people. Citing statistics.

Last year, 2,599 people in Putnam County received the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) totaling just over $800,000, while more than 76,000 Westchester residents need help, accounting for about $22 million . He said feeding children and reducing hunger are issues on which people of all backgrounds and political beliefs can agree.

Lakeland School Board President Adam Kaufman said the school district had to increase funding for student breakfasts and lunches for the first time in nearly a decade. With so many other challenges today, it’s not a problem to feed children properly so that they can be productive in class.

“But as an educator, I think food insecurity for our students should be the last thing they have to worry about,” said Kaufman, assistant principal at Yonkers’ high school.

In addition to strengthening school breakfast and lunch programs, encourage cities, towns and villages with municipal community gardens, such as the Garden of Hope on Curry Street, Yorktown, to donate their produce to the pantry. This helps the poor while offsetting operating costs. garden.

“There are just some basic responsibilities of responsible government. I’m excited about the legislation to take what we’ve achieved at the local level and make it a model for the states here,” Slater said.

Under the proposed law, the $300,000 would be divided into 10 grants of $30,000 each, and communities could apply to receive the money.

Cynthia Knox, CEO of Careing for the Hungry & Homeless of Peekskill (CHHOP), said Slater’s proposed vegetable garden law will help governments and communities to overcome the problem of hunger for too many families. said that it connects

At CHHOP, the number of local residents using the pantry has increased from 95 to about 460 weekly, she said. The need for community gardens to supplement packaged goods and money donations is critical.

“Community gardens are what help families thrive, and they help children do better in school,” Knox said. , it will have a very big impact.”

Cynthia Smith of St. Mary’s Food Pantry said weekly support from 85 to 90 families surged to about 500 at the height of the pandemic. Although some of the needs have eased, the pantry is still accessed consistently by 200 households each week.

She and other Pantry representatives expect that number to remain fairly constant for at least the next year or two as food prices rise.

“Hunger is a tracking indicator, so if people lose their jobs or have problems in some other situation, they are still getting some benefits, they are unemployed and they have some savings, so not necessarily I’m not asking for help, immediately,” Smith said. “But it’s the same on the other side. When they go back to work, it takes them a while to get back on their feet.”

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