New Yorkers remain hungry during COVID-19
BY COREY JOHNSON VANESSA L. GIBSON
AND MARK TREYGER
Sadly, hunger in New York City is
not a new problem.
Sky high rent prices, stubbornly
low wages, and the high cost of living
in one of the richest cities in the world
means that many New Yorkers have
to sacrifi ce on food to pay for rent and
other basic necessities.
At the beginning of this Council’s
session in 2018, 40 percent of providers
said they didn’t have enough food
to meet demand. This was well before
COVID and at a time of economic
prosperity in our city.
The problems back then were
two-fold. The nonprofi ts that operated
these programs needed
money to serve those in need, but also
The federal government
Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program, formerly
known as food stamps, exacerbated
the need for food pantries and left
the more than 1.5 million New Yorkers
who relied on the program out in
The Council stepped up.
We increased funding for emergency
food and for senior meals and
created new programs to address
food insecurity at the City University
of New York to stop college students
from going hungry, a prevalent but
little-known problem in our city.
Over the past four budget cycles,
we’ve increased funding for food
programs by $55 million. Our most
signifi cant achievements was changing
how we funded the Emergency
Food Assistance Program.
In fi scal year 2019, we fought to
baseline $20.2 million for this program,
meaning the money was automatically
added to the budget every
year. In the past this funding was
never guaranteed, leaving providers
in limbo annually.
This allowed food providers to better
plan on how to feed vulnerable
New Yorkers and have the money to
Then COVID-19 hit.
Virtually overnight, the number of
food insecure New Yorkers went from
1.2 million to 2 million and nearly
one-third of food pantries shut down
during the early days of the crisis.
Many pantries managed to stay
open because of our years of investment
in food programs, but we
knew more was needed to meet this
We aggressively and successfully
pushed both the de Blasio administration
and the state government
to each designate $25 million in
emergency funds for food programs
These funds will help hundreds
of organizations including food pantries,
soup kitchens and charities that
deliver meals or groceries to those
in need. Nearly 80% of that $25 million
will reach local food pantries,
as we know pantry visits continue to
increase each week.
With the City’s $25 million, the
Council focused on high-need, lowincome,
food-insecure areas, and
recommended organizations operating
in these communities. Additionally,
the Council identifi ed providers
which serve immigrant communities
across the fi ve boroughs.
In the meantime, the State’s $25
million under the Nourish New York
initiative, provides emergency funds
for food banks and providers which
serve the populations that need it
Aiming to increase food access, the
funds not only help families in need
across the City and the State, they
also tackle existing disparities.
We are also proud that our recently
passed budget for 2021 contains no
cuts to Council-funded food programs
despite a $9 billion budget defi cit.
All of this work contributes to
our ultimate goal of addressing inequity
in all forms in New York City,
including food inequity. Every New
Yorker deserves access to healthy
It’s governments’ job to make sure
residents get the resources they need,
especially during a public health and
fi nancial crisis when so many of them
are sick or out of work.
Those in need should call 3-1-1
and say “Get Food” or visit the City’s
COVID-19 emergency food site at
Corey Johnson is Speaker of the
City Council; Vanessa Gibson chairs
the Council’s Subcommittee on Capital
Budget; Mark Treyger chairs the Council’s
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On Aug. 26, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson and the Met Council held a food giveaway at 1520
Sedgwick Ave, Morris Heights, “The birth place of hip-hop.” Courtesy of Offi ce of CM Gibson