Albany Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D-Rockland), Chair of the Assembly's Task Force on Food, Farm and Nutrition Policy announced that the Assembly successfully restored or increased funding for agriculture and nutrition programs in the recently passed budget.
Jaffee stated, The budget passed by the legislature included a $750,000 increase for emergency food programs such as food banks, food pantries and soup kitchens. In addition, funding for home-delivered meal programs for seniors was increased by nearly $6 million. Programs that prevent nutrition-related problems such as diabetes and obesity, which help reduce spending on hospital and doctor visits, were level funded after several years of proposed cuts. Programs that support research and marketing programs for our states farmers received over $8 million in new funding for the coming year.
Funding to support marketing and research for fruit and vegetable producers will help farmers and food businesses in the Hudson Valley and beyond. A new program this year will provide grants for beginning farmers in response to increased interest among young people who are eager to tap into the burgeoning local food movement.
The 2014-15 State budget also provides funding for school meals, eating disorder programs and outreach for federal food assistance programs such as SNAP (Food Stamps). State support for food assistance is crucial for low-income New Yorkers especially in light of recent cuts to SNAP by Congress. The Governor has committed to taking administrative steps designed to stave off a potential annual loss in SNAP benefits to New York households. The current SNAP caseload for Rockland County as of March 31, 2014 is 17,106 cases including a total of 46,921 individuals.
Assemblymember Jaffee praised the Governor for his pledge to restore about $460 million per year in SNAP benefits to eligible New Yorkers who would have lost them because of policy changes adopted by Congress in the federal Farm Bill.
The State will have to use about $6 million in federal low-income home energy money to leverage the SNAP benefits but the overall benefit to needy New York households, and food businesses and farmers, is worth it, she said.
The Governors budget also provides an additional $30 million to help support the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program in New York State, a supplemental food program that works to improve the health of low-income pregnant or breast-feeding women, as well as infants and children up to age five, by providing low-fat, high-fiber foods, milk, juice, formula and other items to eligible participants as part of a food package, which can be purchased at retail establishments with redeemable food checks. Total WIC participation in Rockland County as of February 2014 was 12,728 including 3,014 pregnant, breastfeeding or post-partum women; 2,403 infants and 7,311 children.
Nothing is more important than our children and mothers, and research has shown that few things are more critical in a childs formative years than a healthy, balanced diet, Assemblymember Jaffee said.
The WIC program also issues Farmers Market checks to participant families who receive $24 dollars to purchase fruits and vegetables at an approved NY State Farmers Market. Income eligible seniors can also receive Farmers Market checks in the amount of $20 per household. The Farmers Market season for using these checks is from June 1 to November 30. During the 2013 season the WIC program issued checks to 3,975 families and 740 senior households in Rockland County.
Although this budget has many positives for the food, farm and nutrition community we still have much work to do, said Jaffee.