Convoys of trucks will arrive as early Monday, December 17, with the first special delivery of more than $12.7 million worth of meat, fresh produce, and other food, for New York State’s hungriest residents.
Through March 2019, twice-monthly shipments to the state’s eight regional food banks, will reach “over 2,500 soup kitchens/pantries in all 62 counties,” said Joseph Brillo, spokesman for the New York State Office of General Services in an email.
Under the $12 billion Trade Mitigation package the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled in July, the USDA agreed to purchase food from farmers and producers, to compensate them for losses due to the Trump Administration’s tariff wars with China, NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada, and other nations. USDA designated $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and child nutrition programs.
The state anticipates three more rounds of trade mitigation food deliveries along with USDA subsidies to pay for some of the extra costs for distribution and storage through December 2019.
USDA offers quantities of the food based on unemployment and poverty data from each state. New York worked with its food banks to determine what they want and divides it based on each region’s needy population.
“Our first official load is Monday,” said said Andrew Katzer, purchasing manager of the Food Bank of Central New York, in Syracuse.
Last March, President Trump started imposing tariffs on Chinese steel and other goods, over Beijing’s policy of forcing U.S. firms to give up trade secrets to operate there. China struck back, targeting American agricultural exports.
Retaliatory tariffs on dairy products are costing the state’s producers $125 million this year, according to the New York Farm Bureau. Before then, about 17 percent of the state’s milk was exported to Mexico. Falling prices linked to trade wars translate to $35 million in losses for New York corn farmers and $24 million for soybean growers, along with lesser amounts for apples, grapes, maple syrup and wine.
The farm bureau sees “indications” the U.S. and China may work to end their trade war, and is “hopeful” the proposed US-Mexico-Canada Agreement will maintain critical relations with both nations, says spokesman Steve Ammerman.
Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank for New York City, expects around 7 million pounds of food, roughly equal to an extra month’s supply, for her organization’s 1.5 million needy clients.
“We’re definitely accepting what they’ve offered,” Purvis says, especially since the shipments include hard-to-get meat, beans, apples, oranges, rice, cheese, and juice.
At Long Island Cares’ food bank in Hauppauge, CEO Paule Pachter awaits 950,000 pounds of trade mitigation commodities, including cooked and frozen pork, roast beef, grapefruit and potatoes.
Pachter says $50,000 in USDA subsidies will help pay for additional distribution and storage costs.
“The average pantry on Long Island is only open maybe 10 to 15 hours a week,” he says. And they mostly have the kind of refrigerators and freezers people use at home. Long Island Cares plans to buy bigger freezers or refrigerators for some charities that cannot move perishables quickly.
Last year, Long Island Cares distributed more than 6.7 million pounds of food to 272,000 residents of Nassau and Suffolk counties.
At St. John’s Bread & Life in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, Executive Director Caroline Tweedy worried about rising demand for emergency groceries and free meals amid looming budget cuts at the charity. Bread & Life gets shipments from the Food Bank for New York City, but spent nearly $1 million last year to supplement government and local donations.
“We served 852,000 meals and then gave out probably another 150,000 packages” from local providers she says. “We try to do a meat, a fish or a vegetable as frequently as possible, but things are expensive. We do the best we can.”
While advocates welcome the temporary extra food, some say it pales in comparison to strengthening the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly “food stamps”), which aids 42 million Americans. For every meal delivered through its network of 200 food banks, SNAP provides 12, says Feeding America, a national member organization that serves 1 in 7 Americans.
In 2013, Congress slashed SNAP benefits to 850,000 U.S. households by some $90 a month. Since then, nearly 80 percent of pantries and soup kitchens have seen increased visits, especially among seniors and families with children, according to a recent Food Bank survey.
“It’s horribly inefficient ” to give surplus food to food banks “instead of directly giving people money to buy food,” says Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, in New York, a national non-profit that supports government and grass-roots programs to expand access to healthy food.
About 1.6 million New York City residents, nearly 1 in 5, relied on SNAP last year, says the Food Bank’s Purvis. Every dollar spent in SNAP benefits adds $1.79 to the local economy.
This week, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, which keeps SNAP funding levels largely unchanged. The president is expected to sign it.
CityPlate, City Limits’ series on food policy, is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. City Limits is solely responsible for the content.