2007-01-31 / Features

BY RICHARD GENTILVISO

City Councilmember Eric Gioia promised to continue to do everything in his power to cut the bureaucratic red tape blocking eligible New Yorkers from the federal food stamp program. "It is inexcusable," Gioia said at the January meeting of Community Board 1 in Astoria.

About 1.1 million city residents receive food stamps, but it is estimated that 600,000 city residents are eligible but either don't apply or don't know about the program. As a result, at least $1 billion in federal aid is going unused, Gioia said. "We have an obligation to help one another and this is one of the simple ways, by spreading information," he said.

If you think your family or a family you know qualifies for food stamps, you can access food stamp information and applications by contacting the Human Resources Administration Information Line at 311 or 877-472-8411, or by going online at www.nyc.gov.

During testimony at a public hearing on hunger before the City Council on November 20 last year, outgoing Human Resources Administration Commissioner Verna Eggleston acknowledged the growing need for food and nutrition assistance in the November 21 New York Times. Eggleston is leaving on January 31 and will be replaced as HRA Commissioner by the former Commissioner of the State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Robert Doar.

Almost one in six residents of New York City live in households that could not afford to buy enough food during the threeyear period ending in 2005, according to a report released on Nov. 21, 2006 by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. That is 15.4 percent of the city's 8.1 million residents, an increase from 14 percent for the three-year period before, 2000 to 2002.

"Food insecurity", the federal term for hunger, is also rising in New York state, to an average of 10.4 percent in 2003-5 from 9.4 percent in 2000-2.

In the November 21 New York Times report, Eggleston said the HRA would begin accepting food stamp applications over the Internet in cooperation with Food Change and the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, both nonprofit organizations, in an experiment funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Under the program, workers for Food Change at food pantries and other locations will accept food stamp applications and then submit the information electronically to the city, bypassing the normal caseworker process.

"If you apply online, you don't have to wait in line," said Gioia, a strong supporter of the idea. Gioia also favors an outreach to food pantries and soup kitchens in the city.

The number of people on food stamps went up from 1,086,000 in Fiscal Year 2005 to 1,095,000 in Fiscal Year 2006, according to the annual Mayor's Management Report. The city council would like to boost that number by at least 350,000.

Gioia is particularly concerned that eligible children get the federal food aid they need and deserve. "There are 300,000 kids in need of federal food aid," he said. "Kids who are hungry don't learn as well, kids who are hungry don't grow as well."

Gioia reminds parents that all New York City schoolchildren are eligible for the free breakfast program. Applications can be requested through your child's school.

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