New York, a hungry city
by Heather Senison
Aug 16, 2011 | 976 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
New York ranks fourth in the nation for hungriest city, according to data provided by the Food Research Action Center (FRAC), with 23.1 percent of households with and without children unable to afford sufficient food.

According to the data, nearly half of the households in the South Bronx cannot afford to feed their children, with Central Brooklyn and parts of Queens following not too far behind.

FRAC, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit lobby group, analyzed the data, which was collected by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index Project, which has interviewed more than one million American households since 2008.

Families were asked the question, “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” according to a statement from the Hunger Action Network, a New York-based lobby group.

After the August recess, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as a “super committee” of Congressional members who are tackling the national debt crisis, will meet to discuss an additional $1.5 billion in cuts to federal spending. In response to the data, Hunger Action is urging Congress to protect programs that provide food to low-income residents.

Mark Dunlea, executive director for the Hunger Action Network, said the most dangerous programs for the super committee to cut are school meals, particularly breakfast, and the Woman, Infants and Children (WIC) program, which provides nutritional meals to low-income pregnant women, mothers and their children.

“There are many, many studies that document that if kids in a classroom are hungry, the school performance goes down significantly,” Dunlea said.

“Even if five or three [students] are hungry,” Dunlea said, they will “act and up and distract the teachers and are disruptive.”

However, Dunlea said free breakfast is a voluntary program that principals can opt out of.

“New York City is the worst in the country in terms of the number of children who participate in the school breakfast program,” he said. “School administrators are not very supportive of hunger programs.”

The reason for this, Dunlea said, is that principals worry about being subject to state Health Department regulations and maintaining sanitary conditions in classrooms.

But, “the classrooms that have the breakfast program are much cleaner,” because students clean up after their meals, he said.

Hunger Action has started meeting with lawmakers to turn the heat on the super committee, Dunlea said. According to the data, in Brooklyn, out of the households polled in their districts, 24.8 percent of those polled in Congresswoman Nydia Valezquez’s district were reported hungry.

Velazquez said working families are often the most harshly affected by difficult economic times, and she agrees that the super committee should protect nutritional programs for low-income families.

“It is paramount that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction recognizes the challenges facing our communities,” Velazquez said, “and that we cannot balance our budget by cutting critical safety net programs like WIC, food stamps, and school meals.”

In Queens, Congressman Gregory Meeks’ district reported a 27.5 percent hunger rate, with Congressman Joseph Crowley following closely behind at 25 percent.

At an event he held at an elementary school in Maspeth on Friday, June 12, Crowley said “I do not support cutting any nutrition programs or any wellness programs for our youth,” in response to Hunger Action’s plea.

Crowley said he agrees with Dunlea that although it is up to Congress not to cut vital nutrition programs, the problem needs to be solved on a local level, with schools adopting available programs.

“The impact on a student is monumental,” Crowley said, “if they’re not getting the proper meals at the right time and the right nutrition and nutrients to make sure that they’re learning properly and developing properly.”

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