It is great that Sandra Lee, the girlfriend of new New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, feels strongly about helping people who have no money for food. I worry though that she will be diverted from helping people, and instead her good will will result in food pantries to growing larger. While on its surface it seems like the more emergency food, the better, that is not the case. Even emergency food workers will tell you that the best way to distribute food is to not have to–that ideally each family should be able to afford his own. This is why we call it “emergency food.” It’s good to have assistance in an emergency–that does not mean that we should run food distribution or any other distributive system in crisis mode. Emergency care in feeding people is no more sensible on a daily basis than going to the ER everyday for your health care. I want to appeal to Sandra Lee to understand this, so she can really help families who cannot afford food by supporting long term improvements to Food Stamps and advocating for each family having sufficient income to do their own food shopping.
- A large part of food charities’ funds come from taxpayers, whether or not the taxpayer chooses to donate as an individual. In 2008, Food Bank got $8 million in public funds. This is money that could have been used instead to increase the current Food Stamp allotment, which is only $5 per person per day maximum.
- The food pantry industry runs counter to city efforts to “go green.” Pantries require putting thousands more trucks on the streets, the usage of electricity for thousands of refrigerators, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas.
The best way to help people who cannot afford to eat is to raise the Food Stamp allotment. Yet the current trend has legislators making cuts to Food Stamps rather than increases: Both the Jobs Bill and the Childhood Nutrition Act were passed by promising cuts to Food Stamp families totaling $14 billion! A Food Stamp increase to families will cost nothing if the bloated bureaucracy were made simpler, for example reducing the number of times a year a family has to submit paperwork. The reduction of bureaucracy will net savings to the city. And it will spare the “huge amount of us” needing help from the embarrassment—and the hazards—of the pantry line, which requires even children and seniors to wait even in the worst of weather, for a bit of assistance.