New York state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones was at the regional Joint Council for Economic Opportunity in Plattsburgh today. He’s calling on the USDA to readjust its emergency food distribution program to be more equitable for families in Northern New York and the Northeast.
In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created the Farmers to Families Food Box program to bring fresh dairy and farm produce to families in need during the pandemic. The program is in its fourth phase and will distribute $500 million of food nationally before the end of the year. But 115th District state Assemblyman D. Billy Jones, a Democrat, says this latest distribution of food to those in need has excluded the North Country and large swathes of the Northeast. “The Phase 4 distribution of this program left out most of New York state. Vermont is not happy with the way that Phase 3 and Phase 4 have rolled out either. States like Maine were shut out of the program. So the Northeast was left behind in it. You know we’re just here to make sure that these food boxes that are distributed to families are done in an equitable way and so that Upstate and the North Country are not left out of this.”
Jones and the advocates want the USDA to revise its distribution process to be more equitable. The farm to family program is critical in bringing nutritious meals to families in need, according to Clinton County Social Services Deputy Commissioner Rich Holcomb. “The irony of this is the fact that one of the largest industries in the North Country is agriculture. However the North Country also qualifies in many places as a food desert, meaning that there’s insufficient access to quality foods for individuals living in our counties. And Nourish New York is a program that would allow the local farmers to help support and get healthy, nutritious, home grown foods to the people that live in our area.”
The advocates believe the Nourish New York initiative will help fill shortcomings left by the USDA program gaps. The state program was created to help link farmers whose food chain was disrupted by the pandemic with local food banks. On November 10th Governor Cuomo announced an additional $10 million in funding, bringing the program’s total allocation to $35 million. The local low-income advocates would like even more funding dedicated to the program. Plattsburgh Interfaith Food Shelf Coordinator Dorothy Latta said Nourish New York is helping them feed more people. “The Nourish New York food has been available to us at no cost to our organization. And we’ve been able to get products such as real cheese, meat, and not spending our own budgets for that allows us to have more money to feed more people.”
Assemblyman Jones says action is needed to address both state and federal food assistance programs. “We’re advocating for more money for Nourish New York. We want to see the USDA step up and improve the bidding process that they put in place in the last couple of rounds. We can make these programs a success.”
According to Assemblyman Jones’ office, the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program awarded 4-percent of funds to the Northeast during the fourth phase of the program.