Racial Equity ∙ Public Health ∙ COVID Recovery
Andrew Yang's Plan to Ensure Food Equity
Andrew Yang recognizes that access to healthy, culturally appropriate food is a fundamental human right for every New Yorker. Despite its importance, food equity remains a serious issue in New York City, and disparities in access to nutritious food have only worsened throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prior to the pandemic, roughly 15% of NYC residents were food insecure–including 12.2% in New York County and 17.5% in Bronx County–meaning they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food. During the pandemic, this number rose to nearly 25%. SNAP enrollment in New York City in April of 2020 increased by the largest one-month jump ever–nearly 69,000 people.
The burden of food insecurity does not fall equally across New Yorkers. Studies by NYSHealth suggest that a larger proportion of households with children experienced food scarcity and that there are significant disparities across racial and ethnic groups. Rates of food scarcity were three to four times higher for Hispanic and Black New Yorkers than among white New Yorkers. Mass job losses throughout the pandemic–many of which occurred in low-wage markets–further contributed to food scarcity, with rates three times higher for those who reported lost employment income.
New York City agencies are major providers of meals to residents and city-level reform is crucial for protecting the right to nutritious food. Ten city agencies currently procure and provide over 230 million meals per year. The vast majority are provided by the Department of Education, meaning that vulnerable school children are the largest beneficiaries of City spending. Others impacted by City meal provision include senior citizens, homeless individuals, hospital patients, CUNY students and incarcerated individuals.
And, this is extremely important in the context of coming out from the COVID-19 pandemic, where people with diabetes and other pre-existing conditions, as well as, low-income families were much more likely to get the disease and have worse symptoms. Studies suggest that individuals with diabetes have over a three times higher likelihood of being hospitalized with COVID-19.
If we’re going to be serious about combating inequality, food access and nutrition must be at the forefront of the next administration’s priorities. That means investing in all of the programs that exist but have been half-baked by the current administration. A comprehensive, community-focused reform program is necessary to ensure food equity and build a more sustainable food infrastructure in New York City. Andrew Yang will lead this effort with a bold strategy informed by conversations with local food equity advocates and community leaders.
As Mayor, Andrew Yang will:
- Strengthen and expand the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy.
- Improve the quality, nutrition, and cultural-appropriateness of City-provided meals.
- Aggressively target structural racism in our food system.
- Make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in SNAP and WIC.
- Ensure the equitable treatment of food workers.
- Build sustainable local food capacity.
Andrew Yang is committed to ensuring that each and every New Yorker has access to affordable, nutritious, and locally-sourced food. Here’s our plan to make New York City the sustainable food capital of our country.
I) Strengthen and expand the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy
A permanent, overarching infrastructure must be created to coordinate the ten city agencies providing food to New Yorkers. Centralizing authority in the Mayor’s Office will make it easier to leverage collective purchasing power to lower costs and to standardize nutrition and quality across programs. The inter-agency coordinating power exercised by the “Food Czar” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic was effective and popular, and we will create a similar, permanent position within the Mayor’s Office of Food Policy with a particular focus on food equity.
Convene a food policy council.
To inform our efforts, a Yang administration will convene a food policy council with community representatives, farmers, distributors, independent restaurant owners, and other stakeholders to serve as a formal source of feedback and advice. We will also meet regularly with community members and provide a centralized platform for New Yorkers to direct complaints and feedback about food-related issues.
Develop better guidelines for equitable meal distribution & leverage H+H.
A Yang administration will also develop better guidelines for equitable meal distribution. Recent studies have conducted geospatial analyses of the City’s food resources, and this data is crucial for identifying areas in need. To improve our understanding of food insecurity in the City, Andrew will also encourage New York Health + Hospitals and other organizations in close contact with communities at risk of food insecurity to regularly screen for food insecurity.
Support New York’s emergency food providers.
We will also help to create and maintain a public, timely dataset of all food pantries, soup kitchens, and emergency food resources to help New Yorkers navigate our city’s complex food relief ecosystem. We must encourage an accurate and up-to-date flow of information in an understandable format, which includes translation of educational materials and notices into the appropriate languages. There are tools out there, such as, the Plentiful app, which allows people to find pantries and make reservations, the city should be working in tandem with these efforts. Increasing community access to fresh food is also crucial. A Yang administration will encourage the creation of food pantries in senior centers, community kitchens, and school gardens.
Expand availability of city meals.
Due to the pandemic, 30% of shelters shut, in part because a large part of the volunteer workforce are older New Yorkers who needed to quarantine, causing long wait lines and food shortages at the remaining shelters. Andrew Yang will work with local nonprofits and community leaders to ensure that all New Yorkers in need can access city-provided meals. We must recruit and train both employees and volunteers able to handle excess capacity in times of crisis. As more New Yorkers get vaccinated, the City must prioritize reopening shuttered food banks to address the long wait times which can serve as a barrier to families in need. We also have to be creative in our solutions, including expanding drive-through pantry bag pick-ups, encouraging seniors-only distribution hours, and increasing the number of home delivery drivers.
II) Improve the quality, nutrition, and cultural-appropriateness of City-provided meals
Continue to Implement “Good Food Purchasing.”
By centralizing oversight of City food programs and building local food infrastructure, a Yang administration will be able to more tightly control nutritional content and encourage bulk procurement, thus lowering costs. New York City government's food serving agencies serve approximately 230 million meals annually. According to Alexa Delwiche, the Executive Director of the Center for Good Food Purchasing, “New York City is one of the largest purchasers of food in the nation, second only to the Department of Defense. Good Food Purchasing, which is guided by the five principles of supporting local economies, a valued workforce, nutrition, environmental sustainability and animal welfare, will harness our city’s enormous food procurement power to improve the local and regional food systems and maximize healthy options. Maximizing the Good Food Purchasing program will help us achieve this goal, as will uniform nutritional standards for City programs.
Invest in healthy and quality meals for NYC students.
A Yang administration will ensure culturally-appropriate food options are available at all schools, such as kosher and halal meals. We will also raise awareness of summer meals programs and local resources for families in need.
Andrew Yang will also work with the School Construction Authority to build green roofs on school buildings and take other steps to incentivize on-site food production at schools to increase access to nutritious, fresh products. Wherever possible a Yang administration will instruct the DOE to work nutrition into its curriculum. For example, Wellness in Schools (WITS), a national nonprofit that operates in some district schools provides a good model on how to teach children healthy eating habits in a way that is integrated with local food production and fun coursework. Andrew Yang will expand programs such as this. We will explore farm to school programs and work to strengthen food and nutrition education in our schools. We will also encourage sustained relationships between food banks and schools – to support students at risk of food insecurity.
And, when schools are undergoing renovations, Andrew Yang will direct SCA and DOE to build enhanced cafeterias that allow for more open, inviting, social environments and display healthy foods prominently through food-court serving style. Educating our students on healthy eating habits is paramount to build life-long good habits that will increase mental and physical health over the students’ lifetimes.
Enhance emergency food distribution by emphasizing coordination, hot meals and healthy options.
In 2017 the City Council passed legislation to create a food web portal that connects businesses, such as restaurants, supermarkets and religious organizations to nonprofits who serve food. The goal of the donateNYC portal is to retrieve food that would otherwise be wasted and deliver it to our emergency food network. This is particularly important as a way to get hot meal donations from the city’s restaurants for people who lack access to kitchens or are unable to cook for themselves, such as the homeless and seniors. A Yang administration will promote, market and expand this little known program and will ensure the portal is available on the NYC app.
Emergency food providers have organized to create a collective purchasing initiative to help get better, healthier products at better prices to communities. This work is extremely important. Programs such as the city’s Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), which has fortunately received baseline funding of $22 million, are not providing fresh and healthy food options, relying more on non-perishable products. According to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger’s 2021 testimony to the NYC Council, “EFAP distributes $22 million of processed foods to New Yorkers in need. EFAP provides no options for fresh products nor any incentive to purchase New York State products.” A Yang administration will follow the direction of those doing the work, such as WSCAH in their call to “align EFAP with food-insecure New Yorkers’ real needs” by reinvigorating and reimagining EFAP, to operate “on similar lines to HPNAP (The New York State Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program), providing greater choice of products and incentive for more local purchasing. We must be committed to nutritional health and food choice in our emergency food networks.
III) Aggressively target structural racism and inequity within our food system
Address systemic issues associated with food insecurity.
The Covid-19 pandemic exposed serious racial disparities in access to food, and within the food industry itself. Rates of food scarcity were three to four times higher for Hispanic and Black New Yorkers than among white New Yorkers. Chinatown and other neighborhoods with high proportions of minority-owned businesses suffered disproportionate restaurant closures. Structural racism contributes to food insecurity in innumerable ways, from housing policy that reinforces food deserts to employment discrimination and wage theft against food sector employees.
A Yang administration will take a comprehensive approach to equity starting first with the representation of members of vulnerable communities in its administration and on advisory bodies, and regular engagement with local communities. We will work to address upstream causes of food insecurity, including reducing poverty with a Basic Income, the largest municipal cash relief program in the country. Andrew Yang will also increase investment in preventive health services, education, and social support services in vulnerable communities. In order to track the effectiveness of these policies and identify communities with the most need, we will also collect more comprehensive data on food security and nutrition-related inequities.
Make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in SNAP and WIC.
SNAP and WIC are crucial safety nets helping lower-income New Yorkers afford food. SNAP enrollment in New York City in April of 2020 increased by the largest one-month jump ever–nearly 69,000 people–highlighting the level of reliance on these safety nets. A Yang administration will coordinate with New York State to create a streamlined process under which individuals can apply for several federal, state, and city-level safety net and nutrition programs simultaneously. Andrew Yang will also advocate for reforms to increase WIC and SNAP recipients’ access to online grocery shopping and Farmer’s Markets, including providing support to participating merchants themselves.
Andrew Yang will focus outreach and educational initiatives on disproportionately-impacted communities. To identify areas with the most need, Andrew will advocate for data-sharing agreements among state and city agencies, and partner with local community leaders and nonprofits. We will also ensure the availability of language- and culturally-appropriate messaging and educational materials.
Connecting CUNY students to SNAP.
Additionally, with rising costs of tuition, books and other school-related expenses, many CUNY students find themselves unable to afford food to eat. Students of color, older students, former foster youth, parenting students, students who experienced childhood food insecurity, and first generation college students are some of the students who are likely to experience food insecurity at some point in their studies. The Yang administration will work with CUNY to ensure that students who are eligible for SNAP are enrolled.
Ensure the equitable treatment of food workers.
Food workers are a critical piece of our City’s infrastructure – our community could not survive or thrive without them. As essential workers on the frontlines, many of whom are employed by small businesses, food workers are also particularly vulnerable to health and economic crises. In fact, the food services industry lost the most jobs of any industry, due to COVID-19. To aid us in rebuilding this vital industry, a Yang administration will convene a focus group of food workers and other stakeholders to create a workforce development plan to improve working conditions and job security. We will also partner with labor advocacy organizations to monitor and vigorously enforce workplace safety, employment discrimination, and related regulations.
While highly-capitalized restaurants were able to invest in COVID-19 safety measures, small businesses, many of which serve vulnerable communities, struggled. Many closed for good. Our City must give small businesses the financial support they need to invest in safety for both food workers and diners. For food workers laid off due to the pandemic, we will support programs that connect workers with businesses that are currently hiring. We will also expand access to training programs and education necessary for career advancement. Read more about Andrew Yang’s plans to support small businesses and revive the restaurant industry.
Build sustainable local food capacity & incentivize the creation of supermarkets.
Andrew Yang’s goal is to create a food system that is flexible and prepared to respond to future crises while providing stable access to both enough food and nutritious food. To strengthen our local food ecosystem, a Yang Administration will prioritize contracts to NYC-based food and hospitality businesses, and will fund and support food cooperatives and other community-based sources of food.
A Yang administration will expand the Food Retail Expansion and Support (FRESH Program). The FRESH program brings health and affordable food options to communities by lowering the costs of owning, leasing, developing and renovating supermarket retail space. Since launching in 2009, only 29 projects have been approved across the five boroughs. This program should be applied more widely to reduce food deserts and a Yang administration supports current proposals by DCP to update the program through expansion of where Fresh is mapped; prevent clustering of FRESH supermarkets; changes to window installation and parking requirements.
Andrew will also seek to improve the quality of food in existing grocery stores. A 2019 study showed that the most dire need in communities is not access to supermarkets, but the quality and cost of the food in existing supermarkets and grocery stores. A Yang administration will expand work with groups such as BronxWorks, which partners with bodegas to highlight healthy options to their customers and runs educational programs about healthy lifestyles.
Encourage local farms, farmers markets and community gardens.
We will also encourage the establishment and growth of local farms, in particular farms owned by people of color and women. To do so, a Yang administration will expand the GreenThumb program, make it easier to apply for licenses, and explore special zoning and financial incentives, including sales tax exemptions for farmers selling their produce. To ensure that this local food is available to New Yorkers, Andrew will expand local and regional food capacity, including rail and barge availability and mixed-use industrial activity within the City.
One key insight learned from our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of online grocery orders and food delivery. We need to recruit and train a volunteer workforce that can rapidly mobilize in times of need, and that can reliably deliver food to vulnerable communities. Sustained investment is crucial, and we will take care that funding is stable and sufficient. Andrew Yang will also explore opportunities to expand local food infrastructure, such as the Greenmarket Regional Food Hub, to meet the scale of procurement.
Community gardens are a vital resource for our neighborhoods. But for too long they have been put in precarious positions, at risk of being overrun at virtually any moment. Andrew Yang agrees that the city should negotiate more equitably on Community Licensing Agreements, for example, a Yang administration would reevaluate the “termination-at-will” clause to allow community gardens more stability. Andrew Yang also supports existing legislation in the City Council, sponsored by Council Member Ampry-Samuel that would require the parks department to collect and report data regarding community gardens reporting and permitting the sale of agriculture within community gardens. A Yang administration will focus on improving relationships between community gardens, supporting their work to nourish the local community, and inserting more stability in their licensing and arrangements.
Additionally, Andrew Yang will ensure close partnerships with and greater funding for organizations like GrowNYC, which bring greenmarkets into communities so that these resources are more widely accessible.
Facilitate urban agriculture.
Andrew will pass a comprehensive urban agriculture plan and update the zoning codes in manufacturing districts, especially in low-income neighborhoods like Bushwick and Brownsville, to allow for safe commercial urban agriculture. To begin, we will convene a working group of community agriculture stakeholders to set detailed priorities and target milestones, including expanding the number of vertical farms and rooftop gardens across the City. For example, other cities, such as Boston, have put forth a comprehensive plan for urban agriculture. We will also partner with private businesses to increase the supply of land available for food production. To ensure that community members are aware of our efforts, we will work with community organizations and sustainable food stores to publicize details of the plan and our progress, and will publish an annual report on progress towards achieving our food milestones.