The Hunger Crisis Tests Our New Governor

Cuomo has the power to combat hunger is he makes it a priority.

Hunger is on the rise in the New York City. Seven hundred thousand more people get food stamps in the New York City today than did five years ago, according to Joel Berg of the Coalition Against Hunger.

In all, the Coalition estimates, there are 2 million people in the five boroughs who get food stamps now. 

"We are facing a very serious situation when it comes to the poor," Berg told me. "Food pantries and soup kitchens are struggling to meet the demand. There are actions in Washington that pose new threats to the hungry, including Republican efforts in the House to cut the WIC program that serves women, infants and children."

The New York Times takes a swipe at our new governor, Andrew Cuomo, in an article about his girlfriend, Food Network personality Sandra Lee, Ms. Lee had a bake sale at Grand Central the other day to raise money for food banks struggling to survive.

"Every dollar that's raised can turn into four dollars at the food bank," she said. When reporters tried to ask her about the impact of Governor Cuomo's cuts in money for food banks, she ducked. "I'm not here to talk about the governor's budget, she said, "Thank you."

But what about how the Governor's budget will affect food banks?

Politely, she replied: "I'm not here to talk about politics. But thank you for asking."

When another reporter pressed the issue, she replied demurely: "I'm not here to talk about politics but, if you want a great recipe for cream cheese icing, I've got that for you."

The new governor's girlfriend may profess to know nothing about politics but, when it comes to ducking a question, she's a pro. The fact is that hunger is a serious issue and it will test Cuomo's commitment to the poor.

"Actually he's been better than two recent governors," Berg said. "Both George Pataki and David Paterson decreased spending for food banks and pantries. By keeping spending at the same level as last year Cuomo has done better."

But that may be hardly enough. Mark Dunlea of the New York Hunger Action Network told the Times: "We had a lot of hope for him as governor, and he seems blind to the fact that we're in a recession.

The demand at food pantries has skyrocketed and he hasn't really responded to that." Berg says hunger is no longer solely a city issue. It is a serious problem in the suburbs and upstate, Berg asserts. "And two-thirds of the children who go to school hungry don't get school breakfasts. This isn't a conservative versus liberal issue. It's a humanitarian issue."

Berg still has hope that Cuomo, who was once a strong advocate for the homeless, will ultimately become an advocate for the hungry and the poor. The Cuomo administration is young. Whether Berg's hope is justified remains to be seen.

The advocates for the poor, the homeless, the hungry have no real clout. It's the heavy-hitters, politicians like Cuomo and the legislative leaders, who can make things happen -- even amid economic troubles. How concerned Andrew Cuomo is about the poor will be tested in the days to come.

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