De Blasio Administration Says Anti-Inequality Plans Key to Combating Hunger

HRA Commissioner Steven Banks (Photo: Will Bredderman).

HRA Commissioner Steven Banks (Photo: Will Bredderman). (Photo: Will Bredderman for Observer)

Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks said today that efforts to resolve New York’s growing hunger problem will prove fruitless unless Mayor Bill de Blasio succeeds in realizing his ambitious affordable housing plan, raising the minimum wage and creating new job training programs.

Mr. Banks–former chief attorney for the Legal Aid Society, one of Mr. de Blasio’s rivals in his 2001 run for City Council and now a member of his administration–noted in his testimony to the City Council’s Committee on General Welfare that 1.4 million New Yorkers, or 17.4 percent of the population, had difficulty procuring food due to a lack of financial resources in 2012.

“Food insecurity is a consequence of unemployment and low-wage jobs. Hunger is a consequence of food insecurity. In sum, food insecurity is one of the consequences of growing income inequality,” Mr. Banks told Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin, the chairman of the committee and the only member present at the time.

The commissioner said that his agency is increasing outreach to sign up eligible citizens for the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, particularly seniors and residents of public housing. But he stressed that the city can only eliminate hunger with the success of the mayor’s liberal initiatives.

“So while we work as hard as we can to make the current programs as effective as possible, we can never lose sight of the bigger goals needed to fundamentally address hunger–which is why in fighting poverty and income inequality, this administration is implementing a comprehensive affordable housing plan and initiatives to create more living wage jobs,” Mr. Banks said.

Mr. Levin, a member of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, agreed–only adding that he would like to see an expansion of the free in-school breakfast program to first period of the school day and beyond.

“The mayor’s focus on income inequality is welcome here,” Mr. Levin said.

The mayor will likely need state funds and sympathetic state rent laws for his proposal to construct or maintain 200,000 units of affordable housing, and will need Albany’s permission to increase the city’s minimum wage independent of the rest of New York. Such initiatives likely face a hostile reception in the new Republican-dominated State Senate, which Mr. de Blasio unsuccessfully sought to flip into Democratic hands–though the administration says that the mayor remains optimistic.

De Blasio Administration Says Anti-Inequality Plans Key to Combating Hunger