- Associated Press - Thursday, December 3, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York is failing to address a growing hunger problem affecting the state’s most vulnerable residents, an anti-hunger advocacy group said Thursday.

In a request to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the Hunger Action Network of New York State said $16.5 million in additional funding would relieve pressure on food pantries seeing an uptick in demand. The request was first made in June, when more than 30 lawmakers wrote to Cuomo asking for the additional funds. The money wasn’t approved.

Cuomo’s office noted a recent $4.5 million increase in funding for anti-hunger initiatives. But Susan Zimet, executive director of the Hunger Action Network, said more help is needed now.

The 53 food pantries in the Albany area provided 2.6 million meals in 2014 - the highest demand in 36 years of record keeping. The number of people served by a food bank organization in Poughkeepsie went up by 40 percent from 2012 to 2013, using the latest data available.

“The state can quickly find tens of millions of dollars to keep a corporation from leaving New York, but has failed to find the money needed to feed the hungry,” Zimet said, referring to recent deals negotiated by Cuomo to keep upstate plants from laying off workers.

In the last six weeks, the Democratic governor has announced deals with Kraft-Heinz and Alcoa to prevent layoffs at factories in exchange for state subsidies. Kraft-Heinz will receive $20 million in state funds to upgrade its facilities, and Alcoa will receive $38 million for upgrades. Cuomo noted at the time that the investments would preserve jobs and ensure workers had money to put food on their families’ tables.

A Cuomo spokesman sharply defended the governor’s record on hunger, saying “fighting poverty in all of its forms has been a cornerstone of this administration” and pushed back on the argument that he is faster to help corporations.

“Any true advocate for the hungry would cheer action to protect good-paying jobs and keep food on the tables of hardworking New Yorkers,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi. “Maybe they would see that if they left the Albany bubble once in a while.”

The $16.5 million in requested funds would augment $34.5 million set aside by lawmakers earlier this year for a state hunger prevention program.

A hunger task force convened by Cuomo is expected to issue recommendations in the coming weeks for addressing the state’s hunger problem.

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