A broad coalition of environmentalists, anti-hunger advocates and agriculture groups is urging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation giving farmers a tax break for donating food to food banks.
In a letter sent to Cuomo on Tuesday and signed by 144 groups including the New York Farm Bureau and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the coalition said the bill would address a growing hunger problem while reducing wasted food.
"Often, the most nutritious food is also the most expensive and the most perishable — and therefore the most out-of-reach for low-income families," said Margarette Purvis, president of the Food Bank For New York City. "The farm to food bank bill will be a further encouragement to the generous farmers of our great state to make new produce donations for neighbors in need."
Farmers last year donated 12 million pounds of food in New York. Supporters argue that number could go up dramatically if the state gives a credit to farmers to offset the cost of harvesting and transporting surplus crops that otherwise might go to waste. The credit would be capped at $5,000 annually.
More than 2.3 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food programs like the ones offered by food pantries. More than a third are children.
Cuomo vetoed the bill last year because lawmakers chose to handle it outside the standard state budget process. It passed the Legislature again this year, and a spokesman for the Democratic governor said the bill remains under review.
"This is not only an upstate issue or a downstate issue. It is not only a poverty issue or a farmers' issue," said Assemblyman Francisco Moya, a Queens Democrat. He said the bill, which he sponsored, would ensure "food doesn't go to waste, it goes towards ensuring no family experiences the pain of hunger pangs."
Anti-hunger advocates say fresh fruits and vegetables are especially hard to come by for those New Yorkers who struggle to afford a healthy diet. That can lead to health problems like vitamin deficiency, obesity and diabetes.
"There is a widespread need for healthy produce in New York's emergency food system," stated Susan Zimet, executive director of Hunger Action Network of New York State, which was the first signee on the letter to Cuomo. "This legislation will help meet that need by bringing healthy, nutritious produce to those that need it the most."
The federal government already offers a tax credit to farmers who donate goods to food banks. Several states have created their own tax credits, including California, Oregon and Colorado.