On April 26, 2017, Mayor de Blasio submitted a proposed executive budget for Fiscal Year 2017 to the City Council. Following public hearings, the Council and the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget will negotiate a final budget, which the Council then votes on by June 5th.
The City Council recently published a response to the FY 2017 Preliminary Budget that contained the following five recommendations for budget reallocations that address the food system. Members of the public have an opportunity to weigh in on them in prior to the June 5th vote.
- Eliminate All School Lunch Fees
The Council proposes adding $8.75 million so that the Department of Education (DOE) can eliminate lunch fees in all schools for all students. The goal is to increase participation in school lunch and remove the stigma associated with the distinction between students who must pay and those who qualify for free lunch. In the 2015-2016 school year, DOE provided free lunch to all students in stand-alone middle schools as a test of the policy. The Council noted that this pilot of universal free lunch did not result in a loss of federal Title I funding, and that student participation increased by at least six percent.
- Create Food and Personal Hygiene Pantries at Community Schools
The Council recommends opening pantries to provide food and personal hygiene supplies (e.g., toothpaste and tooth brushes) to needy students in 10-15 schools located in low-income neighborhoods. The cost of construction and stocking the pantries is estimated at $35,000 per school.
- Invest in Regional Farmland Preservation
The Council proposed adding $5 million annually to protect regional farms in the Hudson Valley from being lost to real estate development. The goal of this proposal is to ensure the stability of the regional food supply and to to support the regional food economy.
- “Baseline” the Emergency Food Assistance Program Budget
The Council urged that a number of items funded by City Council additions to the budget in FY 2016 be converted to “baseline” funds that are included in the Mayor’s budget at the start of the budget process. One food-related item that the Council proposed including in the baseline budget is the Emergency Food Assistance Program, a $22,000,000 line item that supports soup kitchens and food pantries across the city.
- Increase Baseline Funding for GreenThumb
GreenThumb, a Parks Department program that supports the city’s community gardens, took over responsibility this year for 34 new gardens that were transferred from the Housing Preservation and Development Department. The Council urged the Mayor to include additional baseline funding of $750,000 in Fiscal 2017 to enable the Parks Department to double the existing GreenThumb staff by hiring six Outreach Coordinators and six field technical staff. These new staff would provide management support, educational programs, and troubleshooting for the GreenThumb gardens.