Future Priority Area: Healthy Food, Healthy Lives
Beginning in 2021, NYSHealth will launch a new priority area: Healthy Food, Healthy Lives. This program will advance policies and programs that connect New Yorkers with the food they need to thrive. We will accomplish this through two strategies: (1) enabling policies that promote healthy and affordable food and (2) testing and scaling programs that connect people to healthy and affordable food.
Advancing Policies and Programs that Connect New Yorkers with the Food They Need to Thrive
The link between food and health is clear. Nutritious food can act as medicine, helping to prevent and manage disease. But too much food, too little food, food that is not nutritious, or food that is not culturally appropriate can have serious health consequences. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
More than 2.3 million New Yorkers are food insecure. Food insecurity is widespread and serious across New York State, with sharp concentrations in some regions. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers are far more likely to experience food insecurity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made the problem worse, and made the Healthy Food, Healthy Lives program even more timely, relevant, and necessary. From April through June 2020, approximately 1 in 10 New Yorkers reported household food scarcity in the prior week. And racial and ethnic disparities persist: during the pandemic, Black and Hispanic households in New York State experienced food scarcity at rates three to four times higher than white New Yorkers. The pandemic also upended the food system and food labor force in many regions of the State, exposing frailties that threaten to widen deep-seated inequities.
The pandemic has also prompted innovations that offer new opportunities for creative solutions. And recent changes in federal and State regulations and programs will allow us to leverage policy changes and additional public funding to support healthy food access and systems and restore food security. These innovations and changes present an opportunity to work toward healthier, more equitable systems.
For example, the federal Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer (P-EBT) program has provided all New York City students with additional support for food. Federal regulations have also allowed more flexibility for virtual benefits enrollment and client visits. Statewide, the Nourish New York program has provided $25 million in support for food banks. New York City’s GetFoodNYC has distributed more than 130 million meals coupled with community-based organizations mobilizing to distribute thousands of meals to neighbors in need. And creative thinking among health systems, farmers, restaurants and other businesses, transportation and delivery organizations, and communities has led to new and altered food distribution channels.
Our Building Healthy Communities program, which will wind down at the end of 2020, laid the groundwork for Healthy Food, Healthy Lives and will help inform this new area. For example, we expect to continue work to expand access to public food benefit programs like SNAP and WIC; increase the reach of food incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks; expand regional and local food action plans; promote large-scale healthy food procurement initiatives; and ensure that high-quality, nutritious foods are available in schools, hospitals, senior centers, day cares, and food pantries. And we will continue to look to communities for innovative approaches that can be scaled and replicated throughout New York State.
Be sure to sign up to receive announcements about the Healthy Food, Healthy Lives program, including future funding opportunities.