Welcome to the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island

At the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island (HWCLI), our work is to ensure that our region is a welcoming and inclusive place for everyone to live. We can set the standard for what an equitable region looks like. That means safe communities, decent, affordable housing, healthy food, access to care and an opportunity to thrive. In our quest for improvements and systemic change, we face a unique set of obstacles. In fact, the poverty rate today is at its highest since 1959. Given the current assault on the country’s most vulnerable communities, our work is more important than ever.

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May 12, 2024

Food insecurity on Long Island: The struggle to make ends meet just above SNAP thresholds

By Tiffany Cusaac-Smith and Maureen Mullarkey

Updated May 13, 2024 8:26 am

Read on Newsday

As dusk approaches sunrise, Tangaligua Ivory usually can be found at a post office distribution center, operating forklifts and other machinery to haul heavy packages toward their final destinations. 

Once the parcels are categorized, Ivory, 34, briefly stops at her one-bedroom Melville apartment to help her 15-year-old daughter get ready for school. After the two say their goodbyes, Ivory is not done yet. She’s off to her part-time job at the MLK Center in Rockville Centre — a community center that offers youth programs and a food pantry.

The schedule is grueling, but it pays for the roughly $2,200 monthly rent for the apartment, and helps cover the electricity and gas bills.

What is often left by the wayside is food. To fill the gap, she applied for food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2017 and multiple times since 2020. But she was denied those benefits.

“I work two jobs, and I can barely make it,” she said. “So, when I go to apply for SNAP benefits, and they're like, ‘Oh, you make too much money.’ I’m like, how?”

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Many Long Islanders face a similar conundrum. They earn salaries that could be sustainable in some other parts of the country. But on Long Island, with its high cost of living, they still have difficulty putting food on the table. And their salaries sometimes exceed the income limits to get SNAP food benefits.

Formerly known as food stamps, the program has been instrumental in staving off hunger for millions. But experts say it is also ripe for changes to make it easier to apply for the benefit and more applicable to people who live in regions with high costs of living.

Together, this equation often leaves struggling residents in a dilemma. They either depend on steady visits to a food bank, and eat cheaper, less healthy foods — or go without.

Long Island is “a very hard place to live — and the choices that families have to make to make ends meet — it’s pretty tough,” said Michael Haynes with Long Island Cares — the Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank, one of the largest organizations offering food assistance in the region.

Moreover, there is the perception that food insecurity is not prevalent on Long Island — a place often noted for its pockets of affluence, said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, president and CEO of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.

“People really don't think that, you know, food insecurity — or the need for food, really exists within suburban areas,” she said.

Food insecurity on the rise on LI

The coronavirus pandemic and its ensuing job losses helped to open a window on the prevalence of food insecurity nationally and on Long Island. Many who could previously afford to put food on the table found themselves at food pantries and applying for SNAP benefits.

To live on Long Island, a family of four should have an income of roughly $100,000 for “basic necessities,” according to a 2022 report from the Suffolk County Legislature’s Welfare to Work Commission.

Conversely, SNAP benefits are guided by thresholds that include an annual gross income limit of $45,000 in New York for a family of four, according to the state’s website.

For a household with an elderly or disabled person with dependent care expenses, the annual income limit for a family of four is $60,000.

The gap between the income thresholds and the cost of living on Long Island leaves many people without enough to buy the basics, according to policy experts, advocates and others.

In Suffolk County, 40% of the approximately 80,000 food-insecure residents earned above the gross income SNAP threshold in New York in 2021, according to Feeding America, a food bank network that operates across the country. That threshold is 200% above the poverty line. 

In Nassau, there are similar numbers, with 39% of the roughly 60,000 food-insecure residents above that same threshold in the same year, the organization said.

Sharon Sheppard, the founder of Sharon’s Food Pantry and assistant director of the MLK Center, said that of the almost 140 families it serves, about 60% have applied and were denied SNAP benefits.

“You might see somebody with a nurse's uniform [on] …, knowing that they work, and you're saying to yourself, ‘Why are they on line?’ ” Sheppard said.

When Debbie Loesch looks out at the people who fill up the lines at her Angels of Long Island pantry and farmers market in Mastic, she also notices many dual-income families.

“By the time they pay that $3,800-a-month rent, car insurance, heating oil, at the end of the month, there's no money left,” Loesch said.

And food is often on the cutting block.

But the pantry, decorated with a burnt-orange painted ceiling and hanging wicker baskets, hopes to bring those food options back into households. It operates as a free general store to the public, allowing its patrons to choose from items such as fresh produce and dairy and baked goods.

When the pantry opened in January, Loesch and her staff received an influx of families on their walk-in line, sometimes snaking outside around the corner hours before its 10 a.m. opening. She thought in a few months, the number of people would decrease.

It hasn’t.

Food banks a regular stop for some

About 15 years ago, food banks and pantries were more likely to be used for emergencies — places one would go when they faced acute crises like a sudden job loss or medical leave, said Jessica Rosati, vice president of programs and community service at Long Island Cares.

Their role since has shifted.

“We’re serving the people who need it the most, but then we’re serving additional people that are equally in need but are not eligible for government support,” she said.

Between January and most of April, Long Island Cares’ five satellite offices saw more than 17,000 visits — some of which can be the same person returning multiple times.

Only 630 visitors identified themselves as receiving SNAP benefits, she said, citing data kept by the organization.

Since at least 2020, Nassau County has had roughly 20,000 people apply for SNAP benefits yearly. More than 50% of cases in each of those years were denied, according to data from the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

During that same time, Suffolk County had more than 30,000 people apply each year, with denials that ranged from 34% to 38%, the data showed.

A Nassau County spokesman declined to give the most common reasons for denial of claims.

Suffolk County did not respond. 

Haylee Hebenstreit, a clinical instructor at Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare, said even the process of applying for SNAP benefits is often difficult and intrusive.

Applying for the benefits in New York often amounts to a “black box,” where people often don’t understand why they are approved or denied.

“The guidelines, the eligibility, it's not meant to be understandable to the average person,” Hebenstreit said, noting later: “That should tell you something about what’s going on.”

At the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, staff are working to fill that black box with information.

Staff there help about 11,500 people each year on Long Island apply for SNAP benefits, including outreach, education and pre-screening, and assisting with some applications.

Case workers intently ask about their household size, income and immigration status to help determine if they are likely to get the benefits.

Maybe the parents are ineligible because of their immigration status, but not the child born in the United States. Or perhaps the family will have someone who is disabled in the house, which might allow the household to get benefits.

Sometimes, staff say, people don’t know that they’re eligible. But they acknowledge there are those in need who get denied.

Baird-Streeter, of the Health and Welfare Council, said those people often are given food cards, but she notes, “That's not going to be on a consistent basis or in perpetuity.”

Advocates say further regionalizing the federal income thresholds might enable more of those in need in places like Long Island to be eligible for food benefits. Currently, they say the income thresholds are too low to make big enough dents in food insecurity on Long Island. They want more reflective regional income guidelines based on the cost of living in each area.

“This way, more Americans in need can actually access the benefits and supports that they need to help them, you know, meet the need and go about living their everyday lives,” said Haynes, vice president of government relations, advocacy and social policy at Long Island Cares.

Making do without SNAP

To make do, Ivory plans meals around the meats that are in the MLK Center pantry that week. She cooks large portions of rice, leaving leftovers to last for days.

After volunteering at the center, she took the second job there when the assistant opportunity came up.

In total from the two jobs, she earns about $45,000 before taxes. And even with that income, there are still moments when paying for food is out of reach.

Her daughter does not receive a free or reduced school breakfast and lunch, which can cost up to $30 weekly. Sometimes her meal tab is in the negative.

“It’s embarrassing for her to have to go to school every day and be told, ‘You’re in the negative; you have a negative balance,’ ” Ivory said.

Children who live in households that can get SNAP are among those eligible for free and reduced lunches, the state said. 

And she continued applying again for SNAP benefits. A co-worker, she said, told her she would have more chances of being accepted the more she applied.

Applications for SNAP can be made online, but Ivory said she also has gone to a Department of Social Services office because it is easier to hand in forms that way. But consistently applying, especially while working two jobs, takes an emotional and physical toll.

“It's a lot to go into social services because it's like an ego thing. It's like, I can't provide for myself. I already feel less than just going into the building,” Ivory said. "Then to be told, ‘Yeah, I can't help you.’ ”

“It’s discouraging,” she added.

The system, she said, is set up to discourage people from advancing their lives because the more money you make, the less chance you have of getting SNAP benefits.

“It allows them to be dependent on it, but it doesn't allow you to get out of it,” said Ivory, who is looking into medical programs and going back to school.

On her day off — Fridays — Ivory is back at the MLK Center’s food pantry. This time, she said, to volunteer. She is both the observer and the affected party to food insecurity.

There, she sees people pick out items such as rice, beans and meats.

Perhaps they are making the same juggle she does — working multiple jobs, volunteering, and wanting more. Maybe they earn SNAP assistance, but not enough to cover their expenses.

Without knowing them, she understands. 

“Even if I don't know them on a first-name basis, I know the struggle,” she said.

  WHAT TO KNOW Many Long Islanders earn salaries that could be sustainable in some other parts of the country, but have difficulty putting food on the table in a region with a high cost of living.  Some earn too much to be eligible for food assistance through the SNAP program but still face food insecurity.  In Suffolk County, 40% of the approximately 80,000 food-insecure residents earn above the gross income SNAP threshold in New York, according to Feeding America, a food bank network that operates across the country. 

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May 7, 2024

Press Release: Health & Welfare Council of Long Island Supporting Stamp Out Hunger® Food Drive on Saturday, May 11, 2024

Health & Welfare Council of Long Island Supporting Stamp Out Hunger® Food Drive on Saturday, May 11, 2024Food collected locally will benefit Island Harvest Food Bank to help Long Islanders struggling to put food on their tables  LONG ISLAND, NY — May 7th, 2024Health & Welfare Council of Long Island is joining Island Harvest Food Bank, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), and the United States Postal Service (USPS) in support of the annual Stamp Out Hunger® food drive, the nation’s largest single-day food collection campaign. The Stamp Out Hunger food drive is on Saturday, May 11, 2024, and all Long Island residents are encouraged to leave non-perishable food donations by their mailbox for their letter carrier to collect. All food collected in Nassau and Suffolk counties will benefit Island Harvest by providing supplemental food support to more than 300,000 Long Islanders who face hunger and food insecurity, including nearly one-third of those who are children. “Contributing to Stamp Out Hunger is simple,” says Randi Shubin Dresner, president and CEO of Island Harvest. Just leave nonperishable food items in a bag next to your mailbox before the regularly scheduled mail delivery on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Then, your USPS letter carrier will do the rest to help ensure that it gets onto the tables of our Long Island neighbors in need.”"The Health and Welfare Council is happy to support Island Harvest’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive", said HWCLI President & CEO, Vanessa Baird-Streeter. "Access to food is a fundamental human right and by participating in the food drive, we actively contribute to ensuring that everyone can put food on their table. While the food drive addresses immediate needs, it also highlights the systemic issues contributing to hunger. As an umbrella organization, we will continue advocate for policy changes that address poverty, food insecurity, and inequality". Nonperishable food items needed include canned goods, cereal, pasta, rice, boxed juices, and shelf-stable milk (please, no food or juices in glass containers). In addition, personal care items such as toothpaste, soap, shampoo, deodorant, and disposable diapers are gratefully accepted. All donations collected will help replenish Island Harvest’s network of food pantries, soup kitchens and other emergency feeding programs in communities throughout Long Island. “Even if it’s a can of soup or a box of cereal, every donation, no matter the size, will help countless Long Islanders who may be struggling to put food on their tables,” explains Ms. Shubin Dresner, who noted that the food bank distributed 16 million pounds of food in 2023, a 64% increase over 2019 (pre-pandemic levels). “We are counting on the generosity of our neighbors who can spare a little extra to help make this year’s Stamp Out Hunger food drive one of the most successful.” Since its inception in 1993, Stamp Out Hunger has collected more than 1.75 billion pounds of food in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to help address the issue of hunger in America.  “The National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 6000 and the United States Postal Service are excited to once again partner with Island Harvest for this year’s Stamp Out Hunger food collection,” said Tom Siesto, Executive Vice President, NALC Branch 6000. “The members of Branch 6000 and the employees of the United States Postal Service often see firsthand the widespread issue of food insecurity on Long Island and are thrilled to take part in this very important campaign and give back to the local communities that they serve.” “Our letter carriers stand ready to Stamp Out Hunger on Long Island. We are thrilled to be working with Island Harvest Food Bank and National Association of Letter Carriers to join the mission and ensure every resident has access to a meal,” said the Postal Service’s District Manager John Tortorice.   This year’s Stamp Out Hunger collection campaign on Long Island is generously supported by presenting sponsor National Grid, lead sponsor JPMorgan Chase & Co., and major sponsors Allstate, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Dime Community Bank, Empire Automotive Group, Nonna’s Garden, Rheem ProPartner, and Stop & Shop, and supporting partners College Hunks Moving, College Hunks Hauling Junk, Amazon, and Steel Equities. All donations to Stamp Out Hunger are tax-deductible because all the food collected benefits Island Harvest, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. About Health & Welfare Council of Long IslandEstablished in 1947, the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island (HWCLI) is a regional, nonprofit umbrella organization for health and human service providers dedicated to improving the lives of Long Island’s most vulnerable residents by responding to their needs through the promotion and development of public policies and direct services. To learn more, visit www.hwcli.org or call 516-483-1110.About Island Harvest Food BankIsland Harvest Food Bank is a leading human services organization whose mission is to end hunger and reduce food waste on Long Island. We accomplish this through innovative programs and services aimed at enhanced hunger awareness, short-term case management, nutrition education, outreach and advocacy initiatives, our Healthy Harvest Farm, a Workforce Skills Development Institute, and efficient food collection and distribution. Our work directly supports children, families, seniors, and veterans who turn to us in times of crisis and supports a network of community-based nonprofit organizations. Island Harvest Food Bank is a member of Feeding America®, a nationwide network of food banks leading the effort to solve hunger in the U.S. To learn more, visit www.islandharvest.org. # # #Island Harvest Food Bank Media Relations Contact:Don Miller, West End Strategies, Ltd., 516-330-1647don@westendstrategiespr.com Health & Welfare Council of Long Island Contact:Angela Porwick, 631-935-5214, Aporwick@hwcli.com

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April 30, 2024

Press Release: Long Island Round Table to Discuss Health Disparities Black Long Islanders Face

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages Joins Advocates & Storytellers to Discuss Healthcare Disparities Long Islanders Experience

MINEOLA, LONG ISLAND — Yesterday, New York Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, Health & Welfare Council of Long Island President & CEO Vanessa Baird-Streeter, 1199 SEIU member Prince Pennington and Rebecca Charles, Harmony Healthcare Long Island Director of Operations, joined Protect Our Care New York to discuss a new report from Protect Our Care and the NAACP, detailing how the Inflation Reduction Act benefits Black Americans nationwide.    Thanks to President Biden and Democrats in Congress, health care and prescription drugs are becoming more affordable for more people in the United States, and a record number of Black Americans have enrolled in low- or no-cost Affordable Care Act Marketplace plans.   Black Americans disproportionately face higher rates of diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, and barriers to accessing affordable care and medications. The Inflation Reduction Act is making health care costs more accessible by lowering premiums, negotiating costs on expensive drugs like Januvia and Jardiance, and capping the cost of insulin. Despite President Biden’s progress in lowering these costs, Congressional Republicans and their pharmaceutical allies are trying to reverse this progress by raising drug prices and making affordable care out of reach for millions, which would particularly harm Black Americans. Speakers highlighted how the IRA reduces disparities that Black Americans face in accessing care and must be protected as it leads to more positive health outcomes and creates a healthier future.    “As a member of the Health Committee and Chair of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus, I commend the recent actions taken on both federal and state levels to address disparities in our healthcare system, said Assemblywoman Michaelle C. Solages. “However, our work is far from over. The appalling statistics on health outcomes for Black Americans demand our unwavering commitment to action. Communities of color on Long Island and across the state require investment proportional to the seriousness of this issue. The Inflation Reduction Act and state initiatives in the recently passed budget mark a meaningful first step toward rectifying these unacceptable health disparities. Let us continue to prioritize equity and justice in healthcare, ensuring that every individual receives the care and support they deserve."   “The Affordable Care Act and Inflation Reduction Act are helping to transform Black New Yorkers’ access to critical, quality care, helping to overcome health and economic disparities, and lowering costs,” said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, CEO of Health & Welfare Council of Long Island “ Now more than ever, it’s important to strengthen these protections in the face of calls to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act. We’re committed to ensuring that all Long Islanders have access to affordable and quality care, receive the proper education needed to make their own health decisions, and have the ability to voice unjust practices in the healthcare system.”     “Harmony Healthcare Long Island is proud to be a part of the conversation about how we can improve social determinants of health for Black Americans living on Long Island,” said Rebecca Charles, Director of Operations at Harmony Health Care Long Island. “Our practice believes in understanding and connecting with our specific patient population, and that means advocating for policies that improve care outcomes and reduce disparities. Thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, championed by President Biden and Democrats in Congress, healthcare and prescription drugs are becoming more affordable for more people in the United States. For Black Long Islanders who have historically been marginalized and faced roadblocks to receiving high quality, affordable healthcare, these lower costs are translating to better access to care.”   “Healthcare is a human right, and Long Islanders’ access to affordable, quality and effective care should not be determined by your zip code or background. No one should have to wait months before being able to see a specialist or needing to choose between groceries or their co-pay,” said Prince Pennington, 1199SEIU Member and Radiology Technician. “The Inflation Reduction Act is a step in the right direction to help those who struggle with diabetes or cardiovascular disease receive the medication needed at an affordable rate.”    “For many Black Americans, the disparities we face in our healthcare system go beyond visits to the primary care physician, highlighting the need for holistic care,” said Kiana Abbady, Long Island Progressive Coalition Board President. “From transportation to access to nutritious and quality food, our health is critically tied to the barriers we face each day. The Affordable Care Act and Inflation Reduction Act are helping to reduce the burden of high medical bills by providing access to life saving, high quality care.”   You can watch the event here and read the NAACP and Protect Our Care Report detailing how the Inflation Reduction Act is lowering costs for Black Americans here.    ###   About Protect Our Care New York Protect Our Care New York is the state team for national advocacy nonprofit Protect Our Care, which is dedicated to making high-quality, affordable and equitable health care a right, and not a privilege, for everyone. Protect Our Care educates the public, influences policy, supports health care champions and holds politicians accountable. For more information, visit www.protectourcare.org

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