Tag Archive | "Food"

Food Stamp cuts pose hardships for home health care workers

New policies would cut off 3.1 million families nationwide from the food stamp program.

Having enough money at the end of the month is too often a worry for Elsilia Carrasco, a full-time home health care worker who lives with her three children and elderly mother in the Highbridge section of The Bronx.

Every month she tries to stretch her $23,760 annual net income to pay rent, utilities and to buy groceries. Although Carrasco’s income is not enough to cover her expenses, she no longer qualifies for food benefits.

This dilemma has led Carrasco in the past to making the impossible choice of either delaying rent payments or buying groceries.

And it’s about to get even harder.

Pending proposals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture threaten to reduce those eligible for Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, to only families who qualify for welfare cash assistance. 

This new ruling would end the option that allows states to use their own criteria to provide food assistance to low-income families who are struggling with salaries slightly above the federal poverty level.

This federal action is expected to cut off 3.1 million families nationwide from the food stamp program.

If the Trump administration rules are implemented, Carrasco’s possibilities to enroll in the program would be even more restricted. Even the current eligibility criteria found her ineligible for food security assistance, because her income was too high for the guidelines of New York State.

Every year on October 1, the SNAP program in New York increases its eligibility guidelines to accommodate the rising cost of food in the area. If pre-Trump era standards were still in place, this year Carrasco would be set to receive about $768 per month in food assistance.

But to qualify now under the new federal guidelines, her salary plus her older son’s fast-food paycheck would have to be $3,118 a month for the family of five, or 130% of poverty. Under the previous regulations, the New York State eligibility cut off was 200% of the poverty rate.

This issue brought Carrasco to Bronx Housing Court in the past, when her landlord began the process to recoup the full rent she owed. She had delayed paying portions of the rent in order to buy groceries.

“I’m not going to let my children go hungry,” Carrasco said. Her housing court case was later settled with the landlord and she remains in her apartment in the present.

Carrasco’s situation is common among home health aide workers across the city and the nation. On May 2018, 192,000 home health aides were registered in New York, the greatest concentration among the states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their mean annual wage is $26,240.

“It is very frustrating that the dedicated home care workers providing direct services are frequently on Medicaid and food stamps,” said William Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, an organization that oversees companies with approximately 250,000 workers around the country. Primary payers such as Medicaid, Veteran Affairs and Agencies on Aging set payment rates so low that it’s hard for workers to make a living and for the caregivers to increase in quality.

Paying $1,215 for her two-bedroom apartment every month is not easy for Elsilia Carrasco on her $1,980 monthly salary after taxes. She often has to make choices on the priority of her bills whenever she runs out of food.

“I have a 15-year-old daughter who still goes to school full time and I’m not getting help,” Carrasco said.

Other home health workers also struggle financially. One in six home care workers lives below the federal poverty line and more than half rely on some form of public assistance, according to a 2019 U.S. Home Care Workers Report from the non-profit Paraprofessional Health Institute. In 2017 the report found that 30% of home care aides received food and nutrition assistance.

The income eligibility for SNAP keeps increasing every year, but the number of families that enroll in the benefit in New York City has not kept up. On April 2019, there were around 1,5 million total recipients, according to the New York City Open Data. This number has been steadily decreasing since 2014. This year, at least 68,000 fewer people enrolled in the food stamp program than April 2018, and around 200,000 fewer people than five years ago.

“Many families are living on the edge financially and they really do need that benefit in order to make ends meet and to make sure that their family is fed,” said Sara Abiola, Professor of Health Policy & Management at Columbia University.

The current income guidelines still allow more families than only those in deep poverty to access the benefit, but that’s about to change. “People are concerned that this new cut would threaten a lot of households in the state have not being able to afford to meet their food needs,” said Abiola.

The Department of Agriculture reported that the new system would check income, assets and other circumstances to determine the participant’s eligibility. This may include families receiving at least $50 in cash assistance for at least six months. Not screening people with more rigorous rules “compromises program integrity and reduces public confidence that benefits are being provided to eligible households,” said the Department of Agriculture in the announcement of the proposed rule.

New York State has been able  to provide food stamps to families using broad-based categories, which would be eliminated with the new federal proposals. “If you are able to determine that you are eligible based on one assessment, then you don’t have to go back and re-apply,” Abiola said, “or can determine your eligibility multiple times in multiple different ways.”

Comments against

The comment period on the proposed policy closed on September 23, with 75,000 comments addressed to the Department of Agriculture, according to the Government regulation website. At least 17 governors and the United States Conference of Mayors signed comments in opposition to the proposed rule, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Paraprofessional Health Institute said one in four direct care workers require food stamps to fulfill their nutritional needs. “Direct care workers commit their professional lives to a rewarding yet poorly rewarded job and this proposed revision would further punish these workers for their important career choice, as well as their families,” said the Bronx-based organization in their comment against the proposed regulation.

The organization foresees that without the benefit, the well being of home care workers and long term care consumers would deteriorate, leaving the threat of a large-scale public health emergency.

The first week of October, the Department of Agriculture for the third time announced new cuts to the food stamp program, proposing to standardize across states the way heat and cooling utility expenses are calculated into the eligibility requirement.  The department calculated that $4.9 billion could be cut from its food stamp program over the next five years, if approved. 

The new regulation would hit the colder, northern states the hardest if approved. And, New York could be one of them.

On August 2019, New Yorkers paid 15% more than the national average for natural gas, and 45% more than the national average for electricity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This would make it even harder for Carrasco to enroll in SNAP. She stopped to think about her lost path to get food stamps and said  

“I think the system is upside down,” Carrasco said. “It’s not fair. Instead of helping the ones who really need help.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Food, MoneyComments (0)

A Rare Breed At The Hunts Point Fruit Market

The Hunts Point peninsula sticks out of the South Bronx mainland like a thumb. Defined by the East River to the south and the Bronx River to the north, this maze of scrap yards and warehouses is severed from the rest of the Bronx by the Bruckner Expressway.

However, hidden among the twisted metal and industrial rubble, behind a long concrete wall, is the largest food market in the world. Entry is $3 and all are welcome, but few apart from the industrious obsessives who run the market ever come. Even they are increasingly rare.

Mike Karan arrived at 6 p.m., four hours before the market officially opened. He followed his nightly ritual, weaving through the market’s 1 million square feet of warehouses, loading docks, and sales rooms, inspecting each seller’s inventory. A 30-year veteran buyer, Karan moved fast for a man pushing 50.

“There is no walking,” Karan shouted between breaths. “No eating. No sleeping. No rest.”

The market is organized into four long parallel rows of warehouses. Inside, tidy towers of produce line the walls. Boxes of Ecuadorian plantains from Ecuador sit across from bins of Texas watermelons from Texas. Over $2 billion worth of fruits and vegetables pass through the gates every year, according to the market’s website, feeding over 22 million people in a 50-mile radius around the market.1 However, all of the action happens in the middle of the night.

At midnight, Karan crouched in a frigid box car, examining blackberries. He investigated each row of boxes, peering into each plastic container with his iPhone flashlight, and tasting as he went. The plump berries were still reddish and tart. Some were touched by mold (a “gift” in market lingo). “The best are $32 a box, these are $12,” he explained, and at that price, a deal too good to pass up. Karan scribbled “SOLD” on a paper attached to the boxes and hurried on.

As Karan snaked through the warehouse, squeezing, peeling, smelling, tasting every item along the way, he created a mental inventory of the night’s offerings. Plump sweet-O pluots (a plum/apricot hybrid) from California with speckled yellow skin looked delicious but were too sour. Mandarin oranges from Peru peeled easily, but didn’t have a sticker. “Customers want to see a sticker,” Karan said.

Outside on the loading docks, the hot air carried the sour smell of composting produce. Errant tomatoes and apples, the casualties of hurried transport, lay crushed into the concrete. Workers in reflective vests, hauling pallets stacked with onions and cucumbers, weaved between one another on the narrow walkway. A novice might stay pressed up against the wall for fear of joining the tomatoes crushed underfoot. Karan walked down the middle of the dock, allowing the traffic to make way for him.

After making his selection from each seller, Karan headed for the sales office to complete his purchase. The entire process generally takes around eight hours, often keeping Karan at the market past 2 a.m.

Each of the market’s 35 sellers has at least one glass-enclosed sales office stationed along the loading dock. Rows of salesmen (they are all men) sit behind raised counters, punching orders into the computers in front of them and cracking wise to anyone within earshot.

“This is what I call jack-off hour,” a salesman named Joey Mush grinned through his walrus mustache. “Because all the customers are jack-offs.” A menagerie of gold charms, jumbled together on a single chain around his neck, jangled as he laughed at his own joke.

Mush is not his real last name. He doesn’t like people to know his real last name. And he’s particular about the pronunciation: “Not ‘moosh,’” he instructed, “mush, like mushroom.” The pronunciation make sense since Mush is the resident mushroom specialist at A&J Produce, one of the largest sellers in the market.

Mush has been at the market for over 40 years, first working with his father, then running his own business, before coming to work at A&J Produce. Like Karan, Mush is a total obsessive. His mind is constantly churning through data. Recently, Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports had caused a shortage of peeled garlic. This week, the price of broccoli had spiked during the gap between the Canadian and Californian growing season.

The camaraderie and teasing between salesmen and buyers like Mush and Karan belies the gravity of their relationships. A single transaction can total thousands of dollars.Trust and reputation mean everything to these men.

But, just as necessary as characters like Mush and Karan are, they are also quickly becoming an anachronism.

These days, over 60% of orders that A&J Produce receives are placed over the phone for delivery, according to co-owner John Tramutola, Jr. These tele-buyers rely on Tramutola and his team to ensure quality, instead of visiting the market to inspect the goods in person. “Those days are over,” Tramutola said. “Nowadays everyone wants to stay in bed.”

And as the current salesmen age out of the industry, it isn’t clear who will replace them. “This isn’t a job for the young,” said Anthony G, a salesman at AJ Trucco, another larger seller in the market. “What young person is going to spend all night here?”


Whoever comes next, they will have to be just as obsessed and just as tough. “This is my life,” Mush said, reflecting on his career, before adding with a chuckle, “and I lament every night.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, FeaturedComments (0)

Bronx’s Little Italy set for Sunday festival

The Belmont area of the Bronx will celebrate its annual Ferragosto festival to mark the end of the summer season this Sunday, DNAinfo reported.

Food vendors, musical guests and other merchants are set to line the streets of Arthur Ave. in the Bronx. Other entertainment is also scheduled throughout the day in honor of the annual Italian tradition, which marks the change of seasons with food and festivities.

Frank Franz, chairman of the Belmont Business Improvement District, says most people consider the festival to be the “biggest and most successful festival all year” within the Belmont area.

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From Bangladesh to the Bronx

Naan bread and meat curries are among the house's specialties; the menu varies, but goat, chicken, and duck stews are always available. BIANCA CONSUNJI/The Bronx Ink

Make no mistake: The food in Neerob, a canteen-style eatery in the Bronx, is Bangladeshi—not Indian.

The Parkchester restaurant first opened over three years ago, spurred by owner Mohammed Rahman’s frustration that numerous “Indian” restaurants actually served dishes native to Bangladesh, and were staffed by Bengalis. “When you say that the food in a restaurant is Bangladeshi, no one wants to come,” said Rahman, who first came to the U.S. 20 years ago as a student. “But when you say it’s Indian, people are familiar with it. They know what to order.”

He refused to comment on Indian food, saying only that although the basic principles of Bengali cooking are similar to Indian styles, Bangladeshi cooking uses different spices. For his dishes, Rahman uses less garlic and omits curry leaves—a vital ingredient in southern Indian cuisine that imparts a strong, slightly bitter flavor.

“My dream is to make Bangladesh’s food mainstream,” said Rahman, whose family worked in the food service industry back in his hometown of Dhaka. “It’s authentic Bengali food.”

The hole-in-the-wall establishment is located in the heart of a Bengali community along Starling Avenue, and it’s evident by the clientele who drop in for some deep-fried pakoras (South Asian vegetable fritters) and spiced milk tea. Neerob attracts a varied range of diners from all five boroughs of the city, plus more from upstate New York and New Jersey, but its regulars are by and large, Bengali.

Rahman, a jovial, stocky man in his late 30s, shakes hands and exchanges a few words with every customer who comes in. Although Neerob means “quiet” in his native tongue, the atmosphere of the restaurant is anything but. Space is limited; lunchtime tables are inevitably filled with groups sharing banter over large platters of curried meat, wiping up traces of mustard oil and sauce with pillowy triangles of naan bread. Even deep in the afternoon on a Sunday, the restaurant is never empty.

Fish, the staple of the Bengali diet, stars prominently on the menu. Pan-fried in mustard oil, minnow and catfish are covered with onions, chili, and cilantro, and doused with sauce. Prices don’t go over $10, so it’s a common sight to see blue-collar workers tucking into bread and curry, as well as a steady stream of professionals toting takeaway cartons of food for their families.

Meat curry and a saffron-hued pilaf cost about $7.50-9 for the combination; a $1 piece of naan and a $4 dollop of bharta (a mashed dish of vegetables sometimes mixed with seafood) is a meal on its own, although $1 portions are available for curious diners who want to try different varieties. Pakoras are three for a dollar. Desserts are limited, but shôndesh, a creamy ball of cottage cheese soaked in syrup, ends the meal on a satisfying note.

Customers come for the food as well as the cozy atmosphere. Taxi driver Khandoker Huq, who comes in at least twice a month for some chicken or fish curry, said, “He’s a fantastic guy and cooks good food.”

Bani Chodhury, a physician from Bedford Hills, often makes the trip from Scarsdale to Starling Avenue to purchase food for her family. “During the week, I can’t always cook,” said Chodhury. “I even have Neerob cater my parties, and the best part is, they always provide a surplus of food so there’s no shortage, no matter how many guests come—and in Bangladesh, people take home food from parties.”

Rahman doesn’t hesitate to pass on recipes to customers, some of them American-born Bengalis yearning to learn more about their culinary heritage. “I always tell the recipe,” he said. “I’m not losing anything. When you help somebody, they will come again.”

But don’t ask him what’s in Neerob’s signature tea, a fragrant mixture of milk and spices. “That’s my only secret,” he said, winking.

 

Neerob, 2109 Starling Avenue (Olmstead Avenue), Parkchester, Bronx; (718) 904-7061

By subway: Castle Hill on the No. 6 train

 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, FoodComments (3)

Better luck at next year’s Savor the Bronx

eggplant

The legendary Mario's Restaurant served its regular fare for restaurant week (LINDSAY MINERVA/The Bronx Ink)

Holy cannoli.  No special prices at Mario’s for the Bronx’s first annual restaurant week?
Instead, customers looking for a deal at the iconic Arthur Avenue restaurant were offered a free glass of Montepulciano red wine and a complimentary crash course in all things Italy. Ionic columns and brick arches frame the dining room overflowing with Roman sculptures, portraits of Tuscany, Italian flags, and endless family photos.
Owner Joseph Migliucci said he could not offer a special prix fixe menu because his family-owned business in Belmont already offers the best food on Arthur Avenue at a great price as it is. “Being here 92 years, we feel we’re the best restaurant on Arthur Avenue,” said Migliucci, 73, who has been working at the restaurant named after his father since he was 13 years old.

Mario’s was one of 40 restaurants chosen to participate in “Savor the Bronx,” an event that offered customers a chance to explore the borough’s culinary diversity at a discount from Nov. 1 to Nov. 13. Migliucci believed the promotional two weeks did not bring in any more customers this year.

What started as a pizza parlor with six tables in 1919 now seats more than 100 in what is now one of the most famous Italian restaurants in the city’s “Real Little Italy.”  Migliucci’s father Mario, his uncle Clemente, and great grandmother Scolastia–all originally from Naples–opened the restaurant after they moved to the United States.

The cheesy penne-rigate sorrentina made with southern Italian sauce went for $13.50e with southern Italian sauces. The pasta was hidden beneath a layer of baked mozzarella. Ricotta cheese oozed out of the thick tomato sauce.

Another popular southern Italian dish is the stuffed eggplant for $9, also known as eggplant rollatini. Slightly under-cooked, it hid bits of beef and sausage not mentioned on the menu.

For these heavier dishes, the pleasantly crispy sesame bread with olive oil and butter soaked up the savory tomato sauce. It’s worth a trip to Adieo, where the bread is made everyday, just two stores down.

The clams oreganate at $9 for 5 were seasoned with oregano and baked with bread crumbs are somewhat lighter. The fresh clams–bought from the Cosenza’s fish market across the street–were served with squeezed lemon on top.

“Restaurant Week did not really help us, but it was the first year,” said Migliucci.  “Maybe next year it will catch on.”

 

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Bringing the farm to the Grand Concourse

Nearly 40 people gathered Tuesday, Oct. 3 in a church on the Grand Concourse over a bounty that included arroz con gandules, pico de gallo, green plantains with cheese and three types of tacos. The meal was notable not for its Latino roots, but for its use of fresh, pesticide-free vegetables in an area of the South Bronx where it’s often hard to find healthy food.

The diners were all members of the Farm Fresh Project, a group of  50 Bronx residents who have signed up to receive weekly supplies of produce from an upstate farm. But the project has reached its membership limit so now organizers are hoping to spread the healthy eating message in other ways, such as the potluck supper, which was  made by members using their recent supply of produce.

“It’s a way to build community,” said Jackie Goulet, an Americorps member who coordinates Bronx CSA, a farm project for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “It’s a way to learn about new ideas and good recipes.”

The project is the first of its kind in the South Bronx and is a small step toward addressing a perennial problem in the neighborhood, which faces both a lack of fresh food supply and an obesity problem. Nearby Highbridge has only two supermarkets to serve 34,000 people, causing many local residents to shop at bodegas, most of which have meager and expensive produce offerings, according to Healthy Highbridge Coordinator Juan Rios. According to a 2008 city study called “New York City Neighborhood Grocery Store and Supermarket Shortage,” most of the districts in the South Bronx have too few places to buy fresh food. At the same time, a 2006 New York City Department of Health and Hygiene report shows four in 10 children and two out of three adults in the South Bronx are overweight or obese.

Community supported agriculture projects bring together a group of people who pay in advance for a season’s worth of goods from a nearby farm. This particular program offers food from Fresh Radish Farm, located 60 miles away in Goshen, NY. Area residents pick up vegetables, such as zucchini, onions, potatoes, tomatoes and greens weekly or biweekly. Whatever is left over is donated to the food pantry at Seventh Day Adventist Church at which the market is located.

Unlike traditional farm shares, this one is subsidized by a one-time $30,000 Legacy Project Grant from the Bronx Health Reach, a community-based healthcare initiative. Residents must sign a contract ahead of time, but can pay each week with a sliding scale based on income. A family making over $50,000 would pay $485, but a family on food stamps pays only $120 for the whole season, which lasts from June to November.

A bag of assorted produce estimated to feed a family of four costs $5.45 a week for families who receive food stamps.

Americorps worker and food share organizer Jackie Goulet says most of the farm share members pay in food stamps.(Rani Molla/THE BRONX INK)

An overwhelming majority of Bronx farm share members gets food stamps, Goulet said. Food stamp eligibility involves a number of factors, such as family size and income, but generally a family cannot have more than $2,000 in resources, according to the government’s food stamp fact sheet.

Concourse resident Maria Hernandez, 28, heard about the market from a friend. She said that since the farm share began, she’s been able to afford to make her young daughter more vegetable dishes.

“If you have them, you see what you can do with them,” she said of the vegetables, which she pays for with her food stamp card. “If you have to buy them, you can think of something else to make”—something else quicker and without produce.

Most of the members are also Spanish speakers, so Goulet canvassed since winter distributing pamphlets in both English and Spanish.

“It took a really long time to get 50 people to sign up,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s a weird concept people haven’t heard of: asking people for money for something they haven’t even seen yet.”

Goulet writes a newsletter each week that includes nutrition facts, information about the farm, as well as “quick, easy and affordable” recipes geared at the produce—necessary as new products are introduced to the population.

One recipe, “Grilled Cheese with a Twist,” suggests adding red onion, garlic, spinach and tomato to the quick staple. “Chunky Vegetable Soup” addresses the changing offerings of a farm share by suggesting “soft vegetables like zucchini, green beans, summer squash, or leafy greens such as kale, spinach or collard greens.”

Grand Concourse residents load up on fresh produce. (Rani Molla/THE BRONX INK)

As a handful of people arrived before the 5 p.m. weekly market start time, Goulet told some perplexed produce shoppers they could use the strange and soft pumpkin greens for soup. The farm share also offers more recognizable produce, such as tomatoes, potatoes and lettuce.

Eva Sanchez, 33, a mother of three whose young son would occasionally help translate for her, enjoys the offerings.

“It’s economical and the vegetables are good,” she said. Sanchez, who lives on the Grand Concourse,  prefers vegetables to meat but said choosing produce was harder before the farm share came to her neighborhood.

“It’s not difficult; it’s expensive,” said Sanchez, who heard about the project from a friend.

Sanchez also volunteers at the farm share, helping other people with their groceries. This is a step in the right direction, according to Goulet, who said normally farm shares are run by their members.

“It’s starting to take off on its own,” said Goulet, who commutes from her family’s home in Long Island. “That’s something I hoped would happen.”

Goulet ends her Americorps work in December but says she believes the project will go forward, adding that next year the farm share could carry fruit in addition to vegetables. This year a scheduling conflict prohibited the small organization from receiving fruit deliveries.

According to New York City Coalition Against Hunger spokeswoman Theresa Hassler, “It’s the first year, so of course we plan on growing. We definitely plan on expanding and growing in coming years as participation and interest grow.”

With that, farm share employees hope the community will grow healthier too.

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Life, Culture, Food, HealthComments (1)

Sen. Gillibrand wants more fresh-food infrastructure in ‘food deserts,’ NY Daily News

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) focused on the Bronx’s “food deserts” during Tuesday’s annual Farm Day, calling for more fresh fruits and vegetables in impoverished areas, New York Daily News.

Gillibrand sits on the Senate Agriculture Committee and is pushing for “food hub infrastructure” funding initiatives into the 2012 Farm Bill. The Daily News reports that such funding would help places like the Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market.

The Bronx is the worst borough in the city when it comes to obesity and diabetes, according to the city Health Department.

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Chilis and Piñatas

Silvestre Rosas owns the Guadalupita store in Belmont

Norteña music blasts from a boom-box at a Mexican grocery store in Belmont.  There is little space to move between aisles crammed with canned foods and bags of Mexican treats.

Bright piñatas hang from the ceiling along with metal pots used for making tamales. Piggy banks made of clay, sit snugly on a rack, just a couple steps away from lollipops covered with chili powder.

With so many trinkets and snacks to buy. What sells the most in this cluttered store?

Owner Silvestre Rosas glances at a five foot long freezer with avocados, fresh chilli pepers, tomatoes and nopal leaves.

“People come for the vegetables” he says.

Rosas points at a batch of green Guaje pods. “People open these ones and take out little seeds that are inside, they grind the seeds in the molcajetes –earth pots that are also on sale- they mix it with some chilli peppers and make a salsa.” he says.

A native of the state of Puebla, Rosas reckons he will be too busy tending his store to party on Cinco de Mayo.

Fordham college students may come in for a six pack or two, and just in case any clients want to get patriotic, Rosas is also selling Mexican flags. For more day-to-day necessities he also sells Ponds face creams and candles to light at church altars.

But none of this is as popular as the vegetables.

“Mexicans from the south use vegetables often,” says Rosas. “Like the Poblano chili peppers, which they fill with cheese and cover with salsa.  In my house, my wife cooks that for me too.”

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