After six weeks of answering calls from the COVID Care Neighbor Network hotline, it is clear what our neighbors need–GROCERIES. They do NOT need prepared meals or grab and go lunches. They want rice, beans, lentils, oil, onions, potatoes, fruit, cereal, milk, eggs, and vegetables. They want to be able to prepare dinner for their own families that match their tradition and culture.
Just like we have pandemic unemployment we need to have pandemic food stamps so our undocumented neighbors have efficient access to food to feed their family. Corona and Jackson Heights have seen lines that go on for blocks for families waiting for a small box of free food. This is not only inefficient but exposes these families unnecessarily to the Coronavirus.
When we first started COVID Care Neighbor Network, our volunteers mainly answered calls asking for reassurance and check-ins. Then people started asking for help running errands for people who were quarantined. Then the calls started from people who had legal questions about wills, power of attorney, and landlord issues. Unfortunately, six weeks into this pandemic, almost all of our calls are from undocumented families who are facing food insecurity.
These are families who for years have taken care of themselves with hard work. But now they have no job, no money, and no hope of either.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (aka a grab-and-go meal from a school) will not feed a family from now till September. Emergency relief like COVID Care Neighbor Network and other Mutual Aid groups can’t fill this void. COVID Care and Mutual Aid are a mere Band-Aid that stops the bleeding until the city can step in with a long-term plan to provide groceries for those without income.
The best way to get help to the people who need it most would be to have New York City fund pandemic food stamps. We all know Washington, DC will never agree to give aid to our undocumented neighbors. We know from our experience with licensing of undocumented drivers that the State would take quite some time to pass this initiative. However, our city embraces all of our immigrant neighbors and can act fast. We are calling on the city to print and distribute pandemic food stamps immediately to our undocumented neighbors in need. NYC Human Resources Administration has a modern internet system called ACCESS HRA up and ready to go.
The city should tap into the neighborhood-based mutual aid groups that have sprouted during this pandemic. They can assist immigrants in accessing pandemic food stamps. Another ancillary benefit would be to our neighborhood grocery stores – they would benefit from the increased business. We do not need anything fancy. Revert back to old fashion paper food stamps that are still in use at local farmers markets throughout the city. We can just expand this program to include grocery stores for the duration of the pandemic. The key is speedy implementation as our food pantry system can not handle the current load.
Our society’s stability in many neighborhoods will crumble if people don’t have food to eat. We only have to look at how our most vulnerable New Yorkers are forced to make subways their home. Things can change quickly once true food insecurity takes hold. NYC has a history of protecting immigrant information with the NYC ID cards and our undocumented neighbors rightfully placed their trust in NYC. Regular food stamp rules would apply so local grocery stores understand the process. We could either mail them or we can utilize our network of feeding sites at our local public schools in order to distribute them.
HRA is a city agency and I am calling on everyone to reach out to their local city council member and the mayor to get this done. The key is this must happen quickly. Our neighbors are in dire need of food assistance now!