During a news conference at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez announced a $1 million pilot program to address food insecurity among CUNY students.
“College student hunger is a serious problem in New York City,” said Johnson. “CUNY students should be focused on learning and studying, not where their next meal is coming from. We are one of the richest cities in the world, but too many New Yorkers don’t have equitable access to healthy food.”
Johnson and Matos Rodríguez were joined by Mayor’s Office of Food Policy Director Kate Mackenzie, New York City Councilman Rafael Espinal and BMCC Interim President Karrin Wilks.
Under the program, approximately 1,250 CUNY students (who have to be enrolled at a CUNY community college for at least nine credits), will receive a $400 voucher each week to buy anything food related from the campus cafeteria. On top of nine credits, students need to be residents of the five boroughs working towards their first college degree, have a satisfactory grade point average, not receiving SNAP benefits, and in dire financial need.
The program began this fall semester.
“They’ve sacrificed meals because they needed the money for books or for housing in an expensive city,” said Johnson. “That is unacceptable in 2019 in the greatest city in the world.”
Officials told stories of students living on potato chips and ramen in order to survive, skipping classes to go to food pantries and quitting full-time jobs because of the difficulty of a full-time work schedule with being a student.
“In addition to the recently opened food pantry on campus, these emergency food vouchers will help give our students the support they need to complete their degrees and achieve their dreams,” stated Wilks.
The guests were also joined by BMCC Business Administration major Letisha Moumin, a mother of two, who spoke about her difficulties raising two kids while working on her degree.
“I’m going to school full-time,” said Moumin. “I aspire to have my own business…hopefully this year. But honestly, the food voucher has been such a big help because my partner is the full-time provider paying the bills and the rent. It’s not easy living on the Upper East Side in Manhattan.”
Moumin said she has had to choose between money for her MetroCard and money to buy food for herself and has chosen the MetroCard every time. She said she’s so focused on school and raising kids that she forgets to nourish herself.
“The fact that we emphasize our children first, as a mom, I forget to feed myself,” said Moumin. “Getting my kids ready for school. Getting my son to his daycare or babysitter and worrying about the time I have between dropping them off and coming to school. I have no time and I forget that I have to eat myself.”
According to BMCC Vice President for Student Affairs Marva Craig, the rate of food insecurity in New York City is 12% higher than the normal average and the campus is starting reflect that.
“Here on campus, we notice that an increasing number of our students are facing food insecurity and seeking help from our Panther Pantry, which has served well over 2,200 students since it opened last year,” stated Craig. “That’s why we are so grateful that the New York City Council’s grant will help us expand the number of hungry students we can identify, support and serve through our Single Stop Office.”
MacKenzie kept it simple when talking about the benefits of the voucher program.
“I love the voucher program because it’s money,” said MacKenzie.