State to buy surplus dairy for struggling food pantries

Associated Press

Dairy cows are shown at a barn in Fairfield, Vt., on Jan. 20.

ALBANY — Since New York's economy was shut down in mid-March by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the demand for assistance at food pantries has surged 40% to 60% across the upstate region, according to Feeding New York State, an umbrella group for the charitable programs.

Meanwhile, as restaurants and schools were also shut down as part of the state's social distance measures, farmers in New York and elsewhere, unable to adjust to the abrupt changes in the marketplace, have dumped millions of gallons of milk they couldn't sell.

State officials are now stepping in as part of an effort that seeks to avoid the destruction of dairy products by channeling them to food pantries in both the upstate and downstate regions.

Under a program called "Nourish New York," the state is investing $25 million to buy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt from New York producers and donate them to the struggling food banks.

David Fisher, the president of the New York Farm Bureau, called the new program a "win win" for farmers and those who rely on the regional food banks.

"Our organization has been advocating for food purchase programs at the state and national levels to address the surging demand for food assistance as well as to help alleviate oversupply issues that are burdening our farms," Fisher said.

Cuomo described the program as a "marriage between product upstate and need downstate."

Dan Egan, director of Feeding New York State, called the initiative "a terrific step that will feed an awful lot of people."

Grocery stores and department stores whose offerings include groceries are among the essential businesses that remain open while nonessential businesses are slated to stay closed through May 15.

But with more people being hospitalized as a result of being infected, Cuomo said of the shutdowns Monday: "I will extend them in many parts of the state."

Over the weekend, he said he plans to allow construction and manufacturing to resume in some upstate regions after May 15.

Cuomo said testing will be used as "one of the main monitors" in the state's reopening strategy.

New COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have all ebbed over the past week. On Monday, the state reported a total of 337 new deaths since Monday, about half of the peak point in New York's wave of fatalities, most of which have been recorded in New York City and its suburbs.

"We have to be smart, because if we are not smart, you will see that infection rate go right back to where it was," he said.

In a move that state elections commissioners linked to the pandemic, New York's June 23 Democratic presidential primary was canceled. The move was seen by many Democratic activists as anti-climactic, since the party's likely nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden, has already been endorsed by his closest rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Congressional and legislative primaries, in those counties that have the contests, remain on track.

Meanwhile, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, said the state pension fund is providing $50 million to assist small businesses that qualify for the Paycheck Protection Program loans.

"We’re doing what we can to help small businesses keep employees on their payroll, even if they may have paused operations,” DiNapoli said in a statement.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhi.com

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