At a time when demand on food pantries remains heavy, advocates are decrying Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to veto a bill that would have established a new tax credit for farmers who donate food.
New York Farm Bureau said it is “profoundly disappointed” by the veto, saying the legislation would have encouraged farmers to donate to food pantries and food banks that provide food to the needy.
The bill had passed the state Legislature unanimously.
Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York in Latham, said the organization wasn’t counting on the law, since Cuomo vetoed a similar bill in 2015.
“I believe the intent is that it would have a positive effect,” Quandt said. “We were hopeful it would pass this year, but somehow the concerns the governor hadn’t weren’t all addressed.”
In a veto message, Cuomo said there is already a tax credit available for farmers who donate food, and it is unclear how the value of the food would be determined.
Quandt said there will be no immediate impact from the veto, since the farm growing season has passed.
“The hope is that it’s more of a budget issue that just legislation, since it would have an impact on the [state] budget,” Quandt said.
The regional bank, which provides food to more than 500 pantries, shelters and soup kitchens in 23 counties, saw food demand spike after the 2008-2009 recession, and it hasn’t declined since, Quandt said.
“There will be 36 million pounds of food distributed this year,” Quandt said. “In 2008, it was 19 million pounds. It’s the same service area; it’s just really a function of need and food industry donations.”
Thanksgiving through December are a busy period, he said, but demand never really seems to slacken.
The Hunger Action Network of New York State said 2.7 million New Yorkers rely on emergency food programs. Executive Director Susan Zimet said she was “incredibly disappointed.”
The proposed legislation would have given farmers who make direct donations to food banks a credit with 25 percent of the wholesale cost of the food, not to exceed $5,000 per year.
Farm Bureau said the credit would have helped offset farmers’ costs to package and transport donated food to regional food banks.
In 2015, the organizations said 13 million pounds of food were donated by New York farmers.
“While the generosity of farmers is well-established in New York, we are only left to wonder how many additional people could have fresh, local food on their dinner plates in the future if the governor supported this bill,” Farm Bureau said in a statement.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.