Kirsten Gillibrand Launches 2012 With a Call for Increased Food Stamp Money, Better Access to Fresh Food

Electeds like to talk -- but U.S. Sen. Kirsten 

Gillibrand came to the Bronx today to listen. 

That's what Gillibrand said at the launch of an event this morning at Hostos Community College, where she joined Rep. Joe Crowley for a "listening session" on an upcoming Farm Bill, which Congress is set to debate this year. 

The session timed well with reports yesterday on the growing mess at city agencies due to an extreme demand for food stamps. "More families are in need now than ever. ... It is the most severe time in our nation's history for food insecurity," said Gillibrand, who is New York's first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in decades. And issues that the Agriculture Committee discusses are quite relevant to New York City and the Bronx, she explained, since it makes decisions related to food stamps, farmers markets, hunger policy, nutrition programs, and legislation about food deserts and access.

She started the session, which was her kickoff press appearance of 2012, with some politics 101 -- it's all about being the voice for YOU, New Yorkers. "It's really important that I have the chance to sit on this committee to be your voice," she told the crowd of more than a hundred advocates and interested residents. "I need to hear directly from you, so that's why I'm here."

Gillibrand is pushing for a 30% increase in the amount of money that goes into food stamps through the upcoming bill, she said, so that families would get $800 per month, instead of $600. She's also looking to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in the food deserts of the city, like parts of the Bronx. Gillibrand, who is now on a "listening tour," recently visited Hunts Point Terminal Produce Market in the Bronx and said there's a lot of potential to make it a more effective food hub for local residents. 

As Crowley put it, "It's easier for a young person to buy a Twinkie than it is to get a fresh apple or banana." (No offense to Hostess or Twinkies, he added). 

A mutual love-fest ensued in which advocates thanked Gillibrand for her support and she thanked them for their advocacy. 

"I spend a fair amount of my time unfortunately forced to criticize elected officials, so I'm thrilled today to be able to defend two champions of ours," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "Senator Gillibrand, in a very short time, you've become a true champion of hungry people." 

At least one audience member grilled Gillibrand for cutting food stamps last year and also putting too much money into the military (which OWS protested yesterday). 

Gillibrand explained, "I was against [the cuts] and I fought against it. I thought it was a terrible, terrible deal. ... I do not believe in cutting food stamps." (She voted in favor of a children's nutrition bill, which was financed in part through future cuts in food stamps). 

Unfortunately, it's just the way Washington works, she said. "It's a typical vote you have to make in Washington." She wants the troops to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan, but, "That doesn't mean I want to not invest in fighting terrorism," she said. 

For some, the event was about Bronx pride. "Back in the day, people would say that the Bronx was burning," said Qiana Mickie, a 36-year-old single mother who is from the Bronx and now lives in Harlem. "Now, I'm proud to say that the Bronx is growing." 

"Senator, you mention you are on our side," said Mickie, who is a member of the New York City Food and Farm Bill Working Group. "And I believe you." 

Runnin' Scared asked Gillibrand if she had a comment about the developments in Iowa and the Republican race before she headed out. "No ... no," she said with a small laugh before leaving with her press team.

[SLevin / @SamTLevin]

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