(WNY News Now) – The Nourish New York program, designed to alleviate food insecurity for 1-in-10 New Yorkers while supporting local farmers, faces challenges, according to an audit by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit highlights issues in the program’s management that may limit its impact.
Albany – Launched in May 2020 in response to pandemic-related food supply disruptions, Nourish NY has been allocated $147 million in funding through March 2023. However, the audit found shortcomings in its administration.
DiNapoli’s audit revealed that the New York State Department of Health (DOH) approved $22.7 million in purchases from May 2020 to March 2022 without adequate documentation to verify that the food products met the program’s requirement of being grown in New York. This issue arose because food providers submitted lump sum expenses to regional food banks, which was not required by DOH.
The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (Ag & Markets) also faced challenges in verifying the source of farm products purchased, leading to gaps in documentation for nearly $1 million in food purchases from distributors.
Additionally, the audit highlighted that DOH applied stricter nutritional standards, limiting the types of foods that food relief organizations could purchase, which affected certain New York-produced items like honey, maple syrup, and whole milk. These standards were not aligned with the law governing Nourish NY.
The audit found uneven participation across regions, with the North County having the fewest participants. It also noted a lack of guidance from DOH regarding administrative costs covered by Nourish NY funding.
To address these issues, the audit recommends better collaboration between DOH and Ag & Markets, improved oversight, clearer guidance to food relief organizations, and enhanced data collection to boost vendor participation.
Both DOH and Ag & Markets have generally agreed with the audit’s recommendations and are committed to enhancing the program’s effectiveness. Nourish NY has already assisted food relief organizations in purchasing over 94 million pounds of New York products and supported thousands of farms and agricultural businesses statewide.
The audit underscores the importance of streamlining the program to better serve those facing food insecurity while supporting local farmers.