Legislators take bite out of rising food prices

Legislators take bite out of rising food prices

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With the cost of food spiraling out of control, public officials are scrambling for answers. 

A May report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates food prices have climbed 10.8% since April 2021, the highest 12-month increase in over four decades. The surge in food prices nationwide is being driven by a number of factors occurring both domestically and abroad.

Both Ukraine and Russia are major international exporters of grain, including corn, wheat and soy, among other staples. The price of these products has surged exponentially due to the war, affecting markets globally. 

“Food prices in the United States are going up because the oil to deliver the food, the cost of fertilizer, and the cost of planting and harvesting are all going up,” Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socio-Economic Policy, said in a phone interview. “All of that has to do with inflation, it has to do with oil and gas, and it has to do with the war in Ukraine.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) addressed growing concerns over food prices. He said that the state Legislature has recently passed legislation that eliminates the fuel tax. This, coupled with actions at the county level, may help offset increases in food prices. 

“The main thing that we’ve been able to do in this recently passed state budget is to remove — at least temporarily for the rest of this year — the 16-cent state tax on fuel,” he said. “When you live around here, for most people, you need a car to get your food, so these escalating costs are related.” He added, “We’ve also authorized in the state budget the commissioner of agriculture to sharpen his pencils to see what he can do to bring more food to market.”

The Suffolk County Legislature has also suspended its tax on fuel, effective June 1. State and county measures combined, Englebright said residents are now seeing a 26-cent reduction per gallon of gasoline. 

‘It’s very important that we focus now on funneling the money that we have in the state budget into these communities, not only to help the business owners, but to help the residents survive through this process and through this inflation.’ — Jodi Giglio

Despite the elimination of these fuel taxes, prices nationwide continue to swell. State Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) said local residents are being hit particularly hard due to the already high cost of living on Long Island. 

“We pay the highest taxes and the highest utility rates here on Long Island,” she said. “It’s very important that we focus now on funneling the money that we have in the state budget into these communities, not only to help the business owners, but to help the residents survive through this process and through this inflation.”

The recently enacted state budget will offer residents some relief in the form of direct cash payments through the New York School Tax Relief Program (STAR). Giglio said she and her colleagues in Albany appropriated an additional $2.2 billion in the state budget and expedited the delivery of these checks to help residents deal with inflation and rising costs. 

“The $2.2 billion is for homeowner tax rebate checks,” she said, adding. “It’s a one-time check for STAR-eligible homeowners, and it’s for individuals and for families. New Yorkers are going to start getting these checks right away and they should be hitting within the next couple of weeks.”

This is tough. We’re in a really tough place with food prices, and families at the poverty level are suffering the most. — Kara Hahn

Elevated food costs will detrimentally impact food pantries as well. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) expressed concerns that rising food costs will only compound the existing problem of food insecurity, making it even harder to feed those in need.

“Food insecurity has been a growing problem on Long Island,” she said. “We support a number of food pantries across Suffolk County. I’ve been part of supporting Long Island Cares and Island Harvest, trying to make sure that there is not food waste.” She added, “This is tough. We’re in a really tough place with food prices, and families at the poverty level are suffering the most.”

‘People will inevitably try to make their anguish heard and understood, and one way to do that is at the ballot box.’ — Steve Englebright

Midterm elections loom large as Long Islanders consider ways to get food on the table. At the current rate, food expenses will be at the top of the priority list for a sizable voting bloc. Englebright acknowledges that if food prices are not alleviated soon, there may be significant electoral consequences at all levels of government this November. 

“People will inevitably try to make their anguish heard and understood, and one way to do that is at the ballot box,” he said. “That is a possibility but I hope that the sense of urgency does not require that people use that as the only way to have a sense of empowerment, and optimism in the hope that we’re able to use the instruments of government, limited as they may be, to help offset some of these costs and give people a chance to put food on the table.”

Cantor reiterated these sentiments. He suggests voters are much more likely to vote for the opposition during times of great tribulation. “The reality is that when people are angry, hungry and can’t work, they usually vote the incumbents out,” he said. “When everything you touch costs more than you make, that gets you very angry and very upset. The poor and the middle class are going to get hurt the most.”

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