Generally speaking, I try not to complain about a day off. When I learned that school would be canceled, I was ecstatic. Growing up in New York City, snow days were some of my fondest memories, but I vividly remember the mystery and contention behind the decision making process. The biggest issue with closing schools is that it deprives kids of the meals they’re served, which some families depend on to make ends meet. On days like this most recent snow day, when the necessity of closure was questionable at best, it’s difficult to imagine what those who rely on those meals are feeling right now. However, leaving schools open during hazardous weather conditions leaves everyone at risk. So what is the solution?
Instead of forcing families to choose between danger and hunger, the city needs to recognize that it has a legitimate hunger problem and start addressing it as such. While there are a myriad of potential policy solutions, the most effective choice will be one that empowers local communities to provide the services and resources to those who need it most.
According to City Harvest, nearly one in five children face hunger in New York City, with a total of 1.2 million people of all ages. 40 percent of New Yorkers do not have the finances for basic necessities with nearly 25 million visits to soup kitchens reported in the last year. In contrast, a report from Knight Frank Wealth ranked New York as the most favorable city for the “ultra-wealthy population.” In the aftermath of Brexit, New York City officially became the financial center of the world, overtaking the U.K. and the London Stock Exchange by two points. Similarly, New York’s cost of living is extremely high and is on the rise. In particular, food, housing and clothing costs are particularly demanding; all of these factors are exacerbated with children.
However, given the sheer amount of wealth generated within the boundaries of the city, there is no reason that those most vulnerable — the children of working-class families — should go without a meal. In reality, no one should, but this is especially true when the epicenter of extreme wealth is so local. In particular, the discourse that puts families’ safety at odds with their ability to adequately care for their children is one that is extremely dangerous and damaging. The purpose of government is to identify solutions to problems, and for too long, the New York City government has treated this issue like a gap in resources that can hopefully be avoided. This is clearly no longer an adequate response.
Instead, the government should anticipate having a number of weather-related closures in a school year and secure the necessary funds to meet the welfare needs created by the closure of schools. Again, the best policy is one which empowers the local community because its leaders know how to best meet the needs of those in their community. Whatever solution is found needs to start with this fundamental postural change. An inadequate policy is much more revealing about governmental strength than it is about the difficulty of any given problem. New York City has a hunger crisis; the New York City government needs to start acting like it.
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