Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. - Advocacy groups are pushing for changes in New York policy to attack what they say is a rising tide of hunger among the working poor, children and the elderly while combating obesity and boosting farming.

The Hunger Action Network is pushing for expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Meanwhile, AARP is asking the state to streamline its procedures to make it easier for older New Yorkers to get monthly SNAP cash. The benefit averages $170 a month, and AARP says as many as 500,000 older New Yorkers could qualify but aren't applying for it.

"By implementing these recommendations to increase SNAP participation, we can help the many people over 50 and older who face unimaginable choices like paying for groceries or keeping the lights on," said Bruce Boissonnault of AARP's New York Executive Council.

New Yorkers can sign up for SNAP with the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

The Hunger Action Network notes that the state has begun efforts to direct New York farm products to schools and government programs. But they say some efforts are stalled and obstacles need to be overcome. The group's Mark Dunlea says that if New York farmers had a large, guaranteed market such as schools and government programs, more food production facilities could be attracted, bringing more jobs.

They argue more state attention on farm-to-school efforts would also combat the paradoxical scourge of obesity.

"With obesity rates rising in a country where millions are starving, something clearly needs to be done to expand regular accessibility to adequate food amounts," said Emily Manez, a researcher for a Hunger Action Network report released a week ago.

The efforts by the Hunger Action Network, which advocates for the working poor, and AARP, which lobbies for older Americans, come as the Cuomo administration is developing its 2014-15 budget. Hunger advocacy groups were disappointed by the current budget because it increased spending just 2 percent. But the Cuomo administration and Legislature gave the hunger advocates and progressive groups a major win in March by raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour over the next three years, up from $7.25.

Cuomo and the Legislature have begun several programs including the Pride of New York program, which promotes buying local and connecting farmers and vinters to the lucrative New York City restaurant market. But more food processing facilities are needed because of the state's short growing season, which doesn't coincide with most of the school year, Dunlea said.

The Legislature passed a bill this spring to determine how much New York farm product is purchased by the state. A 2-decade-old law authorizes the state Office of General Services to require as much food as possible purchased by the state to be grown or processed in New York. But the bill's sponsors said there is little or no reporting of evidence that winning bidders on food contracts are buying New York products.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said Monday that the bill remains under review.