Gov. Cuomo needs to allot CARES money to alleviate health disparities

The chair of the Capital Region Board of Directors, Jennifer Corcoran Conway, called on Gov. Cuomo to use the CARES money the state has to improve health inequities. 

The American Heart Association (AHA) supports the call by Senators Rivera and Persaud, and Assemblymembers Hevesi, Lupardo, Gottfried, Jaffee, Bronson, and Rosenthal to allocate much needed funds from the Corona Virus Relief Fund (CRF) to help fund health services and fight food insecurity across New York State.

Investments into these programs would help address longstanding health inequities exacerbated and exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. We encourage Governor Cuomo to allocate all available funds granted by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to address essential community needs including healthy food access, hypertension control, housing, and social determinants of health.

Addressing health inequity is a longstanding priority for the AHA, which is more critical now since the COVID-19 crisis has magnified and exacerbated existing disparities, particularly among under-resourced communities who are more susceptible to COVID-19 complications.  To reverse these known and troubling outcomes, collective and intentional action is necessary to address health disparities and inequities.

New York State has long been a national leader in promotion and implementation of innovative strategies to eliminate disparities and create a more equitable community. But despite the State’s leadership, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to target funding and resources to communities that have been historically underserved.

Unemployment, housing instability, inequitable access to health care, and food insecurity are all realities that have impacted communities of color and low-income populations the most, both nationally and in our state. The result is a compounding factor that worsens the health outlook for these vulnerable populations.

Unfortunately, the health disparities that exist are nothing new. Worse, they are going to continue to grow without public health interventions.

  • 15.3% of NYS’ population lives in a population tract with no healthy food outlets[1].
  • 46.46% of NYS’ population lives in a population tract with low healthy food[2]. outlets.
    • Of these total populations, 55.55% are White, 72.46% are Black, and 66.43% are Latinx or Native[3].
  • 461,750 New Yorkers (7.52%) are considered low income with low food access[i].
  • Of 30,433 students surveyed from across NYS, only 30.50% of high school students were consuming adequate servings of fruit[ii].
  • 3,948,842 (26.1%) adults over the age of 20 are obese (BMI over 30.0)[iii].
  • 5,036,245 (36.40%) of adults over the age of 18 are overweight[iv].
    • 35.76% of this population is White, 36.45% is Black, 39.86% is Latinx.
  • 13.0% of NYS’ children between the ages of 12-17 are obese[4].
    • 7% of this population is White, 12% is Black, and 21% is Latinx.
  • 15.9% of NYS’ children between the ages of 12-17 are overweight[5].
    • This is an increase from 2017 when the rate was 14%.

The AHA supports the above-mentioned legislators’ call to address these health inequities through appropriations of CARES funds. We also respectfully encourage you  to build upon previous work to expand food security programs. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the nation’s largest nutrition assistance program and provides monthly cash benefits to reduce food insecurity and help those households rise out of poverty. SNAP incentives in the form of coupons or point-of-sale discounts can help people eat more fruits and vegetables and increase the quality of their diet.

NY’s Double Up Food Bucks (Double Up) serves to encourage SNAP participants to purchase more fruits and vegetables, ensuring that families will have greater access to healthier foods and local economies will be stronger. Double Up doubles the value of SNAP benefits spent at participating farmers markets, mobile markets, farm stands, small retail and grocery store. The benefits of the program are threefold: low­ income consumers eat more healthy food, local farmers gain new customers and make more money, and more food dollars stay in the local economy. When directed at low-income populations, SNAP incentives are associated with expanded physical access to healthy foods.

The AHA encourages you to use CRF dollars for appropriations needed to grow the Double Up program so more residents can use SNAP benefits at farmers markets and other locations to buy fresh, locally grown produce.

New York State has long been a national leader in promoting health equity for all residents, and we urge you to ensure that all available COVID dollars are allocated effectively and strategically to ensure the county remains a healthy, livable welcoming community for all residents.


[1] CDC Modified Retail Food Environment Index

[2] CDC Modified Retail Food Environment Index

[3] CDC Modified Retail Food Environment Index

[4] Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, National Survey of Children’s Health. 2018.

[5] Data Source: Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative, National Survey of Children’s Health. 2018. Source geography: State

[i] 2017 report, Low-Income and Low-Supermarket-Access Census Tracts, 2010-2015.

[ii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. 2015. Source geography: State

[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2017. Source geography: County

[iv] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System. Additional data analysis by CARES. 2011-12