Grocery store shoppers found that the cost of cakes, cookies...

Grocery store shoppers found that the cost of cakes, cookies and cereals took a bigger bite out of their wallets in April 2012. (Aug. 14, 2008) Credit: Getty Images

Prices in the metropolitan area last month had their smallest year-over-year increase since March 2011, federal officials said Tuesday.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported its consumer price index rose 2.4 percent in April compared with a year ago in the 31-county region that includes Long Island.

Prices were up 2.3 percent in March 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. They then climbed throughout the spring and summer, peaking at 3.8 percent year over year in September 2011.

Inflation has slowed since the beginning of this year.

April's year-over-year gain was due to the higher costs of health care, groceries and gasoline, said Martin Kohli, the bureau's regional economist.

Month over month, prices increased 0.2 percent in April from March. Deborah A. Brown, regional commissioner of the federal Labor Department, which oversees the statistics bureau, said lower housing costs helped to blunt the impact of a spike in gas prices.

Filling up the tank cost 3.9 percent more in April than a year earlier. The increase month over month was 3.2 percent.

Grocery prices, year over year, were up 4.2 percent in April. Breakfast cereal, eggs, ground beef, cakes and cookies were more expensive, while soups, frozen food, salad dressings, butter and margarine were cheaper.

At the Broadway Mall in Hicksville, some shoppers complained about the rising cost of medical care.

"Prescriptions just keep going up, my supplementary insurance no longer covers the full bill," said Ingrid Schwartz, 71, a retired secretary from Levittown. "I'm just going to have to cut back elsewhere."

Excluding food and energy, the metropolitan area's price index climbed 2.5 percent in the past year. The biggest increase was for health care, 4.8 percent.

Nationally, the annual inflation rate was 2.3 percent in April, the lowest since February 2011. The rate, excluding food and energy, was also 2.3 percent.

Separately Tuesday, the state Taxation and Finance Department released data for April for shopping activity on Long Island. April sales-tax receipts fell nine-tenths of 1 percent in Nassau County from a year earlier and were down 0.1 percent in Suffolk County.

A department spokesman said it was too early to know whether the decline in sales-tax collections was because local shoppers are buying clothes and shoes in New York City. Such merchandise, if less than $110, was fully exempted from sales tax, beginning April 1, in the city and state -- but not in Nassau and Suffolk.

Latest Videos