Though it already seems like ages ago, we once had a semi-functioning federal government. And before it closed down entirely for 16 days, that government was debating cutting SNAP benefits for millions of dependent hungry Americans–a fight that should start up again now that Washington is back in action.
The measure, included in the Farm Bill and widely supported by Republicans, faced staunch opposition from the other side of the aisle. President Obama promised to veto any version of the bill that included the $39 billion in benefit reductions, but other pre-planned cuts will take effect November 1 unless they’re reversed. The New York Times reported earlier this month that “according to research by the Food Bank for New York City, the price of food in the New York metropolitan area rose by 16 percent between December 2007, the start of the recession, and the end of last year, with 32 percent of New Yorkers in 2012 reporting difficulty paying for the food they needed.”
According to Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH), if the planned November cuts are not fixed, New York State’s 3.12 million SNAP recipients will lose $332 million in SNAP benefits over the course of a year, and his organization estimates that that will include a $205 million bite out of the Big Apple, where there are 1.8 million residents relying on food stamps. While New York State spends about $30 million from its own coffers to feed the hungry through the Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program, Berg says, “There is no way that states, localities, or charities could come even close to picking up the slack for these federal cuts.”
Advocates throughout the state are banding together to fight the pre-planned cuts, including church leaders, non-profits like NYCCAH and City Harvest, and local and state politicians including U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. According to the senator, dependents on SNAP, including “hungry children, seniors, troops and veterans, who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the table,” should not fall victim to the House Republicans. “They deserve better.”
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has also joined the effort, calling the impending cuts “a dereliction of duty.” Keeping with his theme of A Tale of Two Cities, he adds, “Nearly half of New Yorkers are living in or near poverty. We have a fundamental obligation to help them through this economy.”
His opponent Joe Lhota, meanwhile, has called for an audit of the existing program after The New York Post exposed some New Yorkers for using their food-stamp benefits to ship groceries abroad. Lhota said the practice was “absolutely wrong,” adding that it “exploits New York’s already overburdened taxpayers.” Lhota was careful to emphasize that there are plenty of New Yorkers who do, in fact, need the program, though. “We have hungry people in this city who rely on public assistance, and we must protect SNAP/EBT for those truly in need.”
While the country watches and waits to see what will happen now that the federal government has reopened, there are almost two million hungry New Yorkers who need it to get back to actual governance–before their benefits run out.