Unfortunately for the 1.8 million New York City residents relying on SNAP benefits, the protests of organizations like New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCAAH) and political advocates like mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney have gone unheeded. Beginning today, cuts enacted by Congress and President Obama in 2010 will take effect, cutting about $319 in groceries per year — or $29 per month — from each family of three depending on the government program to put food on the table.
Yesterday, advocates, officials, and SNAP recipients joined together at the New York City Food Pantry in the East Village to protest the cuts, calling on Congress to undo the reduction in food benefits already taking effect and to refuse to pass the $39 billion in further cuts currently being debated in Washington as part of the Farm Bill. (President Obama has sworn to veto those cuts.) Joel Berg, Executive Director of NYCAAH, called it “the scariest Halloween ever for the 49 million working parents, children, seniors, veterans, and other low-income Americans who depend upon SNAP for groceries to survive.” He added, “I wish this was just a horror movie, but this is grim reality.”
Preempting the argument that feeding the hungry is the job of churches and charities and not the government, Berg was quick to point out that, try as they might, charities will not be able to meet the shortfall. “The federal cuts dwarf all of the nation’s charitable food distribution. Food pantries are already unable to keep up with the growing demand.”
Both Berg and Congresswoman Maloney emphasized the economic impact of cutting the benefits, with Maloney noting that most recipients spend the money locally, supporting grocers and bodegas in their own neighborhoods.
While de Blasio was not at the event, he contributed his support to the press release. “No New Yorker should go to bed hungry because of an extreme ideological agenda in Washington,” he said. Though he did not mention opponent Joe Lhota by name, he clearly referred to him as part of the problem. “The recession and Superstorm Sandy have taken a terrible toll – and now Republican obstructionists are heaping more pain on hardworking people,” he said, continuing his theme of trying to align Lhota with the Tea Party in the minds of voters.
Other politicians also added their two cents, calling on Congress to do the right thing and extend benefits. Representative Joe Crowley called SNAP “a critical lifeline for millions of New Yorkers,” Congressman José E. Serrano said the cuts “will only increase hunger and suffering,” and State Senator and founding executive director of the Food Bank for New York City Liz Krueger called on Congressional Republicans “to stop sabotaging SNAP.” According to Krueger, it is the “federal government’s single most successful direct benefit program … and generates an outstanding economic return.”
Despite all of these protests, though, the cuts still came down today, and NYCAAH has little to offer in terms of advice. “The sad truth is many will have less food to eat,” Michelle Friedman, communications director for the organization, told the Village Voice. There is, however, at least one thing concerned citizens can do. “We strongly encourage people to reach out to their representatives in Congress and stand against any more SNAP cuts,” she added.