Brooklyn Pantries Brace for Food-Aid Cuts

Print More
At a Food Bank event last week, advocates stressed that 80 percent of food stamp recipients are women and children.

Photo by: Leah Robinson

At a Food Bank event last week, advocates stressed that 80 percent of food stamp recipients are women and children.

Families who can’t make their food stamps last through the month often visit local pantries and soup kitchens to try and make ends meet. Last week, Grace came to eat at the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger with her seven children.

According to the organization’s Executive Director and founder, Dr. Melony Samuels, the number of children the charity serves during the summer months skyrockets. Food providers like the Bed-Stuy pantry are seeing an explosion in the number of hungry visitors over the past two months and are now trying to keep up with the 30,000 individuals coming to their doors. This June, close to two-thirds of pantries are already reporting shortages.

The increase in patrons comes as the city’s anti-hunger organizations gird for vast federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) that will disproportionately affect New York City in the coming months.

A ‘raw deal’

Reauthorization negotiations on the Congressional Farm Bill this month threaten to deliver large cuts to SNAP. The Senate passed a bill containing $4.1 billion in cuts to total national funding for the next ten years. The food stamp program was passed and will result in up to 99 million fewer meals per year in New York City. A House bill aiming to cut even more ($20 billion) from SNAP was defeated this past week.

Even if Congress changes its mind about new cuts, this November, SNAP recipients across the country are already set to have their benefits cut by 10 percent. These cuts, the result of an increase in federal school lunch reimbursements through the “Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act” back in 2010, are equivalent to a net loss of 60 million meals for New York City residents alone per year.

Many feel that the funds that were taken from SNAP back in 2010 and put towards the $0.06 per school-meal increase for federal lunch programming were a raw deal for New York. Triada Stampas, senior director of government relations at the Food Bank For New York City explains: “We didn’t really get the bang for our buck. While other sections of the country had very low quality school food, our city’s school lunch exceeds the federal standard. So New York City students may not be seeing a noticeable difference in their school lunches and will still be coming home to less food on their table due to SNAP cuts.”

Stampas also believes the Congressional decision to finance an improved school lunch program with SNAP funds was a poor choice on the part of elected officials. “On principle,” she argues, “the idea of taking money from one nutrition program to fund another seems irresponsible.” Stampas says Congressional budget practices have boxed lawmakers into making choices like that.

Focusing on women

The Food Bank for New York City estimates that a household of three will be losing around $23 per month of their SNAP assistance – a total of almost $15 million per month in New York City. Roughly 1.9 million low-income New Yorker’s rely on the SNAP program. The organization is responding to these two cuts with their anti-hunger campaign, dubbed “Lost Meals,” is using social media, mass mailings and an appeal to political and advocacy leaders to join the Food Stamp Challenge. This involves eating on a budget of $1.25 per meal in an effort to understand the hardships faced by those who must rely on food stamps to survive.

Last Monday, the anti-hunger group held a forum featuring New York City’s major female-led non-profits. Organized as an “emergency event” to address cuts to the food stamp program, the event stressed that 80 percent of food stamp recipients are women and children. Speakers focused on the work of their agencies to protect New York City’s poor from the imminent effects these new rounds of budget cuts will bring. “As women leaders we have to ask ourselves, ‘What do we owe to those women who have not attained what we have?’” said Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank.

Advocates have been imploring state and local elected officials to remain mindful of this hunger crisis and support emergency food funding.

But there are few conceivable ways to make up for the loss of food embodied in the cuts Congress is considering. The city’s meal gap, which currently stands at 100 million meals after emergency food providers have emptied their pantries and kitchens, will only widen.

“I cannot conceive of what is going to happen in the coming months,” says Samuels. I can’t believe anyone in their right mind would balance the budget on the bellies of hungry children.”