It’s food for thought, at the very least: This winter, New York State launched a new ad campaign to boost food stamp participation, targeted at senior citizens and former welfare recipients who have gone to work.
The state will kick in $200,000 to pay for brochures, posters, television commercials and grocery bags with information in Spanish and English about eligibility. The Food Industry Alliance of NY State will help distribute these materials in locations such as supermarkets, in addition to domestic violence centers and senior citizen centers.
It’s an important effort, say anti-hunger advocates. Since 1996, fewer and fewer Americans are getting these subsidies. Food stamp participation has declined nationally, statewide and citywide, at rates between 30 and 40 percent. But despite that decrease, requests for emergency food in the city have increased by 28 percent over the past year, according to Beverly Cheuvront, acting executive director for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. And almost half–46 percent–of those eligible in New York City are not receiving benefits.
Part of the problem is welfare reform: Many former welfare recipients, now off the rolls and in low-paying jobs, mistakenly believe they can no longer get food stamps. But welfare and food stamps are not connected. According to Carlos Rodriguez, program director at the Community Food Resource Center, while the cutoff for welfare benefits for a family of three in New York City is only $577 a month, the same family could earn up to $1,533 and still be eligible for food stamps.
“It’s what I call the unintended effect of welfare reform,” said Edie Mesick, executive director of the Nutrition Consortium of New York State. “[Poor families] believe they are not eligible, and don’t have the time to go through the application process.”
Mesick, Cheuvront and Rodriguez all praised New York State for launching the campaign, but cautioned that spreading the word is just one piece of the puzzle.
“We have long been advocating for outreach programs. On the other hand, there are still a lot of problems,” said Cheuvront. “The city needs to make it easier for people to get food stamps.”