We cannot afford cuts to the nation’s food stamp program.
As the Senate considers $4.49 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as part of the Farm Bill that comes up for a vote every five years, Mario Batali and other members of the Food Bank for New York City took on the challenge of eating on the budget the average food stamp recipient now receives: $31 per week.
It could not have been easy.
As Riverdale resident Frances Segan can attest, food stamp recipients still hunger for additional sustenance each week.
She works with the Kingsbridge-Riverdale-Marble Hill Food and Hunger Project, a program that provides supplemental food to SNAP recipients from the 10463, 10471 and 10468 zip codes.
She says distribution from the Church of the Mediator has reached 140 distinct people a month, a number that began rising in 2008-2009 and has not diminished — and those people are truly hungry although they are already receiving food stamps.
Once upon a time, she said, the pantry had occasional batches of extra food to give away. Now, she says, it costs about $4,000 to stock the pantry each month and hungry people are sometimes turned away. Leaders worry about the drop-off in donations that usually begins in May and persists through the summer months.
“What we’re seeing is people even with food stamps … if they’re coming to get food from a food pantry, it means they’re not getting enough … if they had enough to purchase they wouldn’t be going down to a food pantry,” she said.
Still, the proposal before the Senate would cut an average $90 a month in food stamp benefits to a single household and would affect 190,000 households in New York City, according to Triada Stampas of the Food Bank for New York City.
The House has voted to cut SNAP program, which has particular relevance here in the Bronx, by more than $160 billion,
The Bronx was recently rated the unhealthiest county in the state and has the largest percentage of people receiving food stamps of any of the boroughs.
Two in five have difficulty affording food; one in three residents bought less healthy food to stretch resources; and almost one in three paid for rent or utilities instead of food, according to a recent Food Bank hunger report.
As efforts are made to bring healthy food to the tables of Bronxites through school gardening, farmers markets accepting food stamps and other programs, now is not the time to deprive food stamp recipients of much needed assistance.
“… If people are coming to a food pantry that’s open once a week for two hours, they need it,” Ms. Segan said.
And Mahatma Ghandi said: “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.”
In a time of economic hardship, our nation should not even be considering cutting food assistance from the most vulnerable among us.