Cuts to Food Benefits Could ‘SNAP’ New Yorkers

(Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario-La Prensa)

Antonio Fernández receives help from Casa María de Nazareth soup kitchen. As a senior living in poverty, he will be one of over a million New Yorkers who would suffer further if budget cuts to SNAP are passed. (Photo by Zaira Cortés via El Diario-La Prensa)

According to elected officials, New York State would be unable to slow down the impact of budget cuts to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which would devastate the city’s poorest families who benefit from the program, 19 percent of them Latino.

“The city can’t minimize the effects or support an emergency plan to replace lost funding,” said Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. “It’s up to Congress to resolve this crisis. It goes beyond the local level; it’s a serious situation nationwide.”

Viverito said that concern is widespread among working-class families in her East Harlem district, made worse by the fact that food centers are already working at full capacity.

The New York Coalition Against Hunger estimates that 1.5 million city residents depend on food distribution centers, and 43 percent of the Latino population has difficulty obtaining basic food products.

State Sen. Adriano Espaillat emphasized that the State Senate would be dealing with tough circumstances while trying to lessen the impact.

“It is expected that they’ll come up with a solution, but ultimately, the budget cuts will be catastrophic,” he said. 

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, submitted an amendment to avoid a $4.1 billion cut to food stamps.

According to her proposal, the money would balance out upon decreasing the amount that the government pays to crop insurance companies, from $1.3 billion to $825 million per year. Twenty-nine Democrats supported the idea, but 41 Republicans rejected it.

“It is unacceptable to reduce the deficit at the risk of children, the elderly, and veterans going hungry,” Gillibrand said in a press release.

In recent years, the number of New York residents 65 or older who benefit from SNAP has risen by 30 percent according to city data.

Sitting on the sidewalk on the corner of 118th Street and First Avenue, Antonio Fernández holds a plate of vegetables from the soup kitchen Casa María de Nazareth, which has been providing food donated by restaurants, bodegas and hotels for more than 20 years.

Fernández, a 60-year-old Cuban man who has been living in public housing since 1980, comes here because the $97 a week he receives from SNAP isn’t enough.

“I’m living in poverty and my circumstances will get worse. I’m a senior citizen with no family who depends on charity,” said Fernández.

Fernández would be one of 1.4 million New Yorkers who would suffer if the budget cuts are approved. Forty percent of the nation would be affected as well.

It is estimated that the burden would mainly fall on residents of public housing, most of them senior citizens and working-class families with children.

Fredy Cruz, who is Mexican, and his wife Merced Salinas have a 3-year-old daughter. The $200 they receive from SNAP each month lasts them two weeks.

Cruz, who is expecting the birth of his second daughter, shells out $300 from his salary to cover the remaining cost of food, forgoing other basic needs like buying clothing.

“I would have to curb my expenses even more. They’re taking the food right out of our mouths,” he said.

In New York, the budget cuts would mean the loss of around $130 each month for nearly 200,000 families who benefit from SNAP.

The problem could become even greater if the House of Representatives passes a version similar to the bill currently in the senate.

The bill in the lower house would mean an average monthly loss of 10 percent for families and an annual loss of $175 million for New York’s economy, where participating supermarkets and small businesses would be deeply affected.

Likewise, Triada Sampas, spokeswoman for the Food Bank for New York City, stressed that the agency has lost almost half its funding in the last few years. Making drastic cuts to SNAP would threaten food distribution centers such as the Food Bank, which served 11 million rations less last year than in 2011.

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