Friday, September 28, 2007

Food Stamp Progress!

"NYCCAH is glad to report significant food stamps progress on three fronts:

1) At a meeting of the HRA Commissioner's Advisory Board yesterday, Commissioner Doar announced that the number of people receiving food stamps in New York City had increased by 22,837 people, to a level of 1,111,170, which is the highest level since January of 1998.

Program participation is now 321,774 people higher than when Mayor Bloomberg took office in January 2002. As a result, low-income New Yorkers will receive at least $500 million more in federal nutrition assistance support this year than in 2001. For families facing hunger or the threat of hunger, that is certainly good news. It is clear that the increases are due in significant part to government improvements in program access, as well as expanded public/private outreach efforts, including those in which the New York City Coalition Against Hunger is a key partner.

Even with this good news, we do note three continuing concerns:

One of the reasons more people are getting food stamps is that poverty, hunger, food insecurity, and underemployment continue to make more New Yorkers eligible for and/or in need of such food assistance. The only better news than more eligible people getting food stamps would be if the economic well-being of low-income New Yorkers improved enough to the point that many no longer needed food stamp benefits.

The rapid month-to-month fluctuations in program participations raise significant questions. While we are certainly pleased by the large, 22,837-person, increase in August, it is truly odd that there was a 6,6,51-person drop in July, as well as drops in many of the preceding months. Given that both economic conditions and the amount of outreach were relatively stable over this period of time, you would expect either a consistent increase, a consistent decrease, or small monthly fluctuations - not the very large monthly swings we have seen. This could be due to problems related to application re-certifications, processing, and/or reporting, but we don't have enough data to know for sure. The Commissioner said he would further look into this matter.

Participation is still 347,130 people (24%) below the peak participation level of March 1995, which means that low income New Yorkers are still obtaining hundreds of millions of dollars less per year in food stamps benefits than 12 years ago.

2) A Federal Court reached agreement with the Urban Justice Center and with the City, State, and Federal governments to provide millions of dollars of back food stamps payments to tens of thousands of disabled New Yorkers previously denied food stamp benefits. This provides yet more proof to back up our long-held contention that the City routinely violated the law regarding food stamps access. But more importantly, it seems like this one problem has been fixed, at least for now. See the settlement press release. Covered by NY1, WNYC, the Daily News, and the NY Times

Here's what U.S. Senator Charles Schumer said about the settlement: "Hunger is an insidious and, still, all-too-pervasive problem that a nation as rich as ours must eradicate. That is why I am pleased with today's federal court verdict that supports access to food stamps for our most vulnerable, disabled citizens. It was dreadfully wrong to have denied, for 8 years, the benefits many disabled needed to stave-off hunger. But I am wholly aware that much more must be done to ensure that all Americans have ready access to the food they need for a complete, nutritious diet."

3) The State's Working families Food Stamps Initiative has now been formally approved by USDA. See Governor Spitzer's press release, as well as the NY Times article covering the story.

We hope the State can now implement this excellent new initiative rapidly."

Joel Berg
Executive Director

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