Early this month a Congressional coalition led by Representative Jesse Jackson Jr. called on legislators to temporarily raise food stamp benefits by 20% in to account for sharply rising food costs. Congress has yet to rule on the measure, which would offer some aid to struggling families until the farm bill’s limited increase in benefits is enacted in October. The coalition’s plea was unprecedented. It comes on the heels of a USDA report that the maximum monthly food stamp benefits for a family of four is $34 below the cost of maintaining a minimum healthy diet for a month.
The sacrifices being made by food stamp recipients in order to put food on the table are indicative of the kind of economic squeeze not seen since the 1970s. “What we are hearing from constituents is that they are having to make tougher and tougher decisions like to water down milk for kids or not purchase medication to keep money for food,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The 1,200 soup kitchens and food pantries in the city are ensuring that New Yorkers are not going hungry, but these agencies do not have the resources to serve as a primary defense against hunger, and have been severely strained by the increase in clients in recent months.