New York City food pantries and aid networks are providing food to more recipients despite insufficient funding and volunteers, according to a report by Food Bank For New York City.
Many pantries are struggling to keep up with the increased need for help, while a cutback of federal food stamp benefits for some New Yorkers set to take effect on April 1st raises the question of whether the charitable network is sustainable.
“The clock is ticking for 50,000 New Yorkers, losing their benefits in April because of food stamp cuts,” said Triada Stampas, vice president for research and public afairs at Food Bank For New York City. “Of this past September, half of food pantries already reported running out of food,” Stampas added.
An estimated 53,000 New York State residents will lose their food stamp benefits as part of a provision that requires states to cut off certain recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program after three consecutive jobless months, if they are classified as able-bodied adults without dependents and are between ages 18-49. (The average length of time someone spends unemployed is about seven months, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.)
Pantries have been struggling to meet increased demand since November 2013, when a previous SNAP cut took effect.
An average food pantry in New York City serves 1,800 people per month and more than half of them currently operate on a budget of less than $25,000 per year. In 2013, more than one third of New York food pantries turned people away because they ran out of food, according to Food Bank For New York City.
“There are a lot of people who come here that aren’t homeless, but they need their food subsidized,” said Jeremy Mintz, a 29-year-old full-time volunteer who spends most of his time volunteering at the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger. “What I seem to hear is that it’s hard to find work. You keep hearing that story over and over again.”
New York State received a partial waiver that will exempt all of the boroughs outside of Manhattan from the SNAP cut, as well as several other counties and cities outside of the New York metropolitan area.
Those who are collecting SNAP benefits outside of the exempted areas will be cut from their benefits if they are able bodied and have been unemployed for three months.
George Mendez, 51, quit his job as a janitor five years ago to take care of his disabled brother and has been unemployed since. Mendez has collected welfare, food stamps and food from BCAH and other charitable networks to support him and his family.
He obtained a license to work as a security guard in New York and has been searching for a job for six months.
“If I were to start working, most likely I wouldn’t need these programs,” Mendez said. “But thank God they’re here.”