Advocates warn of ‘SNAP gap’ following government shutdown

Local food banks may soon see heightened numbers of SNAP recipients.
Local food banks may soon see heightened numbers of SNAP recipients. Photo Credit: Nurse-Family Partnership

A decision to provide February federal food assistance benefits early due to the government shutdown will cause problems later this month and could further strain limited resources at city food pantries, according to a report released Tuesday by the Food Bank for New York City.

The report, “In the Shadow of the Shutdown: NYC’s Food Pantries and Soup Kitchens Rise Up to Serve on Razor Thin Margins,” says the shutdown highlighted the increased demand for food across the five boroughs in which about 1.6 million people rely on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a benefit once known as food stamps. 

Advocates have been warning about a so-called “SNAP gap” since the federal government sent out SNAP benefits for February two weeks early to prevent interruption during the shutdown.

“Recipients have to stretch their benefits over a much longer six-week time period,” Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City, said in a statement. “The significant lapse between SNAP disbursements presents an unanticipated financial hurdle and disruption for those already dealing with food insecurity and will place additional strain on emergency food providers across the five boroughs.”

Compounding the issue is the fact that children who usually receive two meals at school will be home for a week on winter break in February.

One out of three Bronx residents relies on SNAP to put food on their table and one out of four Brooklyn residents relies on SNAP, according to the report.

It also noted that the working poor may have trouble accessing soup kitchens and food pantries because of limited hours. Only 35 percent of pantries serve more than one day a week, 27 percent serve on the weekends and just 20 percent serve in the evenings.