Food Stamp Cuts

New York poor hit hard by food stamp cuts

By Rachael Levy
Nov. 22, 2013

Ruben Colon, a Bronx resident, said he has been having a hard time feeding himself since the federal food stamp cuts went into effect earlier this month. Photo credit: Rachael Levy
Ruben Colon, a Bronx resident, said he has been having a hard time feeding himself since the federal food stamp cuts went into effect earlier this month. (Photo credit: Rachael Levy)

— Rent. Clothing. Doctor bills. Before the federal food stamp cuts this month, getting by was already difficult for Ruben Colon.

“You have to juggle,” said Colon, 55, who has been using food stamps for about a decade.

Colon, of Fordham Heights, said he received $11 less this month in the coupons, a drop to $189 from $200. He plans on buying less cold cuts and poultry.

The Bronx has the highest rate of food stamp usage across New York City at about 37 percent of households, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. As federal food stamp cuts kicked in Nov.1, grocery owners in the Bronx are also feeling the effects. Some owners have noticed a drop in customers and some may have to lay off employees. Meanwhile, food pantries in the borough have seen a surge in families asking for food.

Social service agencies say the cuts have a wider economic effect, too, as food stamp users spend less on clothing and household items and put more of their income toward covering basic food needs. Families of four are receiving $36 less per month in food stamps.

Nancy Rankin, vice president of policy, research and advocacy at the Community Service Society in Manhattan, said every $5 in food stamps generates about $9 in economic activity. Food stamp customers use the coupons quickly in local groceries, spurring grocery owners to spend, she said.

At Met Food at 277 E. 198th St. in Bedford Park, sales have dropped by at least 10 percent, said Pedro Gomez, a staff employee. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if there are layoffs in the coming months.

Fewer people are shopping at Modern Food Center grocery in Belmont, which had already been suffering from the recession and Hurricane Sandy, owner James Izzo said. Forty percent of his customers use the coupons, he said.

“They’re watching every dollar,” Izzo said. “They’re more conscious of sales, switching proteins from beef and pork over to poultry and maybe eggs.”

Izzo said he would need to wait until the end of the month to fully understand how the cuts have affected his grocery. Some customers might be scrimping so they can afford food for Thanksgiving, he said.

In the wake of the cuts, more people are heading to food pantries, advocates say.

“It has impacted us a lot,” said Gloria Jenkins, a volunteer at a food pantry at Abundant Life Tabernacle, a church in the South Bronx. “We don’t always have enough to go around.”

About 40 percent more people picked up food at the pantry this month, Jenkins said.

“There have been a lot more families with children, working families,” she said.

Chris Bean, the executive director of the largest food pantry in the Bronx, Part of the Solution, said he has seen an increase in families coming for food.

About 130 of the 209 families that came to the pantry for the first time this month said they didn’t have enough food stamps, he said.

The food pantries at Abundant Life Tabernacle and Part of the Solution are seeking more outside donations in order to keep up with demand, officials said.

Ruben Colon, the Fordham Heights resident who is receiving $11 less in food stamps, said the cuts make it difficult to pay for basic needs other than food, such as rent and doctor appointments. Colon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder about ten years ago, forcing him to quit working as a carpenter and electrician, he said.

“It’s hard no matter how you slice it,” Colon said. “Every day of your life, it’s a struggle.”


City food kitchens brace for more food stamp cuts

By Rachael Levy, Feb. 25, 2014

Chef Ruben Diaz (left) and Alexander Rapaport prepare hot meals at Masbia soup kitchen in Flatbush on Feb. 19.
Chef Ruben Diaz (left) and Alexander Rapaport prepare hot meals at Masbia soup kitchen in Flatbush. (Photo credit: Rachael Levy)

— On a recent icy afternoon, about 50 people lined up outside Masbia, a food kitchen in Queens. They waited 30 minutes past the scheduled dinnertime as kitchen workers struggled to open for service.

“It’s not easy,” said Racquel Kahn, who had come off a 45-minute subway ride from Manhattan, as she shivered outside. She said she started coming to the pantry after her food stamps were cut by about $10 a month last fall.

Ever since those cuts, the city’s pantries have reported an influx of hungry people. About half of the pantries ran out of food after November’s cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps, according to a study conducted by Food Bank for New York City.

And it could get worse.

Food pantries are expecting more visitors after Congress passed in early February the long-debated farm bill, which includes additional food stamp cuts that will go into effect later this year.

The Queens location for Masbia, the most robust kosher food kitchen in New York, is opening three hours longer per day in order to hand out more groceries, said Masbia’s executive director Alexander Rapaport.

“We’re a young soup kitchen, we always anticipate growth,” Rapaport said. “But the effects [of the cuts] are there.”

Two hundred percent more people came to Masbia in November and December 2013 than the same period the previous year, he said.

“We live hand to mouth,” he said, adding that he is seeking more funding for food.

Chris Bean, executive director of Part of the Solution, the largest food pantry in the Bronx, said he expected to serve at least 800,000 meals in 2014, 50,000 more than he did last year. Bean plans on seeking more funding from private donors to accommodate that uptick.

The latest cuts – which amount to around $90 per family per month – target those who benefit from government-subsidized heating, 25 percent of whom are based in New York City, according to food pantry organizers.

“Mark my words, poor people are going to suffer more for it,” Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said days after the Farm Bill was passed. “We’re not going to be able to counteract the cuts. We’re going to be able to do the best we can.”

Rafaela Rivera, 35, who lost her job as a home health aide last year, started going to Part of the Solution for groceries to feed her 9-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and husband, who is disabled and does not work. After her food stamp benefits were cut $36 a month last November – a drop from $456 to $420 – she finds that she has to go to the food pantry more often to fill the gap. In January, she said her food stamp money came 11 days late and so she said she had to rely on the pantry to get by.

“I was at the point where I would have had to ask the neighbor [for food money],” Rivera said. “I don’t wanna have to ask the neighbor.”