Food Stamps Groceries

The $956 billion farm bill was signed by President Obama on Friday, February 7, 2014, at Michigan State University.

Apparently our legislators have finally found something to agree on: cutting billions in food assistance for hungry Americans. That’s what the Senate did when it passed the long awaited farm bill last week, which President Obama has signed into law. By all appearances the bill will help farmers and the larger US economy, creating jobs and encouraging exports. I have no argument with that: a thriving farming industry is good for everyone. But it is unconscionable, and ironic, that the same legislation that supports businesses that grow the food that feeds America is taking food out of the mouths of hungry children, working parents, seniors and veterans.

The farm bill is projected to cut $17 billion from the federal budget over the next ten years. Almost half of it – over $8 billion – will come from cuts to the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The cut will reduce food benefits by an average of $90 per month for approximately 1.7 million people, or 850,000 families living in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

New York State will be particularly hard hit. 300,000 families – highly concentrated in New York City and living in deep poverty – will be affected:

  • 62% are families with children
  • 36% are working families
  • 79% have annual incomes below the federal poverty line ($23,850 for a family of four)
  • 29% have annual incomes below 50% of the federal poverty line ($5,835 for an individual)

New York is not only disproportionately impacted by the number of families who will suffer from the cuts. At the same time, the average economic loss per family in our State is expected to be higher than the $90 average because the bill specifically eliminates the higher standard rate the State uses to calculate SNAP benefits. This comes at a particularly bad time for poor and low-income residents of New York City. Let me count the ways:

1. According to hunger-relief charity Feeding America, SNAP benefits are already inadequate for most families to purchase a healthy diet throughout the month.

2. The farm bill cut follows an earlier SNAP reduction of $36/month for a family of four, which was introduced in November, leaving most households with less than $1.40 per person per meal.

3. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis, living in New York City costs more than 2.25 times the national average; hence, an income of $23,850 only buys $10,600 worth of goods in New York City.

4. The latest cut will leave even less on the table for families, especially larger households with children, elderly or disabled family members.

5. The Food Bank for New York City reported that, following the SNAP cut three months ago, almost half of the City’s food banks and soup kitchens ran out of food, or particular types of food.

6. Administering the reduced SNAP program will become even more onerous for the Human Resources Administration, the NYC agency that already struggles to issue benefits in a timely manner to eligible individuals and families in need.

7. In addition to reducing ongoing benefits to needy families, the change will likely restrict access to emergency food stamp benefits for NYC households.

8. According to a report just released by the Community Service Society, from 2002 to 2011, New York City lost nearly 40% of the total number of apartments affordable to low-income families, with rent now accounting for two-thirds of income, on average, for poor New Yorkers who do not live in subsidized housing. Fewer resources for food cannot be made up elsewhere in a poor family’s budget.

9. Poor nutrition spawns a host of problems for the poor including limited educational achievement, unemployment, and chronic physical and mental illnesses.

10. SNAP cuts have a negative impact on the City’s economy. Research by the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that each SNAP dollar spent generates nearly twice that amount in local economic activity that supports small businesses like grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

There are those who say the farm bill is a rare bipartisan success because, after four years, lawmakers were able to balance competing interests and compromise to get the bill passed. I don’t see it that way. The multibillion-dollar agribusiness made some concessions, but it gained much in return. We cannot say the same for the hungry children of New York. It is not a compromise when poor families have less food on the table. It’s a travesty.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge