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Food stamp cuts could leave boro poor hungry

Dania Peralta picks up bags of groceries for herself and her three kids at the Bread of Life Food Pantry in Long Island City. The Food Bank of New York City says potential cuts to the nation's food stamp program could drive more people to pantries and soup kitchens.
TimesLedger Newspapers

With more people falling below the poverty level in Queens, the unemployment rate remaining high and the sluggish economy showing little signs of a turnaround, New York City’s food bank is worried proposed cuts to the national food stamp program could have a devastating impact on the borough’s poor.

“None of us want to see a family go hungry, but that’s really what’s at stake right now,” said Triada Stampas, director of government relations and public education at the Food Bank for New York City.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, is what Stampas called the nation’s first line of defense against hunger. The program awards a card that eligible people can use to buy food at grocery and convenience stores.

But in an effort to cut down the deficit, the U.S. Congress is considering massive cuts to the program. The U.S. House of Representatives has proposed up to $16.5 billion in cuts as part of reauthorization of a larger Farm Bill, and the U.S. Senate already passed its own bill that cut $4.5 billion from the program.

The House failed to pass the legislation before its deadline last weekend, but it is expected to take up the issue in the lame duck session following the elections.

Stampas said that with the Senate’s proposed cuts, 190,000 households citywide would lose $90 a month in benefits. With the House’s version, another 220,000 households would lose benefits entirely, she said.

Stampas said even with the current level of funding for the food stamp program, many food pantries and soup kitchens in Queens have seen people show up at the end of the month after their food stamps have run out — and pantries and kitchens themselves have been stretched beyond capacity, she said.

“What we see in New York is that these benefits aren’t adequate to last the month,” Stampas said.

Thus the proposed cuts to food stamps would be “a significant blow” to struggling households in the borough at a time when demand for food assistance programs have gone up in the city, she said.

She said a 2011 Food Bank survey revealed that about 30 percent of Queens residents said they were concerned about needing food assistance within the next 12 months and 40 percent said they would not be able to afford food within three months of losing household income. In addition, almost twice as many people are out of work now as they were before the recession and the costs of living and food in New York remain high, she said.

Such factors mean Queens residents need strengthened food assistance programs now more than ever, Stampas said.

She said representatives in Congress need to take a long, hard look to make sure they are not trying to fix the deficit on the backs of poor people and families.

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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