Food banks expect increased demand
9:02 PM, Nov 1, 2013 |
WASHINGTON — Local food pantries and soup kitchens throughout New York were stretched thin even before a cut in federal food stamp benefits took effect Friday.
Now, their managers don’t know how they’ll meet the increased demand.
The monthly maximum benefit under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) has been cut by $11 a month to $189 for a single person. The decrease amounts to $36 a month — to $632 — for four-person families.
For the 3.19 million New Yorkers enrolled in SNAP, that equates to 20.6 million fewer meals, according to Linda Bopp, executive director of Hunger Solutions of New York, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Albany.
Many SNAP recipients already were running out of food after the third week of every month and were relying on food pantries and soup kitchens to make up the difference, Bopp said.
“There’s a whole host of negative implications here,” she said. “They purchase even less healthy food or they end up at the soup kitchen or food pantry earlier in the month.”
Bopp predicted more families will be living on a regular diet of macaroni and cheese or Ramen noodles, supplemented, if they can afford it, with hot dogs for protein.
Managers of food banks around the state say they don’t have enough food to bridge the gap.
“People are already having a hard time keeping up,” said Michael Leahy, director of CHOW in Broome County, which supplies 30 food pantries and 30 soup kitchens. “They are basically run by volunteers and it’s already a strained system.”
CHOW — for Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse — delivers 3.1 million pounds of food annually to soup kitchens and local pantries. The estimated need in Broome County is 7.8 million pounds, Leahey said.
“You are already looking at a huge deficit,” he said.
Food bank officials around the state tell similar stories.
“There’s never enough food,” said Jeanne Blum, executive director of the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless. “There is an increased demand, definitely. The cuts are really devastating to families who are in need of food for their children.”
Corporate donations of food have dropped over the last 10 years, said Mark Dunlea of the Hunger Action Network of New York.
Brian Riddell, executive director of Dutchess Outreach in Poughkeepsie, said his organization has had to reduce — from five to four — the number of days its doors are open to the public in order to keep up with restocking.
“The problem is, we’ve already been experiencing a significant increase in demand,” Riddell said. “Over the last 16 months we’ve gone from 70,000 meals annually to over 102,000 in our most recent count.”
Foodlink, which covers 10 counties in western New York stretching from the Rochester area southward to Allegany County along the Pennsylvania border, serves close to 200,000 people who use 450 emergency food agencies.
Like other food banks around the state, Foodlink already sees increased demand beginning around the third week of the month, according to Jerome Nathaniel, Foodlink’s coordinator for SNAP assistance.
Nathaniel couldn’t predict demand later this month.
“At the moment it’s hard for us to have a concrete idea of the numerical impact,” he said.
The spokeswoman for the Westchester Coalition for the Hungry and Homeless said the seasonal increase in food donations around the year-end holidays could help offset the increase in demand, at least temporarily.
However, Congress is debating another round of SNAP cuts as part of negotiations over a final version of the next farm bill.
Those cuts, which could range from $4 billion to $39 billion over 10 years, could begin early next year if an agreement is reached.