News / USA

    Looming New Cuts to Federal Food Aid Alarm Anti-Hunger Charities

    Carolyn Weaver
    New Yorker Winsome Stone said her family would go hungry without the federal supplemental nutrition assistance program, or “SNAP,” which provides food stamps she can use to pay for groceries. She is among the 47 million people - one in six Americans -- enrolled in the program, which costs taxpayers $80 billion annually. The program has mushroomed since the stock market crash in 2008, when 32 million Americans were enrolled.
     
    Even with food stamps, Stone said her family often runs out of food, and must visit a free food pantry in Brooklyn run by the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger. Located in the largely poor, African-American neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant, the food bank is one room arranged like a grocery store. Those in need may visit once a month to pick up supplies of fresh vegetables, meat, rice, milk and the like.
     
    “I’m not sure what I’d be eating honestly [without aid], and that’s such a devastating thing that you don’t even really want to think about it, really,” Stone said. “It is frightening to know that you may not be able to feed your children.”
     
    Stone and her husband, a security guard, have four children under 18 and one in college. They both work full-time, but their wages are so low there is little left after they pay for housing. They are still feeling the pinch after cuts to SNAP in November, when they lost about $50 of their $668 monthly allotment.
     
    They may face a new reduction. The U.S. Senate will vote soon on legislation that would cut SNAP again, by $800 million a year over the next decade. It is a 1 percent reduction that anti-hunger advocates say will still be damaging, cutting an average of about $90 from the food stamps of 850,000 people.
     
    “I try to find a way to not focus so much, to keep yourself sane, because if you really take into consideration, I think you would really go crazy,” Stone said. “After you pay your rent, pay the light and the gas, you know what I’m saying: got to run to the food bank, got to wait earnestly on my SNAP, I wait on it, I count the days, I check to see if it is there -- even when I know it’s not time, I still check, because I need it.”
     
    Melony Samuels, who like Stone was born in Jamaica, founded the Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger, which is funded by donors and partly staffed by volunteers. In addition to food, the organization provides needy clients with social service assistance, including help in applying for SNAP, and obtaining health insurance. It also offers health screenings, exercise and nutrition classes, and operates a small urban farm in an empty lot next door.
     
    Samuels was working as a sales executive 16 years ago when she read a news article about a disabled woman struggling to feed her four children.
     
    “It’s just an instinct to help your neighbor, so I went into my cupboard, I took food from my cupboard, and drove 62 miles - gave it to her, and decided to take care of her. What started out with one family has now evolved into over 200,000 families, individuals,” each year, she said.
     
    Today, Samuels said, the economy may be improving overall, but poor people aren’t feeling it. Food banks like hers ran out of supplies after earlier SNAP cuts took effect in November 2013.
     
    If the program is cut further as expected, she said, “I don’t know what we’ll do, I really don’t. By cutting SNAP, it might to some people say, ‘We just took $11, or we just took $50’ -- Well, that equates to meals,” she said, noting that SNAP calculates each meal at about $1.33.
     
    “When you take $11 from a family, you take approximately eight meals from them. So, you have families going from pantry to pantry hoping to get enough food to feed their families, and it should not be so in a country so powerful and so rich,” Samuels said.
     
    Conservative critics of the SNAP program, however, contend that it is abused by some people who don’t really need help, and that the states encourage over-use by less needy individuals, in order to get more federal money flowing into their economies.
     
    Economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research said, “I support the cuts because the number of people on food stamps has been growing, even as the unemployment rate has been going down.”
     
    She added, “The program used to set limits for able-bodied adults of about, as I recall, it was about three months, and then they had to go back to work. These criteria have been removed, so able-bodied adults who can work can now be on food stamps indefinitely. There also used to be tests for different amounts of wealth and assets. These also have been removed or whittled down.”
     
    So, she said, someone who is retired might own a million-dollar house, and have savings in the bank, but still be eligible for food stamps - because his or her income is low. The program should be restructured to make such people ineligible, Furchtgott-Roth said, and run by the states. “States need to be given a fixed food-stamp budget, so they figure out who in their states really needs the food stamps. We cannot do it in Washington,” she added.
     
    But anti-hunger advocates say cases of prosperous people on food stamps are rare, and that further cuts will only hurt the most vulnerable.  Joel Berg, of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, said, “Two-thirds of the people who receive SNAP benefits are children, senior citizens or people with disabilities. It is an absolute myth to imply the vast majority are able-bodied adults who just don’t want to work.” 
     
    As for healthy adults who receive aid, he said, “Tens of millions of Americans who are working sometimes full-time and playing by the rules, still don’t earn enough to feed their family, and have to rely on the food stamp SNAP program. That’s been one of the most profound changes in American society over the last 30 or 40 years - the growth of the working poor, the depression of wages so much that when you’re working full-time, you can still be poor.”
     
    Melony Samuels said what she sees every day is simple desperation. No one with a choice, she said, would subject themselves to applying for aid.
     
    “When you look at the fact that an individual will stand on a line three hours, they will stand on a line three, four hours before it’s opened up, in the cold, in the rain, in the snow, in the heat, I don’t think that’s a job, I don’t think it’s a hobby. I think people are trying to survive,” said Samuels.

    You May Like

    Syrian Torture Victim Recounts Horrors

    'You make them think you have surrendered' says Jalal Nofal, a doctor who was jailed and survived repeated interrogations in Syria

    Mandela’s Millions Paid to Heirs, But Who Gets His Country Home?

    Saga around $3 million estate of country's first democratic president is far from over as Winnie Mandela’s fight for home overshadows payouts

    Guess Which Beach is 'Best in the US'?

    Hawaii’s Hanauma Bay tops an annual "top 10" list compiled by a coastal scientist, also known as Doctor Beach

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese-Americans Heart Trump, Bucking National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Reactions to Trump's Success Polarized Abroad

    What seemed impossible less than a year ago is now almost a certainty. New York real estate mogul Donald Trump has won the number of delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The prospect has sparked as much controversy abroad as it has in the United States. Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Drawings by Children in Hiroshima Show Hope and Peace

    On Friday, President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima, Japan, the first American president to do so while in office. In August 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city to force Japan's surrender in World War II. Although their city lay in ruins, some Hiroshima schoolchildren drew pictures of hope and peace. The former students and their drawings are now part of a documentary called “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard.” VOA's Deborah Block has the story.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese Rapper Performs for Obama

    A prominent young Vietnamese artist told President Obama said she faced roadblocks as a woman rapper, and asked the president about government support for the arts. He asked her to rap, and he even offered to provide a base beat for her. Watch what happened.
    Video

    Video Roots Run Deep for Tunisia's Dwindling Jewish Community

    This week, hundreds of Jewish pilgrims are defying terrorist threats to celebrate an ancient religious festival on the Tunisian island of Djerba. The festivities cast a spotlight on North Africa's once-vibrant Jewish population that has all but died out in recent decades. Despite rising threats of militant Islam and the country's battered economy, one of the Arab world's last Jewish communities is staying put and nurturing a new generation. VOA’s Lisa Bryant reports.
    Video

    Video Meet Your New Co-Worker: The Robot

    Increasing numbers of robots are joining the workforce, as companies scale back and more processes become automated. The latest robots are flexible and collaborative, built to work alongside humans as opposed to replacing them. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at the next generation of automated employees helping out their human colleagues.
    Video

    Video Wheelchair Technology in Tune With Times

    Technologies for the disabled, including wheelchair technology, are advancing just as quickly as everything else in the digital age. Two new advances in wheelchairs offer improved control and a more comfortable fit. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Baby Boxes Offer Safe Haven for Unwanted Children

    No one knows exactly how many babies are abandoned worldwide each year. The statistic is a difficult one to determine because it is illegal in most places. Therefore unwanted babies are often hidden and left to die. But as Erika Celeste reports from Woodburn, Indiana, a new program hopes to make surrendering infants safer for everyone.
    Video

    Video California Celebration Showcases Local Wines, Balloons

    Communities in the U.S. often hold festivals to show what makes them special. In California, for example, farmers near Fresno celebrate their figs and those around Gilmore showcase their garlic. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the wine-producing region of Temecula offers local vintages in an annual festival where rides on hot-air balloons add to the excitement.
    Video

    Video US Elementary School Offers Living Science Lessons

    Zero is not a good score on a test at school. But Discovery Elementary is proud of its “net zero” rating. Net zero describes a building in which the amount of energy provided by on-site renewable sources equals the amount of energy the building uses. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, the innovative features in the building turn the school into a teaching tool, where kids can't help but learn about science and sustainability. Faith Lapidus narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora