News / USA

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

Recipients Worry as Charities Brace for Cuts to Food Aidi
X
January 31, 2014 3:35 AM
There are 47 million Americans enrolled in the SNAP program, which costs taxpayers $80 billion annually. The program has mushroomed since the stock market crash in 2008, when 32 million Americans were enrolled. VOA's Carolyn Weaver reports.
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

US Imposes Sanctions on Alleged Honduran Drug Gang

Treasury department alleges Los Valles group is responsible for smuggling tens of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into US each month More

At 91, Marvel Creator Stan Lee Continues to Expand his Universe

Company's chief emeritus hopes to interest new generation of children in superheroes of all shapes and sizes by publishing content across multiple media platforms More

Photogallery New Drug Protects Against Virus in Ebola Family

Study by researchers at University of Texas Medical Branch, Tekmira Pharmaceuticals is first looking at drug's effectiveness after onset of symptoms More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebolai
X
George Putic
August 20, 2014 8:57 PM
While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls For Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid