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

Karzai's Legacy: Missed Opportunities?

Afghanistan's president leaves behind a much different nation than the one he inherited, yet his legacy from 13 years in power is getting mixed reviews More

Secret Service Chief Under Fire for White House Security Breach

Julia Pierson faces tough questions from lawmakers after recent intrusion at White House, says: 'It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly' More

Frustrated, Liberian Students Want Ebola Fight Role

Thousands have volunteered to go to counties, rural villages to talk to people in their language about deadly virus More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihadi
X
Mahi Ramakrishnan
September 30, 2014 2:16 PM
Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Iran's Rouhani Skeptical on Syria Strikes

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani expressed skepticism Friday that U.S.-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria could crush Islamic State militants. From New York, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports the president was also hopeful that questions about Iran’s nuclear program could be resolved soon.
Video

Video US House Speaker: Congress Should Debate Authorization Against IS

As wave after wave of U.S. airstrikes target Islamic State militants, the speaker of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives says he would be willing to call Congress back into session to debate a formal, broad authorization for the use of military force. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, where legislators left town 10 days ago for a seven-week recess.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Video

Video Ebola Robs Liberians of Chance to Say Good-Bye to Loved Ones

In Liberia, where Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people, authorities have worked hard to convince people to allow specialized burial teams to take away dead bodies. But these safety measures, while necessary, make it hard for people to say good bye to their loved ones. VOA's Anne Look reports on the tragedy from Liberia.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid