Forty-seven million Americans, including approximately one million in Queens, are now seeing a reduction in food stamp benefits, after a temporary boost implemented by the 2009 stimulus package expired.
Half of those in Queens who depend on the program are children, according to the social service organization The River Fund, which is based in Richmond Hill.
The food stamp reductions began Nov. 1 and are resulting in a loss in $36 a month in benefits for a family of four, thus increasing the likelihood of families running out of their monthly funds at a faster rate than usual.
The reductions equal a 15 percent cut in food stamp benefits to people in Queens, according to Otto Starzman of The River Fund, or 2.9 million of the 19.3 million meals the program paid for monthly.
Like Starzman, Swami Durga Das of The River Fund is among those most opposed to the reductions. She believes that helping the needy get food is an important issue that should not be viewed through partisan lenses.
“It’s not a pro-party thing or anything like that,” Das commented. “It should be an embarrassment that we’re actually trying to balance our budget on the backs of the poorest of our society.”
Das is a passionate advocate for polices such as the food stamp system, which is formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
She and her organization see hundreds of families a week and are regularly exposed to the faces of poverty in the city.
She believes that more attention should be focused on protecting the nation’s impoverished from what she calls a “hunger cliff” that will decimate individuals and families already struggling, particularly in a weak post recession economy.
“Every time I think about it, someone’s hands are on the cliff trying to stay on,” Das said. “If we keep pulling fingers away, to where there are no fingers holding on, of course they’re going to fall into some kind of void here or some kind of deeper struggle.”
She said that the reductions might result in an increased dependence on the organization’s food supply and thus a heavier workload.
“We know directly clients and people who we are serving who are clearly affected by this, which then effects us because we have to try to keep up with the demand as well,” Das said.
Those concerns have been rejected by House Republicans, who are proposing larger reductions in the food stamp program, spending on which has grown dramatically since the economic downturn that took hold in 2008.
They propose reducing the program’s funding by as much as $40 billion over a decade.
The House Republicans believe that the reductions are necessary to rein in federal spending and that food stamps should only go to the nation’s most impoverished individuals.
Democrats are adamantly opposed to the idea of cutting food stamps. One of the most passionate opponents to the reductions is Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan, Queens).
Maloney believes that the Nov. 1 reductions are another burden that has been placed on the backs of those that she believes are overly encumbered.
“Its absolutely devastating because these cuts are on top of the sequestration cuts that are also cutting back,” she said.
She also criticized Republicans for what she believed was their recklessness and lack of empathy for the nation’s impoverished, citing the recent government shutdown that resulted from the GOP insisting that the Affordable Care Act be delayed or modified, and the administration’s insisting it not be.
“What I find so disturbing is that this is the same team that voted to close down the government for 16 days which resulted in an incredible loss to our economy,” Maloney said of the Republican side.
The Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, has also proposed food stamp cuts. However, those total only $4 billion.
While Maloney is more supportive of the Senate plan than the House’s, she believes there should be no reductions, saying it is unfathomable to discuss social program cutting in the United States.
“We’re the wealthiest country on Earth and we should provide food to people who need it,” Maloney said.
Maloney and the advocates believe these reductions are poorly timed, particularly in an economy that is still struggling to recover from what was the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
They believe food stamps are even more important because of state of the minimum wage in the country, which is $7.25 an hour.
They agree that the rate provides insufficient income to working-class people, particularly in expensive environments such as New York City.
Das also commented on the lack of jobs available, particularly ones that can provide a decent wage above the minimum. She believes that the Republican plan is not considerate of people who have looked for work but have failed to find it, and rejects the idea that cutting SNAP benefits could push people to find employment.
“That’s a wonderful concept but there have to be jobs to be found that have enough of an income to support the people who are looking for jobs or looking to feed their families,” she said. “I think we’re just compounding the problem in New York and around the country. We are compounding the problem of poverty and the working poor.”