Joel Berg, executive director of NYCCAH, held two press conferences last Wednesday in Queens and Brooklyn to inform the public of cutbacks to the nation’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and New York’s worsening hunger problem.
In the last three years, Berg said, data has shown that one in ten Queens children live in households that cannot afford enough food.
“What we have is parents going without food to feed their children, children skipping meals, children getting less healthy meals, because that’s all their parents can afford,” Berg said. “Kids are going to school without eating, and doing far less well in school because of it.”
The number of New Yorkers going hungry has increased, he said, due to the federal government choosing to cut funding to SNAP last year.
Because of those cuts, there was a 125,000-person drop in SNAP participation in New York City from August 2013 to August 2014, which amounted to a $426 million decrease in federal funding coming into New York City.
Those drops meant that food pantries and soup kitchens have needed to serve more people, with nine out of ten feeding agencies in Queens reporting that they were feeding more people directly as a result of the SNAP cuts. Citywide, there has been a 7 percent increase in people going to food pantries.
“We have a worse hunger problem in Queens and New York and America than any industrialized, western country on the planet,” he said.
The average SNAP cut per home was $19 a month, which Berg admitted does not sound like much, but can be detrimental to families struggling to survive.
Jackie Williams, a member of NYCCAH’s Food Action Board and recipient of SNAP benefits, described the hardship she has faced in light of the decreased program funding.
“I receive SNAP benefits now, and it’s becoming harder and harder to maintain staple food in my household, especially since the cuts took place last year,” Williams said. “Even the slightest cuts affect me greatly.”
Diagnosed with a deadly health disease, Williams depends on SNAP benefits to buy fruits and vegetables, which she said are very expensive.
Williams and Berg both spoke at a press conference hosted at Urban Upbound in Long Island City, where they were joined by Bishop Mitchell Taylor, senior pastor of the local Center of Hope International (COHI) Church.
COHI hosts its own Bread of Life food pantry, which Taylor used as an example of how food pantries are being over-utilized and under-funded.
In 2011, COHI served 20,817 families. That number has increased each year, with the church serving 23,523 families in 2013 and on track to surpass 25,000 families this year.
“Hunger is a real issue not only in this city, but in this country,” Taylor said. “But what makes it more prevalent for us here in New York City is that New York City is the richest city in the world. Why should we have hunger in New York City?”