Poverty in NYC on rise while proposed food stamp cuts loom
Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 5:26 p.m.
Emerging census numbers reveal shocking information about just how bad poverty is in New York City. The median income of families in the city has declined along with an increase in the number of people in poverty.
According to the U.S. Census, the number of city residents living below the federal poverty line increased from over 1,500,000 to 1,546,000 from 2008 to 2009. The median household income dropped from $51,116 in 2008 to $50,033 in 2009
Every borough except Manhattan reported an increase in people living below poverty. However, the drop is attributed to the mass number of those living in poverty in Manhattan being priced out to other places.
And while New Yorkers are seeing a drop in income, the federal government is proposing cuts to the food stamp program.
At a press conference on Tuesday in Washington Heights, a real picture of just how bad things are getting was seen at the Ecumenical Food Pantry, which is run by Catholic Charities. A long line with dozens of people could be seen with carts getting free food to last them several days.
A week ago, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH) and Washington Heights City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez lived on the cost of food stamps for a week. Participants in the challenge lived on $4.35 a day for food for the first three days and spent $3.75 a day for the remaining four days. The lower cost represents the proposed cuts.
"I do not need to repeat what we already know," Rodriguez said. "It is impossible to still eat a healthy, balanced diet off $4.33 per day, the amount a low-income individual might receive off food stamps. Ironically, Congress is considering paying for child nutrition programs by cutting the already insufficient amount of funds for food stamps--a move that will make children less healthy!"
Rodriguez also added that while President Barack Obama is championing the need for stronger education in the country, no child can learn sufficiently if they are not getting proper nutrition.
In a statement about the issue, Congressman Anthony Weiner said that the federal government has a "moral obligation" to provide for New Yorkers who go hungry every year.
"Unfortunately, food stamp recipients have a tough enough time subsisting on the current allotment. The fact that further cuts are even on the table is shameful," he said.
Jeanne McGettigan, emergency food services coordinator at Catholic Community Services, said that food pantries across the city give enough food to families to eat three meals a day for three days. Food baskets usually include low-fat milk, eggs, chicken, pasta, beans, vegetables and cereal. Taking away benefits would lower the amount pantries can give.
"Every day at the pantry, we see people who are struggling to make ends meet," said McGettigan. "All too often, people forget how fortunate they are to know where their next meal is coming from."
"Poverty in New York City grew this year, and policymakers need to acknowledge that it's time for more intensive government action. We need to simplify the application process for government benefits, get people working and ensure that workers are earning prevailing or living wages," said Joel Berg, executive director of NYCCAH.
In a borough by borough breakdown, Brooklyn had the highest number of people living below the poverty line in 2009, with well over 550,000. The lowest was Staten Island, with 54,100.
Currently, 1.76 million New Yorkers rely on food stamp benefits.