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House passes $9B in food stamp cuts

Stephon Johnson | 1/30/2014, 12:15 p.m.
Food Stamp cuts Photo by Bill Moore

On the day that the House would pass a $100 billion-a-year farm bill that included significant cuts to the food program, elected officials, nonprofit organizations and activists gathered at the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Chelsea to denounce the legislation and plead the Senate to deny it.

“They tend to speed things through when they’re not proud of it,” said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. “Congress can’t agree on much …except on taking food from the poor.”

According to statistics delivered by the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, every $1 of Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) money spent generates $1.73 in the U.S. economy. This would result in a $3.8 billion hit to New York City’s economy. With the city looking at a potential budget shortfall and unions seeking new contracts, it’s money that New York City can’t afford to be without.

“Reality is that societies are judged by how you treat the least of them, and this bill will treat low-income families harshly,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “It would cut almost $90 per month from their budget, and it may not sound like a lot, but $1,000 a year clearly is a lot to a family that is struggling.”

The farm bill, if the Senate approves the legislation, would slash funding to SNAP by $9 billion, reducing food benefits for close to 1.5 million Americans. These are cuts in addition to the $5 billion in SNAP cuts that went into effect back on Nov. 1. With those cuts, every SNAP recipient saw their benefits decrease between $30 and $50.

Newly proposed cuts to the farm bill would disproportionately impact New York City, with the five boroughs taking 25 percent of the entire cut.

“A nation that cuts food for hungry children, seniors, veterans and working people solely to fund more corporate welfare has lost both its soul and its mind,” said Berg.

The recession also affects those whose mission is to serve people who need assistance. Cassandra Agredo, executive director of Xavier Mission (the nonprofit offshoot of the Church of St. Francis Xavier), spoke about how the recession and previous SNAP cuts have rendered them unable to serve all of those who request food at their pantries and soup kitchens.

“In 2007, we served approximately 76,000 meals,” said Agredo. “The great recession officially began in December of that year.” Last year, four years after the official end of the recession, there was a 41 percent increase in people served at their pantries and soup kitchens.

“The recession isn’t over for our guests, nor is it over for our organization,” said Agredo.

Jilly Stephens, executive director of City Harvest, was blunt in her critique of what she felt was a society that has values backward.

“Food is a basic necessity,” said Stephens. “It’s not a luxury.”