Poor and low-income New Yorkers on food stamps got a lifeline when Congress boosted food stamp aid during the worst days of the pandemic to help families make it through the COVID surges, lockdowns and work stoppages.
Now the extra cash is gone. The last enhanced payments went out already, so seniors and families enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) face a hunger cliff as they receive significantly lower payouts in the months ahead. The lapse in COVID-era benefits means the average recipient will lose $90 a month, and some households will plunge $250 a month or more.
But New York state legislators can offer a helping hand to New Yorkers facing food insecurity by expanding the New York state’s Empire State Child Credit (ESCC). Research shows that when New Yorkers received the expanded federal Child Tax Credit, more than 90 percent of the families said that they spent the additional cash on basic necessities like food, clothing, rent, utilities, or school supplies.
Encouragingly, there are several bills in consideration that aim to expand the ESCC and widen its reach. One bill (S.00771/A.2464) would expand the Empire State Child Credit to a permanent $1,000-per-child credit for all children under 4 years and to $500 for all children between the ages of 4 and 17. It would also expand eligibility to families at the lowest income levels by eliminating that families have a certain minimum income to qualify for this credit. Single-headed households making up to $75,000 and married joint filers making up to $110,000 would qualify for this credit. Payments would go out quarterly – and that would go a long way toward helping with utilities, food, clothing and other expenses. Its passage could not come soon enough.
Additionally, both the Assembly and State Senate one-house bills also include one-year extensions of the supplemental credit as well as expansion of the credit to families with the state’s youngest children—those who are less than 4 years old. But by leaving in the minimum income requirement, the one-house bills leave out the state’s lowest income families, who are most in need, from receiving this benefit. The federal tax code, which provides a Child Tax Credit of $2,000 per child, again leaves out a third of all children whose families incomes are too low to receive the full benefit.
Expansion of the child tax credit needs to be part of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s $227 billion budget, which already attempts to tackle New York City’s many pressing problems, such as crime, housing shortages and the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s finances. The Community Service Society has previously published on the many ways in which expanded child tax credit can help to not only alleviate families’ hardships today but also make tomorrow’s children smarter and healthier. A cost-benefit analysis of the proposal, done by researchers at Columbia University, shows that while the proposal would cost $1.1 billion annually, it would produce $9.8 billion in increased benefits to the society from investing in our children.
These are particularly difficult days for families with children in New York, where 18 percent live below the poverty line. The rate is even higher for children in Black and Hispanic families—28 percent of whom are growing up in poverty. Our state is home to some communities with the highest rates of child poverty in the nation: in Syracuse and Rochester, 48 percent of children live in poverty, followed by Buffalo (42 percent) and the Bronx (37 percent).
Children in low-income households are most vulnerable to the devastating impacts of poverty, of insufficient nutrition, and might develop lifelong deficits, reducing their future earnings and worsening their health. Even before the reduction of SNAP benefits, children in low-income households were struggling with rising housing costs and continued inflation. In the first week of February, the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey found 5.2 million New Yorkers in February were having a somewhat or very difficult time paying their household expenses. They include hundreds of New York City Housing Authority residents in serious arrears on their rent. Sadly, women-headed households comprised 3.9 million of this group struggling to pay their bills.
President Joe Biden championed expanding the Child Tax Credit that in a single month slashed child poverty nationally by nearly 40 percent and lifted three million children out of poverty. It expired in December 2021, unable to garner Republican support. Adding insult to injury, Republicans in Congress are pushing to cut regular SNAP benefits this year by reducing assistance and imposing stricter work requirements.
Lawmakers in Albany have a responsibility to help, especially as inflation shows no signs of abating. Budget negotiators in Albany should do the right thing and expand the New York Empire State Child Credit to every child. Poverty is a policy choice. It doesn’t have to be.
David R. Jones, Esq., is President and CEO of the Community Service Society of New York (CSS), the leading voice on behalf of low-income New Yorkers for more than 175 years, and a member of MTA Board. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. The Urban Agenda is available on CSS’s website: www.cssny.org.