There was an increase of people at emergency food programs in New York City due to the Nov. 1 Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program cuts, according to a latest research brief from the Food Bank of New York City.As the brief mentions, this took place as the number of soup kitchens and food pantries in New York City fell by 25 percent under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg during 2007 to 2012. Meanwhile, Congress decided to let five billion dollars in SNAP benefits expire, which were extended under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, expire on Nov. 1, leaving the 47 million Americans relying on SNAP $121 (for a household of one) to $396 (for a household of four) short.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 3,185,000 New Yorkers in Fiscal Year 2014 were on SNAP benefits. Additionally, the state is expected to lose $332 million as a result of SNAP cuts from Nov. 2013 to Sept. 2014. According to Food Bank, out of the more than 8.3 million New York City residents, nearly one in five rely on the program.
The findings of the brief have been shocking and indicate there are major problems still occurring in New York City as nearly one-third of civilians “struggle to afford food.” Three-fourths of food pantries and soup kitchens reported an increase in visitors in Nov. 2013 compared to the previous two months. Just 16 percent of those interviewed stated they had more than 50 percent in visitor traffic than before.
Even worse, compared to Nov. 2012, 85 percent remarked they had an increase of people visiting for food. Just, 20 percent said they had more than 50 percent in difference from the year before. As the organization noted, this was “not attributable to seasonal variation related to the fact that November is a holiday month.”
There was the additional issue of running out of food or almost running out of it for some providers. Nearly one-half said this occurred to them and 26 percent had to turn people away due to this issue. It also affected the size of meals served with 23 percent of those interviewed stating they had to reduce “the number of meals their pantry bag provided.”
It’s significant this brief came out as President Obama is set to make his speech next week for his State of the Union address. Rather than talk about the major income inequality recently highlighted in an Oxfam International report, Obama has decided to talk about the opportunities for low and middle-income Americans that can help them climb the economic ladder. It would be very difficult to imagine him speak about this recent report, let alone the struggle of Americans trying to escape food insecurity.
Still, the White House is using their previous attempts of doing nothing radical to remark it’s not normal for them to talk about income inequality as the Associated Press noted:
The modification in language does not represent a shift from Obama’s underlying economic message, which White House officials note has been a consistent and prominent theme of his political life.
Meanwhile, Congress doesn’t seem to be interested in restoring SNAP and would rather compromise on a bill with austerity. As Maggie Dickinson of The Indypedent wrote in her Jan. 21 piece, just three days before the Food Bank brief, Democrats would accept austerity as necessary in the newest version of the Farm Bill despite the numerous drawbacks millions of Americans would face:
Now lawmakers are fighting over how much more to cut from the program, as the House and Senate attempt to reconcile their separate versions of the farm bill. The Senate’s version contains a $4 billion cut to SNAP, while the House has proposed cutting $40 billion. Recent negotiations haven’t yet produced a compromise, but Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, has reportedly signaled that the Senate could live with a $9 billion cut in order to pass the legislation.
It’s almost shocking to hear Democrats would accept such a proposal with Republicans to decide the fate of the 47 million of Americans who barely have a say into their lives. However, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) stated the Farm Bill with the SNAP cuts will pass “with some Democratic support.” It seems the Democrats aren’t happy with the cuts, but would gladly accept it to pass the overall Farm Bill.
The House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), meanwhile, rejected the $40 billion SNAP cuts proposed by House Republicans, but seemed open to the $9 billion compromise:
“I look forward to seeing it and how they arrive at that figure and what their timetable is on it,” she told reporters. “I think it is very important that we get a farm bill. I’ve been very concerned about the food stamp and nutrition cuts that are in the bill, but as you know, that’s been closely held.”
Barely any concern is registered with a member of Congress, a place where more than half are millionaires. Pelosi was reported by the Center for Responsive Politics for having an average net worth of $87,997,030 making her the 10th richest person in Congress.
If what’s occurring in New York City is getting worse, then it’s troubling to imagine what’s happening across the nation due to the SNAP cuts. Ohio—where 18 percent or 1,847,000 residents are SNAP recipients—had more than 10,000 people cut off food stamps. They had their benefits cut because they failed to follow the state’s “enforced work requirements.” These work requirements are for adults without children and include “at least 20 hours working, attending class or job training, or volunteering each week” for them to get SNAP benefits.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, a Republican, believes it can provide benefits to SNAP recipients as his spokesman told The Columbia Dispatch ”Ohio’s economy is improving.”
The program is no stranger to New York City as Bloomberg pushed for it when he was in charge as Dickinson notes in her piece. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio “has signaled that he will accept the USDA’s waiver for unemployed, childless adults, essentially waiving the work requirement for the 76,000 city residents who currently have to work for their SNAP benefits.” Still, it doesn’t solve the issue of increased hunger and worries on food security in New York City.
One in six residents in New York City were found to be “food insecure,” according to a Nov. 2013 report from New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Moreover, they found one in five children were also facing the same conditions. Throughout the state, the number is one in eight residents, which is more troubling.
Dickinson notes this increase isn’t isolated in New York City as she uses the same source to show “food insecurity rose from 10.7 percent of all U.S. households in 2001 to 14.9 percent in 2011.” Typically, the burden rests heavily upon single-parent households compared to two-parent households. A Gallup poll last year found 31 percent of single-parent households with at least one child reported struggling within the past year to purchase food compared to 19 percent of two-parent households.
This isn’t to say two-parent households do an easier job or have it better. It’s shameful for both households to have that in their lives as their representatives barely commit to produce change as millionaires.
With these reports calling for reforms by Congress to fix SNAP or to stop these austerity cuts, it doesn’t seem likely both parties will listen. With midterms close for Democrats and Republicans, they prefer to play it safe and use populist rhetoric where needed to keep them elected.
The reality can be found in what Jon Favreau, Obama’s former speech writer from Jan. 2009 to Feb. 2013, said to the Associated Press in reference to Obama’s shift to focusing on mobility rather than income inequality:
“Any capitalist country has inequality and that in itself is not necessarily a bad thing,” Favreau said. “What most concerned him is mobility.”
It’s a travesty the excuse of capitalism should be used to justify inequality in the U.S., but it’s true capitalism does drives inequality. In fact, economist Richard Wolff discusses this further on his podcast “Economic Update” last week when speaking on global inequality:
From the industrial revolution, 18th century, through to World War II, global inequality worsened. That means the gap in the world between rich countries and poor countries got worse. … The industrial revolution was also the beginning of the dominance of capitalism first in Western Europe and spreading to the rest of the world. In other words, the spread of capitalism was also the spread of global inequality. Capitalism and inequality go together, contrary to the propaganda that sometimes wants us to believe that capitalism is some sort of equalizer.
Wolff also noted this in a Dec. 18, 2013 article on the contradiction between capitalism and democracy:
The lessons of recent history include this: To secure democratic decision-making and the kind of society most Americans want requires moving beyond capitalism. Capitalism’s difficulties (including its crises and inequalities) and its control of government responses to those difficulties keep teaching that lesson. The widening gap between democratic needs and impulses and the imperatives of capitalism is becoming clear to millions in the United States but also in other countries.
To ensure people deserve food stability and don’t need emergency food programs, a transition away from capitalism is needed. The power for that change is not in the hands of Congressional millionaires, but of the public, which have been the recipients of brutal austerity. There is no democracy if even the speechwriter of President Obama admits capitalism produces such inequality that drives people to go to food services only to be turned away.
Photo by Clara Lopez-Pulido, used under Creative Commons license