new hunger crisis
In the 22 years pandora necklace that Swami Durga Das has managed New York’s River Fund Food Pantry, he has never seen hunger like this. Each Saturday, hundreds pandora necklace of hungry people descend on the pantry headquarters, an unassuming house on a residential block. The first people arrive around 2 am, forming a line that will wrap around the block before Das even opens his doors. “The numbers have just skyrocketed.”
The new clients are diverse working people, seniors, single mothers but many of them share something in common: they represent the pandora necklace millions of Americans who fell victim to food insecurity when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but didn benefit from the economic recovery.
People walk in from Fulton Street and register their information in the Bed Stuy Campaign Against Hunger office.
Food activists expect a “Hunger Cliff” on November 1, when automatic cuts to food stamp benefits will send a deluge of new hungry people to places like the River Fund Food Pantry, which are already strained.
“I thought we were busy now; I don’t know what it will be like then, because all of those people getting cut will definitely be accessing a pantry,” said Das. “It definitely will be a catastrophe.”
Those cuts were never supposed to be catastrophic; instead they were intended to gradually wind food stamp spending back down to normal levels, after boosting them in response to the 2008 financial collapse.
In the aftermath of that collapse, as employment stagnated and poverty increased, food stamp use exploded: From a little over 26 million users in 2007 to almost 47 million in 2012, an increase of 77%. At the same time, the average benefits per person rose from $96.18 to $133.41.
The 2009 stimulus bill raised the cap on food stamp benefits and pumped an additional $45.2 billion into the program over the next several years. But as provisions of the law expire, the program is scheduled to receive a $5 billion cut over the next year alone. Those cuts will reduce monthly benefits for every single food stamp recipient in the country; a family of four will receive $36 less per month, on average.
PHOTO ESSAY: One family, trying to keep food on the table
Billions more in cuts are scheduled to occur in the following two years, despite the fact that food insecurity in America has not even begun to return to pre recession levels.
“I believe we have a hunger crisis,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, who sits on a House committee responsible for the food stamp program. “When 50 million people in the richest country on the planet are hungry, that’s a crisis.”
Program Director Tamara Dawson is on her feet all day, arriving at the office before the pantry opens to the public in the morning and staying well past closing. In fact, some Republicans in Congress are pushing further cuts to the food stamp program as part of broader budget negotiations that could bump an additional 4 million people off of the food stamps rolls by the end of next year.
Those cuts may be a political winner for a few politicians, but for people like Winsome Stoner, they could be devastating.
Stoner was among those to start collecting food stamps during the post crash era. She was unemployed at the time, and her husband’s salary as a security guard was not sufficient to pay the rent and feed their five children. Now working full time at the Bed Stuy Coalition Against Hunger food pantry in her neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant, Stoner still collects $640 per month in food stamps. Even that, combined with her income and her husband’s income, is not enough.
“It does cushion me a bit, it helps,” she said. “But we still run out of food by the end of the month. The middle, sometimes.”
When there’s no more food left, and no more money to buy new groceries, Stoner and her husband go to food pantries. At the Bud Stuy pantry, the largest emergency food pantry in New York City, Stoner is both an employee and a regular client.
Visiting food pantries is a common practice for those who can’t stretch their food stamp money, also known as SNAP benefits, until the end of the month, according to Lisa Davis, senior vice president of government relations for the national food bank network Feeding America. “They average out to be about $1.49 per person per meal, and we know from our food banks that many of the clients coming to them are those who are receiving SNAP, but the benefits aren’t getting them through the entire month.”
For Stoner’s seven person household, a monthly SNAP benefit of $640 per month translates to about $1 per meal, assuming everyone in the family eats three meals a day. Thanks to the expiration of the stimulus package’s food stamp provisions, Stoner has already received word that she might soon receive even less and without knowing how big the cut will be, she’s terrified.
Winsome Stoner stocks the pantry refrigerator. Both Stoner and her husband work, but they have to use the food pantry themselves because their incomes don cover all their family monthly food expenses.
Photo by John Trotter for MSNBC
“I don’t know if we’re going to get anything,” she said, her voice rising in agitation. “We’re not sure if we’re on it. I’m really worried, I really am.”
“The death knell of the food stamp program”
On the same week that SNAP recipients are expected to lose $5 billion in benefits, members of both chambers of Congress are meeting to negotiate another potentially massive budget cut to the program.
This week, a committee will attempt to reconcil pandora necklace e the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. The Senate version includes $4.1 billion in cuts to food stamps over the next decade; the House version includes no language related to food stamps, but House Republicans are expected to insist on including language from a separate House bill, which would slash $39 billion out of program over the course of the next ten years.
If House Republicans get their way and passed a $39 billion cut, it would cause nearly 4 million people to lose SNAP eligibility in 2014 alone, according to projections from the independent Congressional Budget Office. That cut would magnify the effect of the “Hunger Cliff” by orders of magnitude.