It’s 2014, and the 2008 farm bill, which was extended for nine months last January just before it was set to expire, still hasn’t been replaced with a new five-year version of the massive food and agriculture bill—something that was once a simple, bipartisan lift for Congress. The long-stalled legislation puts a lot of question marks over programs such as farm subsidies and food stamps, including by how much exactly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be cut.
Nine billion is the latest number being thrown around, somewhere vaguely in between the $4 billion cut the Senate passed and the $39 billion gutting the House preferred. A new report from the Food Bank for New York City, the largest such organization in the country, says that such a cut, following the across-the-board reduction in benefits that kicked in on Nov. 1, will devastate the safety net for the safety net: the food pantries and soup kitchens SNAP recipients turn to when their benefits run out.
A $9 billion SNAP cut would send more hungry New Yorkers to a network of food pantries and soup kitchens depleted by recession and post-recession years, when, as with many charitable organizations, food and cash donations to antihunger programs have contracted.
“The five years between 2007 and 2012 saw New York City’s emergency food network shrink by 25 percent,” the report reads, “a loss of nearly 250 food pantries and soup kitchens—with remaining programs trying to fill the gaps.”
To get a sense of what kind of increased demand the emergency food network would experience following a $9 billion reduction to SNAP, the Food Bank looked at the impact a $4 billion cut to food stamps had on food pantries and soup kitchens last November. The report states that for 29 percent of food pantries and soup kitchens surveyed, the number of visitors increased between 26 percent and 50 percent that month.
A full 85 percent of the locations surveyed reported an increase in visitors in November 2013 compared with November 2012, suggesting the extra demand wasn’t simply due to the Thanksgiving holiday.
If the $9 billion cut to the program being considered becomes law, the Food Bank estimates that the 190,000 New York City households on SNAP will lose, on average, between $90 and $130 per month. In that situation, “it is likely that more SNAP recipients than ever will turn to Food Bank’s emergency food programs—a prospect for which the emergency food network is ill prepared,” the report reads.
The Food Bank for New York City report concludes, “Vulnerable New Yorkers could be left with nowhere to turn for needed food." This is by no means a problem for New York City alone. With one in five Americans enrolled in the program, such a cut to SNAP would send more people to food pantries across the country—and the stocks are lacking at many of them too.