Brooklyn Grocers and Soup Kitchens Concerned Over Food Stamp Cuts

Brooklyn Grocers and Soup Kitchens Concerned Over Food Stamp Cuts
Map courtesy of the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness

Roughly one in three New Yorkers rely on food stamps, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). So when cuts are made, food kitchens and grocers in blue-collar areas begin to notice. And with some cuts phasing in now and more coming down the pike, they are worried.

As of Nov. 1, the SNAP benefit boost of nearly $42 billion funded by the 2009 stimulus expired, shrinking benefits by approximately five percent per household. The effect is that a single person using the maximum SNAP allotment is losing $11 off of his or her $200 monthly benefit, while a unit of four people using the maximum is losing $36 off of its $668 monthly benefit.

A much bigger cut is coming, however, one the Senate and House of Representatives must settle on in their negotiations on the impending Farm Bill. The Senate wants to cut SNAP by $4.5 billion over a decade, while the House wants to implement a whopping $39 billion reduction to the program.

The bill, the enactment of which September’s Congressional Research Service Report indicated has a looming deadline, will only add to the negative impact of the recent decrease in SNAP funding.

Beyond the hunger Brooklyn residents and people everywhere reliant on food stamps will likely face, local grocers expect to take a hit and soup kitchens are bracing for greater community needs. Several people involved in Brooklyn soup kitchens and grocers predict that a further cut to the program could raise the popularity of soup kitchens and hurt the business of small grocers in the borough.

“We’re definitely bracing for something,” said Alexander Rapaport, executive director of Masbia, a nonprofit soup kitchen and food pantry with three locations in Brooklyn and one in Queens. He was referring to anticipation by Masbia staff that the expected cut to SNAP will affect the communities they serve.

The number of New Yorkers relying on federal food assistance has steadily grown since 2008, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). According to the 2011 report by the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness, between 56 and 63 percent of families with children in Borough Park, East New York and surrounding neighborhoods receive benefits from SNAP, while 50 to 56 percent of families with children in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Flatlands and a couple of other neighborhoods get the benefits.

And this number has undoubtedly risen. Average monthly participation in SNAP reached three million people in New York in 2011, while the number of those enrolled in the program was 200,000 more than that in the state as of August of this year.

The Nov. 1 cut to SNAP has had muted effects because it is still rolling out. Food stamp users in the city are replenished over a period of ten days that changes month to month, according to the USDA. This month’s schedule shows that some people will have their benefits replenished as early as Nov. 1 and others as late as Nov. 29, making it difficult to gather a full and accurate report on the effects of the Nov. 1 drop in funding for SNAP on those reliant on the program in Brooklyn.

Still, some people involved in food in Brooklyn have indeed noticed a change since the beginning of the month. Yoni Raskin, manager of Benz’s Food Products, Inc. in Crown Heights said that he definitely noticed the Nov. 1 expiration of SNAP funding in the last couple of weeks.

Allison Nichols, co-owner of Perelandra Natural Food Center in Brooklyn Heights has felt it too. “I definitely did notice actually that our food sales have decreased,” she said. “The percentage of sales that our food stamps encompass for us is actually quite small, but I actually did notice a difference.”

Simi Ganzfried, a Masbia employee, noted that over the past two weeks the nonprofit distributed over 100 more food packages per week than usual. “Each package feeds three people,” she said, before labeling the increase “significant.”

Yet, “there hasn’t been too much of a change” in the number of meals Masbia has served this month, Ganzfried continued. And several local grocers in the borough that accept food stamps have not noticed any changes to their customer numbers and the health of their businesses.

But it is the predicted Farm Bill cuts that are more worrisome for residents who use SNAP, grocers that accept SNAP, and soup kitchens in Brooklyn. The prediction is mostly the same across the board: local grocers that accept food stamps will suffer and the number of hungry people in the borough will grow, putting pressure on soup kitchens to feed more people.

“That’s disappointing to me that they are cutting food stamp benefits. It will not affect our business in a huge substantial way, but we are a small business so every sale counts,” Nichols said.

“The community (Crown Heights) has a lot of large families and they’re very reliant on the aid. It will cut into their spending for sure,” Dobi Raskin, an employee of Benz’s Food Products, Inc. said.

Rapaport expanded on this idea of the repercussions for the large family. “If you have a family of 10, you will be cut almost $100 a month,” he said.

There will be an “immediate effect on products and companies,” he continued. “Not only to people themselves who won’t have money to feed themselves, which is devastating and sad. The broader picture is that some of the more local businesses and local brands rely on people being able to buy their stuff.”

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