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Letter to Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

With more than 700,000 New Yorkers living in poverty, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, called for more federal funding for the nation's food stamp and emergency food programs to aid impoverished New York families and underserved communities. For many families trying to survive on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits or monthly food stamps, their benefits only last until the third week of the month while many soup kitchens and food pantries continue to experience chronic food shortages. Senator Gillibrand proposed an increase in SNAP benefits levels under the 2012 Farm Bill's Nutrition title, increasing monthly assistance for a family of four by an estimated $144 and also pushed for more emergency aid for food banks running out of meals for hungry children and communities.

"Hunger and food insecurity in New York have reached disturbing, historic highs and food bank shelves have gone bare," said Senator Gillibrand. "We must take immediate action to make sure we're helping New York children and families during these difficult times."

Senator Gillibrand wrote in a letter to Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, "As I travel the state, I hear countless stories from residents that their SNAP benefits only last until the 3rd week of the month, and that soup kitchens and food pantries are constantly running out of food. I am hearing that those in need are often lining up for lunch at dawn in hopes of securing a meal. Both SNAP and TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) need increased funding in order to adequately serve the populations of hungry Americans who rely on these programs to survive… During these difficult economic times, our communities need us to do the right thing and increase federal support of these critical hunger programs."

According to new Census data, between 2009 and 2010, 702,000 households across New York state live in poverty, an 11% increase from the 2007 to 2008 period and the highest level since the mid-1990s. In New York City, 75,000 residents are living in poverty, pushing the poor population to more than 1.6 million. Poverty among New York City residents rose to 20.1%, with nearly 1 in 5 city households relying on food stamps.

The Census Bureau also showed that SNAP has lifted 3.9 Million Americans above the poverty line. New York was the state where SNAP made the largest percentage point difference in lifting households above 101 percent of the poverty level.

Full text of Senator Gillibrand's letter to Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow is below:

I am writing to you today to call your attention to the urgent and critical hunger needs of my state and families across the country. USDA now reports that 49 million Americans now live in food insecure homes. In New York, 702,000 people live in households experiencing hunger, the highest level recorded for the state since the federal government began collecting such data in the mid-1990s. The nation's official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent, up from 14.3 percent in 2009 ? the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. The number of New York State residents that live below the poverty line ($18,310 for a family of three) increased by 11% from the 2007-2008 time period to the 2009-2010 time period, according to new federal Census data released earlier this month. In the richest country in the world, this state of affairs is simply disgraceful.

As you are aware, the Nutrition title of the Farm bill is the funding source for essential hunger programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). While SNAP offers monthly benefits for individuals and families to purchase their own food, TEFAP supplies food pantries and soup kitchens with almost 25% of the supplies they need to keep their doors open. As I travel the state, I hear countless stories from residents that their SNAP benefits only last until the 3rd week of the month, and that soup kitchens and food pantries are constantly running out of food. I am hearing that those in need are often lining up for lunch at dawn in hopes of securing a meal. Both SNAP and TEFAP need increased funding in order to adequately serve the populations of hungry Americans who rely on these programs to survive.

Benefits under SNAP are based on the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan, which is the least expensive of four food plans developed by USDA's Human Nutrition Information Services. I propose that in the 2012 Farm Bill we increase SNAP benefits from the "thrifty" food plan to the "low cost" food plan in order to help families purchase food for the entire month, not just the first couple of weeks. This could increase the monthly benefit for a family of four with two small children by roughly $144. USDA has reported that the average food insecure household facing hunger spent $11 per week less on food than the average household that didn't face hunger. It is clear that too few Americans in need receive SNAP, and that the average benefit size is too small. In New York, and other higher-cost housing states, this situation is made worse by the fact that the cap on excess shelter deduction is too low, further impacting the level of adequate benefits. We should adjust this problematic cap to better address higher housing costs in different parts of the country.

Fifty percent of all American children will at some point be beneficiaries of SNAP (food stamps). Additionally, for every dollar spent on SNAP, $1.80 is reinvested into the U.S. economy. The Census Bureau just released new poverty data showing that SNAP has lifted 3.9 Million Americans above the poverty line. New York was the state where SNAP made the largest percentage point difference in lifting households above 101 percent of the poverty level. These programs are effective in fighting poverty. During these difficult economic times, our communities need us to do the right thing and increase federal support of these critical hunger programs. I look forward to working together to include these proposals in the 2012 Farm Bill.


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