With the 2012 Farm Bill expected to head to the Senate floor for a vote later this week, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee from New York State in nearly forty years, was joined today by New York City restaurateur and "Top Chef" star Tom Colicchio, New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg, Food Bank for New York City President & CEO Margarette Purvis, AARP NY State Director Joan Parrot-Fonseca, Environmental Working Group in urging Congress not to tighten its fiscal belt on the backs of families and children facing a constant struggle against hunger. The proposed legislation deeply slashes $4.5 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, over the next decade. Gillibrand, the lone Democrat to vote against the bill in the Senate Agriculture Committee last month, announced that she will introduce an amendment to the Farm Bill to restore these proposed cuts by reducing federal subsidies for crop insurance companies who already make huge profits every year.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the proposed food stamp cuts would result in an average benefit cut of $90 per month, or 32%, for nearly a half a million households, meaning a significant cut to food dollars for these families. According to estimates by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, this deep cut in monthly benefits would affect 190,000 low-income New York City families and children who rely on these benefits for their nutrition, and would affect nearly 300,00 households statewide.
The proposed cuts could force families with children to skip meals, ration food, purchase cheaper but less healthy food, and/or choose between food, rent, medicine, and the gas needed to get to work. This makes them less likely to escape poverty, maintain good health, excel in school, or increase their work productivity. Half of food stamp beneficiaries are children.
According to Moody's economist Mark Zandi, the fastest way to infuse money into the economy is through expanding the SNAP/food stamp program. In fact, these SNAP dollars have a $1.71 return on investment in the economy with just one dollar of benefits creating a "ripple effect" through the economy. Each dollar pays the salaries of the grocery clerks, pays the truckers who haul the food and produce cross-country, and finally, the USDA estimates that 16 cents goes back to the farmer who grows the crops. Plus, USDA research shows that each $5 of federal SNAP/Food Stamp benefits generates nearly twice that in economic activity.
"This Farm Bill is much more than a set of esoteric numbers. It's very much about the decisions we are making regarding economic growth, regarding our agriculture industries, and the moral obligation we have to our families that are at risk," said Senator Gillibrand. "Food stamps are an extraordinary investment because for every dollar that you put into the SNAP program, you get out $1.71. Under the current bill, families in New York will lose about $90 a month in their food stamps, which means in the third week of the month, many families' children will go to school hungry. It also means less food on a kitchen table for children. I have very grave concerns about what that says about us, and what we're going to do about it."
"Reducing the federal deficit by creating a food deficit for struggling families is irresponsible policy," said Tom Colicchio, New York City restaurateur and "Top Chef" star. "Millions of New Yorkers depend on SNAP to put the most basic of meals on the table for their children. I applaud Senator Gillibrand for introducing an amendment to the farm bill to address the devastating $4.5B in SNAP cuts that would increase hunger and food insecurity here in New York, and throughout the country.
"I want to thank Senator Gillibrand for urging Congress to increase funding - particularly for food stamps and emergency food assistance - for the Farm Bill," said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. "The current version of the Farm Bill is cause for great concern across the country and here in New York which is why the City Council just last week passed a resolution calling for adequate funding in order to address issues of hunger, access to healthy food, environmental protection and local economic growth."
"Nothing packs a larger economic bang-for-the-buck than the SNAP/food stamp program," said Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moody's Analytics. "For every $1 increase in the program, economic activity ultimately increases by $1.71. People who receive these benefits are financially hard pressed and will spend any aid they receive very quickly. The money also stays in the U.S. economy, paying the salaries of grocery clerks, the truckers who haul the food cross-country, and the farmers who grow the crops."
"Over the course of the last five years, GrowNYC's EBT initiative has resulted in $1.53 million in revenue to farmers, generating an estimated $2.8 million of regional economic activity according to the USDA," said Marcel Van Ooyen, Executive Director of GrowNYC. "The exponential growth of EBT dollars spent at our Greenmarkets since 2007 demonstrates an ever increasing demand from all New Yorkers for fresh, healthy food. By providing access to the freshest food available, the food stamp at farmers market program plays a major role in curbing diet related disease, and ensures a healthier lifestyle for all citizens while simultaneously supporting regional agriculture. The proposed cut to the food stamp program would mean a devastating loss to farmers, as well as the families who need this assistance the most."
"The Senate Farm Bill would literally take food out of the mouths of hungry children, working parents, seniors, and veterans," said Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "Struggling New Yorkers across the state are extremely grateful for Senator Gillibrand's courageous and steadfast leadership in pushing a common sense plan to reverse the cuts and pay for it by slightly reducing taxpayer subsidies to highly profitable insurance companies."
"The Farm Bill currently under consideration in the Senate threatens to shred the safety net that helps keep food on the table for 1 in 7 Americans -- most of them children, seniors and working families," said Margarette Purvis, President and CEO of the Food Bank For New York City. "We support Sen. Gillibrand's amendment to eliminate deeply damaging funding cuts to SNAP, and applaud her leadership in protecting the critical food resources our most vulnerable neighbors rely on. Cuts to SNAP would not only weaken our nation's first line of defense against hunger, they would add tremendous pressure to an emergency food system already struggling to meet overwhelming need in our communities."
"SNAP is a vital program for older New Yorkers threatened by hunger and we commend Senator Gillibrand for recognizing how important it is," said Joan Parrott-Fonseca, AARP New York State Director. "Cutting funding to this program will hurt the growing number of older, food-insecure New Yorkers who need to access the proper nutrition that is so essential to remaining healthy, independent and active in their community.
"United Way of New York City applauds Senator Gillibrand's efforts to restore funding for the SNAP food stamp program, and urges Congress not to cut such a vital lifeline for the City's most vulnerable families," said Gordon Campbell, President and CEO of United Way of New York City. "As the largest funder of pantries and soup kitchens in New York City, we are painfully aware of the scope of hunger throughout our communities. With so many suffering from unemployment, record numbers of families are requiring aid. Now is the time to join together and preserve nutrition assistance programs to fight poverty and hunger, not to slash them."
"Giving away generous tax dollars to large crop insurance companies every year doesn't make any sense," said Ken Cook, president of Environmental Working Group. "Doesn't it make more sense to help feed struggling families and to encourage kids to crave fruits and vegetables -- and to pay for that effort by cutting the payments we give to these profitable corporations? We urge the full Senate to pass Senator Gillibrand's amendment so millions of children won't go to bed hungry and will have a better shot at forming healthier eating habits."
The 2012 Senate Farm Bill proposes a $4.5 billion cut to SNAP over 10 years by reducing the ability of states to take part in the "Heat and Eat" program. This program allows a state to streamline its bureaucracy and provide additional food stamps to low-income families with high heating or utility costs already included in their monthly rent. The program is designed to increase SNAP benefits and simplify the benefit calculation for households who often face tough choices between using limited funds towards nutrition or keeping their lights on. The proposed bill would limit states' ability to use this streamlined approach.
As a result, for one example, a New York City family currently enrolled in the "Heat and Eat" program whose utility costs are rolled into their monthly $550 rent would see an automatic reduction in food stamps. However, a household with the same total costs but separate monthly bills of $500 for rent and $50 for utilities would still be eligible to apply for food stamps, but would be required to file additional paperwork, adding bureaucratic costs to New York.
Senator Gillibrand's amendment that will be offered on the Senate floor during the Farm Bill debate would restore the $4.5 billion in funding over ten years for the nation's most important food program for children by reducing federal subsidies for crop insurance companies that are already making huge annual profits.
In the House of Representatives, the budget proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan would cut an additional $134 billion from SNAP. According to the Center for American Progress, this would force eight to ten million people off food assistance. On top of those cuts, the House Republicans recently voted for another $36 billion in SNAP cuts, which would take SNAP benefits away from two million more Americans, and cause 280,000 low-income children to lose automatic eligibility for free school meals.
According to new Census data, from 2009-2010, 75,000 NYC city residents have been pushed into poverty, increasing the poor population to more than 1.6 million. Poverty among New York City residents is currently 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. In New York State, SNAP made the largest percentage point difference in lifting households above 101 percent of the poverty level.
According to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an estimated 860,846 New York State children lived in food insecure homes in 2008-2010. This number represented 19.6 percent (one in five) of the state's children, and is a 30 percent increase from 2005-2007, when 659,816 or 14.7 percent (one in seven) of the state's children lived in such households.