Thanks to billions of dollars in food stamp cuts over the past year, the nation’s largest food bank has seen need jump so dramatically that it can’t keep up, the Food Bank For New York City (FBFNYC) announced Monday.
At least one facility out of every three that the FBFNYC operates, three have had to turn people away at some point in the past year. Almost two thirds have started giving out smaller amounts of food to try to stretch their resources, Al Jazeera America reports, as four out of five food bank locations reported a rising number of people coming in the door since last November’s food stamp cuts.
The cuts followed the expiration of an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that Congress enacted as part of the 2009 stimulus law. The emergency increases to SNAP during the depths of the Great Recession helped the system respond to a massive leap in food insecurity and hunger nationwide. They were intended to last through 2015. But various other budget priorities eventually lead Democrats to give grudging support to a pair of 2010 bills that pushed the wind-down up first to 2014, then to three weeks before last Thanksgiving.
In New York City alone, the cuts wiped out about 56 million meals’ worth of benefits, the FBFNYC guesses. The group estimates that 1.4 million people in the city rely on emergency food services like food banks and food pantries, meaning that the country’s most densely populated metropolis is also one of its hungriest areas. Feeding America, the hunger charity network that includes the FBFNYC, estimates that it serves 14.5 percent of the national population each year, and the FBFNYC numbers put city participation at 16.5 percent.
The New York charity is the single largest food bank in America, but the strain it faces is hardly unusual. Feeding America’s latest survey of member charities reported that one in every six of its food banks nationwide is worried about having to close down due to a lack of resources and surging demand. Those fears come despite eye-popping figures on volunteer participation: 2 million people volunteer more than 8.4 million hours at Feeding America charities every month.
These statistics cut against one common refrain from conservative lawmakers who want to cut food stamps further. As national Republicans pushed to drop 6 million people from SNAP and cut the program by $40 billion last year, some in their ranks justified the push by suggesting that American charities should be left in charge of feeding the hungry without government interference. Even then, actual hunger charity operators warned that this faith was misplaced and that food banks were already operating beyond their capacity. (Republicans ultimately settled for an $8 billion cut to the program in the bipartisan farm bill passed earlier this year, and governors in several states have acted to shield roughly a million SNAP recipients from those benefit reductions.)
Now, in New York City, food bank officials seem resigned to the smaller rations, longer lines, and annual shortfalls as a sort of new normal. “It’s no longer an emergency,” FBFNYC head Swami Durga Das told Al Jazeera. “This is part of the fiber of New York.”