Hunger on the Rise in the United States

An alarming new report from the Federal government shows that hunger is on the rise across the United States.

As the New York Times reported this week, a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report shows:

“The number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food soared last year, to 49 million, the highest since the government began tracking what it calls “food insecurity” 14 years ago….”

Obviously the severe econoomic recession and double-digit unemployment are the major reasons for the increase in hunger and food insecurity.  But in New York City — where one in five families has an income below the Federal poverty line and where record numbers of homeless people crowd municipal shelters — finding sufficient food is a daily reality for far too many children and adults.

One major way to help struggling New Yorkers is to improve access to Food Stamps, which help low-income and working class families supplement their food purchases.  Unfortunately, the Bloomberg administration has erected barriers that make it harder for many vulnerable people to obtain Food Stamps, including rules requiring finger-imaging of applicants.  As an El Diario editorial recently noted:

“The Bloomberg administration requires all recipients of federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP)- what used to be known as food stamps – to provide a fingerprint. This places an unfair burden on families trying to access food, families who are legally entitled to nutrition assistance. And it is an unnecessary practice. While New York State mandates a finger image for cash assistance, it leaves it up to local governments when it comes to food stamps.”

The New York City Coalition Agaist Hunger found that New York City is one of only four cities nationwide that has this requirement.  And it’s one that, in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, ought to be eliminated in order to improve access to vital food assistance.

Housing as a Human Right

Last month, the United Nations assigned an official “rapporteur” to the task of investigating affordable housing in several United States cities, including New York, to see if the lack of affordable housing constituted a human rights violation. Most Americans associate human rights violations with other countries, generally in the developing world, and certainly not within our own bustling and modern City of New York. But if we consider a safe, affordable place to live as a right of all Americans, then New York is grossly depriving over 100,000 people each year from a basic human right.

Coalition for the Homeless recently released a staggering new analysis of the numbers of homeless people in New York City. Each night, more than 39,000 New Yorkers have no place to call home–including more than 16,000 children. Many of these homeless are working families who have no social supports to fall back on and just don’t make enough to afford a place of their own. This past year has been the worst on record for modern homelessness in New York City. Since 2002, the number of homeless people in New York City shelters has increased by 45 percent.

In 2005, the Bloomberg administration cut homeless families off from receiving priority for scarce federal housing resources, including Section 8 vouchers, that provide a long-term solution to many families facing an inability to pay skyrocketing rents. Looking at homelessness from its most basic view as a housing problem–as the United Nations is currently doing–it should be more than obvious that the City government should reverse this policy and start re-allocating housing vouchers and other forms of affordable housing to our homeless neighbors.

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