More Households on Food Stamps, Some with No Other Income

Use of Food Stamps is on the rise in New York City and nationwide, and, because of barriers to vital benefits, many Food Stamps recipients have no other source of income.

An alarming report in this past weekend’s New York Times documented how a rising number of poor Americans have no income at all except for Food Stamps:

“About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid – no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

“Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.”

The Times article is acommpanied by a graphic showing that, between June 2007 and June 2009, the number of households in the state of New York with no income besides Food Stamps increased by 99 percent.

Another graphic illustrates the rising number of Food Stamps households in counties nationwide.  In New York City, the impact of the economic recession on Food Stamps use — coupled with the the already alarming number of poor children and families — is clear to see.  In Brooklyn, for instance, Food Stamps use has increased 33 percent since 2007, and 35 percent of Brooklyn children are in households receiving Food Stamps.  In the Bronx, 46 percent of children are in families receiving Food Stamps, and use of the benefit has increased 37 percent since 2007.  In Queens and Staten Island, two boroughs with smaller numbers of poor families, Food Stamps use since 2007 has increased 58 percent and 54 percent respectively.  And even in Manhattan, the wealthiest NYC borough, nearly one in four children is in a household receiving Food Stamps.

The Times article comes on top of earlier reports — highlighted on the Coalition’s blog — that hunger and food insecurity are on the rise nationwide, and that one in eight Americans now receive Food Stamps. As we noted in those earlier posts, the Bloomberg administration can take some immediate steps to improve access to Food Stamps, like eliminating the costly and largely ineffectual rule requiring finger imaging of Food Stamps recipients.

But the Bloomberg administration should also take down the onerous barriers — many of them erected by the Giuliani administration but retained and defended by Mayor Bloomberg — that make it difficult for poor and homeless New Yorkers to obtain public assistance and other cash assistance. As an April 2009 report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies showed, even as the number of applications for public assistance increased during the past decade (by 54 percent in New York City), the welfare caseload decreased — largely due to cumbersome, bureaucratic obstacles and the welfare system’s harsh sanction-driven policies.

At a time of high unemployment and widespread poverty, the Bloomberg administration should do much more to ensure that needy New Yorkers can secure safety-net benefits.