Local hunger agencies say a move by the state to preserve food stamp benefits could be a lifesaver for thousands of needy New Yorkers.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this week the state is taking steps to preserve approximately $457 million a year in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits that would otherwise be cut by the recently enacted federal Farm Bill.
The bill was slated to cut SNAP benefits (commonly known as food stamps) an average of $127 per month for affected households in New York, including those that live in government subsidized housing or in certain congregate care settings. This action by the state will save benefits for nearly 300,000 households in New York.
The SNAP cuts stem from the expiration of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allowed for a temporary 13.6 percent increase monthly in benefits. The cuts were expected to eliminate $302 million in benefits in New York alone, resulting in increased demand at emergency food providers.
"I believe this move will ease the minds of many, especially those families that stood to lose an estimated $127 per month in SNAP benefits," said Carol Palumbo, agency services director at the Food Bank of Western New York.
Both the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels for Western New York had warned the cuts would result in a jump in demand for food and other services at a time when agencies are already pinched for revenue.
Tara Ellis, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels, called the move a "wise investments" by the governor, especially for the senior population it serves.
"Food insecurity continues to rise and more than half the hospitalizations in persons over the age of 60 are directly related to poor nutrition," she said.
Cuomo said the state intervened to make sure the state's most vulnerable residents can put food on the table.
The funds will be maintained by the state dedicating $6 million in additional federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to its Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), maintaining SNAP benefit levels for affected households.
The funding will be used to increase the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) benefit of SNAP recipients in certain living situations for whom heat is included in the rent. By receiving the higher HEAP benefit, these households will remain eligible for the highest SNAP allowance for their energy costs, which enables them to continue receiving SNAP benefits at the level for which they are currently eligible.