The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provides benefits to more than 2.5 million people in New York, but due to federal changes made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, counties, especially rural areas, could see huge cuts to their food assistance programs.
"Food is a basic human need, and people who are looking for work or need to keep themselves employed need food in order to do so," said Sherry Tomasky, director of communications and public affairs for Hunger Solutions New York.
Tomasky said many people who receive SNAP benefits usually only use them for around a year, and it’s often people who have trouble getting to work if they don’t have a car, struggling with mental health, homeless people, and even some veterans who rely on these food assistance programs.
"This final rule, this SNAP rule, does nothing to help people find a job. It doesn’t increase services that are available to find jobs," Tomasky said. "It doesn’t increase work training. All it does is take food away from people who are struggling to find a job."
The program worked by providing waivers for places with high unemployment rates. So, if someone was not able to meet the work requirements, they were still able to qualify for SNAP benefits. Thirty-four counties outside New York City, including Monroe, Delaware, Schenectady, Poughkeepsie and many more counties, were given these waivers.
However, under the new changes to the program, almost all of these waivers will be revoked, which means more than 100,000 people will most likely lose their benefits.
"What this rule will do is increase the demand on our food banks and food pantries. Those resources are already stressed to the max. This is not a situation that charity can solve," Tomasky said.
The Northeastern Regional Food Bank provides more than 40 million pounds of food in just this year alone, to food pantries and homeless shelters across eastern New York. However, they are worried about the strain this is going to place on these emergency food providers once the cuts to SNAP benefits go into effect.
"When they make a cut like this, it cuts millions of meals away from people in need. As a food bank system, we just don’t have the capacity to replace that level of cut," said Mark Quandt, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.
If you are currently receiving SNAP benefits and worried about how this new rule will affect you, you should contact your SNAP caseworker in your county. These changes will go into effect in April 2020.