Above photo: In Washington Heights, people line up beside a pop up food pantry for canned goods, cartons of milk and bags of fruits. Gwynne Hogan/Gothamist/WNYC.
No Federal Help In Sight.
Food pantries in NYC are struggling to keep up with a dramatic increase in demand for assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has inflamed the already desperate situation faced by many New Yorkers living at the poverty line.
Before the virus tore a hole through the city’s economy, some 12% of residents were already reporting food insecurity fears. That percentage has jumped to 32% of surveyed residents, according to a new report from the Robin Hood Foundation — underscoring the need for immediate federal help as local food pantries are stretched to the limit.
“Before the pandemic, food pantries helped many New Yorkers get by in times of need — but since then, they have become a lifeline for millions,” said the report issued Tuesday titled “Food hardship in New York City is rising as New Yorkers wait for a second federal stimulus bill.”
The federal CARES Act helped mitigate pressure on Americans during the initial economic losses of the pandemic, but since the act expired without further relief forthcoming, more people are relying on assistance from food pantries. “As the benefits of the CARES Act began to expire, rates of food hardship have risen substantially. By September and October, 42 percent of New Yorkers we surveyed reported that they often or sometimes ran out of food or worried they would run out of food before there was money to buy more,” according to the report.
New York’s food pantries are feeling the strain – one Flushing pantry has reported feeding 10,000 people a week, up from a thousand per week before the pandemic.
While awaiting federal relief in the new Biden administration, the report’s authors are calling for increased food stamp benefits for immediate aid through the winter.
Jason Cone, Robin Hood’s Chief Public Policy Officer, said more than 250,000 New Yorkers have signed up for food stamps since the pandemic started – and now 1.7 million city residents are relying on SNAP benefits for sustenance that often doesn’t go far enough. ”
We’re talking about millions of people in the city who are not sure whether or not they’re going to be able to feed their families. And the situation is only gonna get worse,” Cone said in a phone interview Tuesday. “So we know people are falling deeper and deeper into hunger, into debt, into the inability to pay their rent and new remodeler sort of hardships that New Yorkers are having to live through. And the leaders in the city and the state in the federal government need to step up. Otherwise they’re failing New Yorkers.”
The food insecurity is driven largely by the massive spikes of unemployment in the city — Gotham Gazette reported that initial first-time unemployment claims are at “three times the pre-pandemic volume with 21,000 new claims filed the week of November 7th, according to the latest data published by City Comptroller Scott Stringer.”
The long-term effects of food insecurity will be especially damaging to communities of color, the report said. “Now, we face massive unemployment, particularly among Black and Latinx New Yorkers. While it is incredibly difficult to forecast poverty rates, with the expiration of CARES act provisions, the poverty and child poverty rates had likely reached as high as 30 percent and 39 percent, respectively, in New York City by the end of August, according to simulation models developed by our research colleagues at Columbia University,” the foundation said in a statement.