With Brooklynites struggling through an economy that has been slow to add new jobs and bracing for rising costs in food and energy, Congress hopes to extend food stamp benefits for able-bodied individuals searching for work.
“With the high cost of living in our city, unemployed workers are especially vulnerable to the declining economy,” said Rep. NydiaVelázquez. “By extending the food stamps benefits, we can provide New Yorkers with the resources needed to make it out of this crisis and strengthen our city’s workforce.”
Velazquez introduced the bill, known as the Food Security Act of 2008 in Sunset Park and Bushwick last week, to draw attention to communities in Brooklyn with high unemployment rates and high levels of individuals who may be eligible for food stamps.
The legislation would amend a 1994 law, extending the amount of time that able-bodied adults without dependents are eligible to receive food stamp assistance to twelve months. Current federal law allows these unemployed workers to receive only three months of food stamp benefits for every 36 month period they are out of work. In the current economy, it takes some unemployed workers six months or longer to find a new job, according to data provided by the Food Bank of New York.
“Governor [David] Paterson is firmly committed to increasing economic security throughout this state,” Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner David Hansell said. “Extending food stamp benefits to those on unemployment is simply the right thing to do.”
According to the State Department of Labor, New York State had approximately 500,000 jobless workers in June of this year, an 18 percent increase from the previous year. In New York City, about 200,000 individuals are eligible for extended unemployment benefits. In a period of two weeks last month, 100,000 people applied for those benefits.
“Today we are losing jobs,” Velazquez said. “The reality is economists are saying in order to have a healthy economy, we must create 150,000 jobs per week. We wish we had the Clinton economy, but today we don’t.”
Velazquez argued that the proposed legislation, which she will attempt to insert into Congress’ next economic stimulus package, is the most effective way to stimulate the economy since the food stamps are spent in a matter of weeks. Extending food stamps provides a nearly $2 increase to the gross domestic product (GDP) for every $1 of benefit spent. Last week the US Commerce Department reported that the US GDP grew by only 1.9 percent from April to June.
“Food stamp dollars go right back into the local economy, providing support for those in need and bolstering local businesses,” said Velázquez.
Food stamps nationwide have seen a 20 percent increase in clients. According to The Food Bank of New York, 1.6 million city residents reported last year that they could not afford to buy food if they lost their job or faced a significant reduction in their household income. The Food Bank has reported increases in the number of families and individuals utilizing food pantries and other programs, including 24 percent more families coming to Family Network Services organizations in the past year.
While food service providers continue to grapple with diminishing food supplies and questions surrounding food access, extending food stamp benefits is meant to provide temporary relief to unemployed individuals so they can find work without worrying about where their next meal will come from.
“If you are legitimately looking for work, how are you going to get work if you are not fed?” said Joel Berg, executive director of the Food Bank. “How are you going to get the energy to look through wanted ads and apply for work if you are not fed?”