With Thanksgiving just around the corner, many NYU students anticipate a day of feasting, whether at on-campus dining halls or with family. But for New Yorkers who rely on food programs, the holiday so often associated with plenty could be barren. Due to cuts in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, funding for New York’s hungry families has been reduced by an average of $19 a month. Even though this does not seem like much, $19 can feed a desperate family for days. For example, it could purchase nine 20-ounce cans of Great Value beef stew. The cut does not mean someone has to eat at home instead of going out one night — it could remove days’ worth of meals from the budgets of families who are already struggling to make ends meet. Without federal assistance, the task of feeding the hungry in New York City falls to the local city administration.
The increase in demand at New York City food pantries is a result of federal cuts in food stamp benefits. Since November 2013, the funding reductions have precluded 56 million meals, forcing needy families to turn to food banks. According to the Food Bank For New York City, 80 percent of pantries have experienced higher demand than they did last year, leading to hungry people being turned away.
Although some food banks have managed to pull in enough donations to feed people on Thanksgiving, these individuals may not have many options come Nov. 27. Benefit cuts in the United Kingdom have caused demand at food pantries to spike during school holidays, when families whose children would usually get free lunch at school have to provide an extra meal. In New York City, one in five children are food insecure and 78.9 percent of public school students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Because reduced lunch costs 25 cents, that $19 that families must now try to make up for what could have fed a child for more than three months’ worth of school days. Meanwhile, upcoming Thanksgiving and winter holidays mean that there will be 10 days when families who would have been able to feed their children with free or reduced lunches will have to find alternatives.
Unfortunately, the woes of hungry New Yorkers are not heard at the federal level. Decisions regarding food stamp benefits are influenced by a number of macroeconomic factors and often ignore the needs of those who actually receive the benefits. Thus, food pantries are struggling to pick up the slack in New York City’s fight against hunger. In order to prevent this issue from worsening, the city administration must make feeding the hungry a priority. This Thanksgiving, individual donations may help feed the hungry, but after that the city can no longer rely on community generosity to solve this institutional problem.
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Nov. 26 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]