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Number of New Yorkers on Food Stamps Has Increased to Record-High of $3 Million as Food Prices Soar
Glenn Blain
Glenn Blain

February 13, 2011
View the Original Article

ALBANY - The number of New Yorkers on food stamps has soared to a record 3 million - an 11% jump from 2009 and a 65% increase in the past five years, the Daily News has learned.

"We've been at an all-time high, and it keeps increasing," said Anthony Farmer, a spokesman for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, which administers the federally funded program.

The majority of the state's cases are in the city, with nearly 2 million people enrolled at the end of 2010, up from 1.6 million in 2009.

The soaring numbers come as no surprise to anti-hunger advocates, who say poor and working-class New Yorkers continue to be squeezed by the sour economy and high food prices.

"People aren't finding work, and if they are finding work, they are getting less hours and less pay," said Mark Dunlea, executive director of the Hunger Action Network.

Although food stamp benefits totaled more than $5.1 billion in the state last year - up from $4.3 billion the year before - Dunlea and other advocates say it isn't enough to meet the demand.

The average monthly benefit for an individual is about $150, which often does not last the month, Dunlea said. Many are forced to supplement food stamps with visits to food banks.

"It helps out a little, but it is not enough," said Patrick Mitchell, 38, of the Bronx, as he visited the food pantry at the West Side Campaign Against Hunger. He gets only $78 a month in food stamps.

"Today, I have no food," added Larry Thestrup, 65, of Manhattan, who gets $200 a month.

Doreen Wohl, director of the West Side Campaign Against Hunger, believes the situation is even worse than the numbers indicate because of the city's fingerprinting requirement, which discourages many from applying for food stamps.

"Finger imaging is something you do for criminals in this country," Wohl said.

City officials defended the fingerprinting requirement as a necessary tool to prevent fraud.

Because the food stamp program is federally funded, it is not in danger from the state budget crunch. But advocates worry that the fiscal crisis will cut funding for other vital hunger programs.

"This community has always been in a crisis, and now we are in a much deeper crisis," said Christy Robb, director of the food pantry at the Hour Children Community Outreach in Long Island City, Queens.

With Valeriya Safronova