Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

 

CITY

City

At Hearing on Hunger, Council Presses De Blasio Administration on SNAP Participation


lander menchaca hunger

CMs Lander, left, and Menchaca confer on Wednesday (photo via @NYCCouncil)


At an oversight hearing Wednesday about the city's efforts to fight hunger, members of the City Council general welfare committee questioned a panel of de Blasio administration officials about key city programs. Council members asked about participation in the Supplement and Nutritional Assistance Program (also known as “SNAP” or “food stamps”), Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP) efforts, and other components of anti-hunger services.

About 1.4 million New Yorkers - 16.5 percent of the population - are food insecure, according to data from the 2015 NYC Food Metrics Report. And as the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an advocacy group, has found, 48 percent of food insecure New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 were employed (2012-2014). Food insecurity is defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.”

Participation in SNAP for eligible New Yorkers has decreased under Mayor Bill de Blasio, as it did under his predecessor. Though approximately 1.7 million New Yorkers received SNAP assistance as of this past November, Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg estimates that around 500,000 people in the city are eligible but not enrolled.

“It seems that the reduction in benefits by the federal government is probably one of the largest reasons for why there has been a decrease in SNAP participation,” Human Resources Administration Chief Program Officer Lisa Fitzpatrick said at the Council hearing Wednesday.

Representatives from HRA, the city agency that handles the benefits, testified that the city is only aware of the SNAP participation rate among eligible senior citizens. It was calculated by using information from the Benefits Data Trust and Medicaid rolls. That number - 50 percent as of 2014 - may have increased because of a senior citizens outreach program launched by the de Blasio administration to get more eligible seniors signed up for food stamps.

Why HRA does not collect similar data about the larger population and food stamp participation was a question raised at Wednesday’s hearing.

City Council Member Brad Lander, a member of the committee, asked administration reps how good the city can make its understanding of the “universe” of eligible New Yorkers not receiving SNAP.

“The strategy has been less about ‘Can we get an actual concrete number?’” Barbara Turk, the food policy director in the mayor’s office, said. Turk proceeded to explain ways in which SNAP eligible people are engaged and encouraged to apply, such as during interviews from city workers on related subjects.

Though much relevant data is released in the city’s annual Food Metrics Report, the number of New Yorkers eligible for SNAP that aren’t receiving it is not.

“The question isn’t ‘Are we working hard?’” Lander asked. “The question is do we have the tool for evaluating how that’s going?”

“And I understand why it’s complicated,” Lander continued, “but I’ll be honest, it sounds like for a range of sensible reasons, you really don’t.”

Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the committee, expressed similar concern when the topic came up later in the hearing.

Levin asked if the percentage of senior citizens not receiving SNAP benefits entitled to them changed because of the senior citizen outreach program launched by the de Blasio administration and nonprofit partners in September 2014. Turk said that “it’s a number that moves around a lot” and did not give a concrete answer.

“We want to make sure that it’s working and data should be reflecting the efforts and so we should be able to see the impacts and the trend numbers,” Levin said, mentioning, by contrast, that the city has observed a rise in high school graduation. “I think a good way to know how this program is working is whether or not that number is going up to 52 percent, or 53 percent or 55 percent.”

HRA emergency food assistance, SNAP enrollment outreach to New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, and other topics related to city policy on hunger were also discussed at the hearing. After the panel of de Blasio administration representatives, advocates from the Coalition Against Hunger, the Citizens’ Committee for Children, and other organizations testified. Advocates added depth to the severity of the problem being outlined at the hearing and largely said that they were supportive of HRA Commissoiner Steve Banks' leadership.

It is possible that the SNAP participation rate could soon increase thanks to a change in state policy: one of the proposals included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State budget book, released on Wednesday, would raise the state’s Gross Income Test for SNAP eligibility from 130 percent to 150 percent of the poverty line. This would make the benefits available to 750,000 households that previously could not get them, according to the budget book estimate.

***
by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

New Data Indicates IDNYC Popularity Among Immigrants


idny bdb mmv museum

The Mayor & others flash their IDNYC (photo: Madeleine Ball)


It has been one year since New York City launched its ambitious municipal identification program, dubbed IDNYC, and reports show that the program has been a resounding success. More than 725,000 card applications have been approved, about 10 percent of the eligible population of New Yorkers 14 years of age or older.

One of the primary purposes of the program is to provide valid identification for undocumented immigrants living in New York City, of which there are an estimated 640,000. By the very nature of the program -- accepting applications regardless of immigration status and not asking about it on application forms -- quantifying enrollment among undocumented immigrants is hard, if not impossible. But, as the success of the card has led to its celebration and assumptions that undocumented New Yorkers are taking advantage of the program, there is indeed evidence that the de Blasio administration and advocates point to.

Ancillary data provided to Gotham Gazette by the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs, which is one of the agencies leading implementation of IDNYC, indicates that immigrants in large numbers have availed of the program.

By the end of last year, 732,630 people had applied for the ID, with a high ratio of enrollment coming from immigrant-rich communities across the five boroughs. In Queens, 25,366 identity cards were issued in Corona, another 28,707 in Flushing and 13,654 in Jackson Heights. In Sunset Park, Brooklyn, 22,139 people were issued IDNYC. In Manhattan, 10,142 Chinatown residents and 27,213 people from Washington Heights enrolled in the program.

In providing further indication of interest from immigrant New Yorkers, MOIA reported that 52 percent of IDNYC inquiries to the city's 311 helpline were from non-English speakers. Of these, 88 percent spoke Spanish, 4.6 percent spoke Mandarin, followed in turn by Cantonese, Russian, Korean, and at least nine other languages.

"We knew there was a huge need for identification but the dramatic response was more than we expected," said MOIA Commissioner Nisha Agarwal in an interview. "This indirect data suggests that immigrants are benefitting from it."

Non-profit organizations that work with immigrants agree that IDNYC has been an unqualified success. "If hundreds of thousands of people are getting the IDs, you can imagine that tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants are getting it," said Thanu Yakupitiyage, communications manager for the New York Immigration Coalition. NYIC is an umbrella advocacy organization that works with more than 200 groups across the city helping immigrants and refugees.

"Immigrants now feel that they're part of the city in a meaningful way," said Yakupitiyage. "For immigrants, the IDNYC is supporting police-community relations. They can now enter municipal and federal buildings, sign a lease and get a bank account. It's a badge of being a New Yorker." She also cited the program's unprecedented success compared to other municipal identification initiatives elsewhere in the country, such as San Francisco, where enrollment in the first year only touched about two percent.

Other groups tell similar stories. Jose Calderon, president of the Hispanic Federation, said that thousands of the people they serve have received the identity cards and now feel a sense of safety and security from it. "It's changed lives in ways that it's hard to quantify, but it's transformative," he said. "It has opened up a new city to people who for decades, even generations have been denied it."

Calderon said the next step forward would be ensuring that immigrants can receive all the benefits of the card. "We're hoping this ID creates a bridge between the financial sector and this largely unbanked community," he said. "The hope is to make that connection that's long been missing."

This will take some work. Major banks operating in New York recently announced that they would not be accepting IDNYC as a primary source of identification in opening a bank account. This was met with disappointment by leading elected officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Comptroller SCott Stringer, and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Amalgamated Bank, among about a dozen financial institutions operating about 75 branches across the city, does accept IDNYC for banking purposes.

In announcing an expanded year two for IDNYC in December, de Blasio called it "the leading municipal identification program in the country, and an example to cities all across the world."

In a statement at the time, Mark-Viverito pointed to access for all, saying, "No matter your status, whether it's immigrant, economic, financial, or if you're homeless or transgender, New Yorkers will be able to take advantage of benefits by signing up for this valuable card."

Make the Road New York's co-executive director, Javier Valdes, called IDNYC a "homerun." He said it provides immigrants security and alleviates the anxiety in interactions with the police. His main concern is related to banking, he said.

Valdes also hoped that the program stays affordable. "It's going to be free for the second year as well, which I think should be done in perpetuity," he said. There had been some speculation that the card would cost around ten dollars in the second year, but the city announced it would remain free and that there were enhanced benefits, continuing its efforts to make the card appealing to all New Yorkers.

Besides keeping IDNYC free of cost, the city has already announced partnerships with more cultural institutions for 2016, bringing the total to more than 40 museums and other organizations. The IDNYC also provides discounts on pet adoptions, the New York Theatre Ballet, soccer matches of New York Football Club, and CitiBike memberships, among other benefits.

For MOIA's Agarwal, the next big step is increasing outreach efforts, particularly in immigrant communities. Last year, IDNYC held pop-up enrollments in 53 locations and the outreach team attended at least 1,700 community events, besides its massive advertising campaign. Agarwal said they would set up more pop-up enrollment centers and also look into bringing art and culture to the program with the help of an artist-in-residence at MOIA.

"We're exploring the next generation of IDNYC enrollment," she said. Her focus will be reaching out to vulnerable groups such as youth populations (Last year, 21,239 minors received the card) and using more portable technology to work with seniors while making it easier to connect the card with city services.

"I think it unifies our city," said Valdes from Make the Road NY, "regardless of who you are, where you live or where you're from."

***
by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette
@samarkhurshid     @GothamGazette

Council to Assess Hunger Problem, City Efforts to Reduce It


de blasio food thanksgiving

Mayor de Blasio serving food (photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


The City Council’s Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on hunger in New York City on Wednesday morning at City Hall.

Council Member Stephen Levin, the chair of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette he and his colleagues want to get a broad assessment of hunger in the city, as well as specifics related to de Blasio administration efforts to mitigate the problem, which is the result, in large part, of high poverty rates.

At the hearing, Levin added, the committee would review increasing and decreasing barriers to the federally funded Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (otherwise known as SNAP or “food stamps”), SNAP enrollment, the status of food pantries, state hunger programs, and other components.

“We want to hear what initiatives this administration is taking,” Levin said. “We’re eager to hear what recommendations they’re able to put forward and hear...what they’re working on.”

Under Commissioner Steven Banks, Mayor de Blasio’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) has increased SNAP access, eased work requirements for agency clients, and enacted several other reforms. De Blasio also expanded the “breakfast after the bell” program for all public elementary schools, which advocates praised while recommending universal free school lunch.

Still, hunger remains a harsh reality for many New Yorkers.

As of last November, HRA was providing nutritional assistance to 1,686,941 New Yorkers, 45,406 fewer than a year before. In addition to the food stamps, one in five New Yorkers are assisted by the Food Bank of New York City, the major hunger relief organization that receives funding from the city, which reported in a recent survey of its agencies “that they had run out of food, or particular types of food, needed to make adequate meals or pantry bags” last September.

Continuing a decline that began under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, SNAP participation in the city has gone down under de Blasio. According to New York City Coalition Against Hunger executive director Joel Berg, a main cause of the decline is federal divestment of half a billion dollars in New York City SNAP funds.

“The amount of the benefits decreased and the caseloads decreased,” said Berg, who estimates that about 500,000 New Yorkers are eligible for nutritional assistance but don't receive it. “And so, there’s no question that lower benefit levels do also reduce participation.”

Lisa Levy, Coalition Against Hunger’s director of policy, advocacy and organizing, will testify at Wednesday’s hearing on behalf of the organization, Berg said.

Because SNAP is federally funded, the City Council is limited in actions it can take on nutritional assistance policy. “We have been investing more resources in food pantries through the Food Bank of New York City,” Council Member Ritchie Torres, a member of the general welfare committee, told Gotham Gazette. “But as with many issues, we are hamstrung by a Congress in Washington that is disinvesting, ever more deeply, in the city.”

Though New York City’s employment has recovered from the recession, Berg insists that this has not translated to reduced hunger. “The lines of pantries and kitchens are still as long as ever,” he said.

According to research from Coalition Against Hunger, many food insecure New Yorkers do indeed work. The group found that between 2012-2014, 48 percent of food insecure New Yorkers between the ages of 15 and 65 worked. While significant minimum wage raises being pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and others would likely reduce that number if enacted, there could be an unintended consequence of the wage hike for New Yorkers receiving nutritional assistance.

Berg, while praising the wage hikes, does worry that, “In some cases, particularly with single people, the amount of SNAP benefits they lose could exceed the value of the wage increase,” said Berg, who has advocated for raising the income level needed to receive food stamps to expand eligibility.

Council Member Levin indicated that he would look into the wage hike issue. “It’s hard to kind of predict, and I think you’d have to kind of drill down on the individual case and really that individual and that family’s situation,” he said. “But certainly, it’s something that we should be asking about.”

***
by Ryan Brady, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette

Note: this article has been updated.



Print Friendly and PDF

Editor's Choice


Gotham Gazette: 50 Questions for New York Politics in 202050 Questions for New York Politics in 2020 Gotham Gazette: The Challenges Facing Dermot Shea The Challenges Facing Dermot Shea Gotham Gazette: NYPD's New Agreement with Police Oversight Board Promises Better Access to Body Camera Footage NYPD's New Agreement with Police Oversight Board Promises Better Access to Body Camera Footage Gotham Gazette: The Max & Murphy Podcast The Max & Murphy Podcast