NEW YORK — The clock is ticking with just weeks to go before the start of New York City’s new fiscal year. On the chopping block – cuts to funding that serves as the main bloodline to the city’s hundreds of food pantries and kitchens.
Mayor de Blasio wants to slash 1.8 million dollars from last year’s budgeted amount of $11 million. Critics say that will leave many needy New Yorkers hungry.
Food Bank for New York City says the consequences are dire.
“1.4 million New Yorkers over the course of a year turn to soup kitchens some regularly, same episodically when they have an emergency or crisis and don’t have food on the table to get them the through,” said Triada Stampas, VP for Research and Public Affairs of Food Bank for NYC.
Food Bank partners with over 1,000 outlets to distribute food to the needy. One of those partners – Community Kitchen in West Harlem. They serve dinner to 500 people every night, five days a week. They also serve about 100 seniors daily for breakfast and lunch.
People of all ages and ethnicities could be seen lining up an hour before the doors open for dinner at 4 p.m. PIX11 found people surprised, and heartbroken to learn their families may go hungry if these cuts go through.
Carolina Cuello, her infant son and 8-year-old daughter Ashley say they’re here to make ends meet.
“The (soup kitchens) are helping. They’re offering food and sometimes our budget is slow and also it’s very important a lot of people don’t have food,” said Cuello.
“If we are hungry, we can eat here and taste the good food they have,” added little Ashley.
The de Blasio administration’s 2017 budget wants to slash $1.8 million from last year’s amount earmarked for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which funds pantries and soup kitchens.
Food Bank for New York City says if the cuts go through, it would bring funding levels back to 2012. Four years later, the need and number of hungry people have grown exponentially.
“More than 300,000 children, or 1 in 5 children, as well as 200,000 seniors in New York City rely on emergency food. The price of groceries continue to go up, but fixed incomes do not.”
There has much been outcry. 48 of the 51 members of the City Council have signed a petition calling on Mayor de Blasio not only to not cut funding but also to raise the baseline funding to $22 million.
“Last fall, half of all food pantries and soup kitchens ran out of food at some point during the year,” said Stampas.
In a statement to PIX11, Mayoral spokesperson Aja Worthy-Davis writes:
“New York City is committed to reducing hunger by ensuring that all eligible New Yorkers enroll in SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Today, roughly 1.7 million New Yorkers receive SNAP benefits, and beyond that HRA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program is actively working with partners to increase the capacity and food supply of emergency food programs throughout the five boroughs. These efforts include a FY16 increase in funding to purchase high-demand food items in larger quantities in order to better meet the needs of member programs. We are doing more than ever before to ensure that those in need do not go hungry.”
However, Stampas says although SNAP is the first line of defense in feeding the needy, food stamps are not enough to feed many families for the entire month.
“There are shortfalls even with SNAP. Sixty percent of people at soup kitchens and food pantries also receive SNAP, but these benefits don’t get them through the month. For that last week or two, it’s a food pantry or soup kitchen that makes up the gap for them,” says Stampas.
For retirees like 70-year-old Arthur Dallas, there is no other option for food. He says he’s been coming to Community Kitchen for the past 5 years and now even works here. “There are so many hungry, starving people out here and we need the city’s support,” said Dallas.
When asked what he will do if there is no more funding for meals, he replied, “Starve like everybody else.”
The new fiscal year begins July 1. There are only a few more weeks for the City Council and the mayor to hammer out a deal. Those who rely on pantries and soup kitchens are holding out hope.