Thousands of New Yorkers receiving food stamps will be affected by legislation signed by President Obama on Friday, which ends a practice in New York and 15 other states to use a utility-bill assistance program to increase the amount of food assistance available to the needy. The unemployed will also receive cuts after the U.S. Senate failed to reinstate a program of emergency federal unemployment benefits the day before.
This was a bad week for 80-year-old Jairo Buitrago [member from Make the Road New York] of Queens.
On Thursday, his hopes for a $126-a-week lifeline were dashed when the U.S. Senate failed to reinstate a program of emergency federal unemployment benefits.
And on Friday, President Obama signed legislation that will cost Buitrago — and more than 325,000 other New Yorkers — an average of $1,180 a year in food stamps.
“I’ve had to ask for money from friends and from my children just to be able to make the rent,” said Buitrago, who lost his job as a building super.
“I can’t pay rent without a job. If I didn’t have my food stamps, I wouldn’t be able to pay at all.”
Aides say that when Mayor de Blasio delivers his first State of the City address Monday, he will detail his plans “to confront economic inequality and create opportunity for more New Yorkers.”
But Washington is turning de Blasio’s cause into an uphill battle — underscoring the difficulty he faces in fulfilling his cornerstone campaign promise.
“Congress is (taking away) key benefits that are helping the very people de Blasio is trying to lift up,” said Melissa Boteach, of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
“It’s like throwing people off the boat and then punching a hole in their life raft,” adds Nancy Rankin, a vice president at the Community Service Society of New York.
The program of emergency federal unemployment benefits, created to help those who exhausted their state benefits, lapsed on Dec. 28. Republicans have blocked efforts to revive it because of concerns about the deficit.
Food stamps are being cut to rein in the ballooning cost of the program, now more than $80 billion a year. The bill signed by Obama ends a practice in New York and 15 other states to use a utility-bill assistance program to increase the amount of food assistance available to the needy.
About half of the 673,000 New Yorkers who benefit from the utility-aid program would lose $90 a month in food stamps, said Joel Berg, executive director of the Coalition Against Hunger.
“This is a lot of federal money that’s not going to feed hungry people,” said Berg. “It’s a lot of money not going to help New York. That’s a huge blow to our economy.”
Anngel Robinson, 43, of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is one of the New Yorkers facing a $90 a month cut. She receives $300 a month in food stamps and $200 a week as a nanny, and has trouble providing her three teenage kids with the basics.
Two of her kids needed winter coats, and, “I had to put aside little by little until I got the amount” needed, she said outside of a food stamp center in Brooklyn.
“Things that my kids want, they really can’t have.”
Jeanne Zaino, a political science professor at Iona College, said de Blasio, like all mayors these days, are largely on their own in attacking income inequality.
“Mayor de Blasio, as the leader of New York City” she said, “certainly is in this very difficult position working in the direction of a more progressive movement.”
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