Increasing Food Stamp Benefits Could Decrease Family Homelessness in New York

Apr 10, 2012, 14:23 ET from Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness

With increased need, new report recommends tying city SNAP benefits to real cost of food

NEW YORK, April 10, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Thirty percent of New York City families with children received food-stamp benefits in 2010, but the assistance covered only half the cost of the average food bill. If the benefits were raised to take into account the higher cost of food in New York City, families would have more income to spend on rent. This could decrease homelessness, according to "The Impact of Food Stamp Benefits on Family Homelessness in New York City," a report released today by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness.

Many low-income New Yorkers are unable to afford both food and rent. Despite access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program), 33% of low-income families in New York City reported having to choose rent payments over food in 2011. More homeless adults exiting shelter in New York City receive SNAP than any other form of cash assistance.

"Because of the high cost of food in New York, food stamps offer less relief to New Yorkers than to families in most other big cities," says Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness President and CEO Ralph da Costa Nunez. "Without a change in policy, we are not only feeding families less, but are in fact feeding them into the homeless shelter system."

The more SNAP benefits a family receives, the less likely they are to become homeless, because using SNAP benefits frees up other income sources for necessities such as housing. But because SNAP benefits are not high enough to offset the cost of food in New York City, some homeless families may experience greater difficulty exiting shelter. The report shows that in New York City and other cities with high food costs, such as San Francisco, city residents do not receive the same degree of relief as residents of large cities where food costs are lower.

In New York City in 2010, the average SNAP family had an average monthly income of $1,419. They received $287 a month in benefits, and had an average monthly food bill of $619. Because of this $332 shortfall, almost 25% of the average monthly incomes of families receiving SNAP benefits were devoted to food costs.

Citywide trends

The reliance on SNAP benefits in New York City has increased 50% since the recession began in 2007. In 2010, 49% of all Bronx families and 32% of all Brooklyn families used SNAP to purchase food. The boroughs with the lowest percentages of SNAP-enrolled families, Queens (21%) and Staten Island (15%), both saw a 76% increase in enrollment among families.

The report includes a map of New York City showing, by neighborhood, the number of families with children receiving SNAP benefits. The map highlights the regional disparities within New York City. The neighborhood with the highest concentration of SNAP-enrolled families in 2010 was Jackson Heights, Queens, where 63.4% of families with children received SNAP benefits. The neighborhoods with the lowest percentage of SNAP-enrolled families were Midtown and Chelsea/Clinton, in Manhattan, where 10.1% of families with children received SNAP benefits.

With family homelessness in New York City on the rise, the report recommends raising SNAP benefits to reflect food cost and need. This change could help prevent hundreds, if not thousands, of families from becoming homeless.

The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH) is an independent nonprofit research organization based in New York City. ICPH studies the impact of poverty on family and child well-being and generates research that will enhance public policies and programs affecting poor or homeless children and their families. Specifically, ICPH examines the condition of extreme poverty in the United States and its effect on educational attainment, housing, employment, child welfare, domestic violence, and family wellness.

SOURCE Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness