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By Debiorah Young

October 7, 2012

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- They are becoming ever more familiar at Staten Island supermarket check-out aisles - those white and blue EBT cards, slipped quietly out of the wallet when it's time to pay.

One in 10 Islanders received the government benefit commonly known as food stamps as of June 2012, according to the most recent statistics from the Human Resources Administration -- the city department that oversees the federal program meant to keep Americans out of hunger's grip.

The 47,131 Islanders who got help paying for groceries (but no other form of assistance) represented a quadrupling since June, 2000, when 10,263 Islanders received the benefit.

The use of food stamps -- a monthly allocation of funds for groceries, available only to citizens or legal residents of the country who have lived here five years or longer -- has increased far more sharply in the borough than across the city and the nation, where the number of recipients is also on the rise.

"It's funny you see people always, and think it's this kind of person who gets food stamps. Now it's the whole North Shore, Mid-Island, South Shore. Everybody is coming to understand it's income or lack of income," said Lauren Moro, program director for the food stamps program at Project Hospitality, recalling when she joined the social service agency in 2006, how applications came in a trickle. "It seems like a storm throughout the Island. People just walk in off the street and the phone rings all day. A lot of people want to apply. The numbers are huge." 



Since October, 2008, there has been a 51 percent increase of the numbers of people nationwide receiving food stamps, with 46.6 million food stamps recipients, according to the United States Agriculture Department, which administers the program officially known as SNAP -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Republican candidate Mitt Romney, during the first presidential debate Wednesday night, cited the increase in food stamps recipients as an example of what he characterized as the failed economic policies of the current administration.

Still, a Republican proposal for the Farm Bill -- the linchpin of the country's food plan currently languishing in Washington, and likely to passed during the lame-duck Congressional session -- would kick about 225,000 New Yorkers off the benefits, and make it harder for a working family with children and for seniors to receive the benefits.

Under the Republican proposal, families would lose an average of $90 a month. A Senate proposal, though less austere, also cuts $4.5 billion from the food stamps program nationwide, and families would see similar cuts to their monthly allocations. That plan, however, does not tinker with eligibility requirements.

"Despite the supposed recovery that's happened, the middle class and poor people across the city haven't increased their share of the economic pie," said Josh Kellerman, a policy and research analyst at the Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN), a social justice organization with the mission of "creating good jobs, vibrant communities, and an accountable democracy for all New Yorkers."

Across the city, 2011 Census data show an ever widening divide between the city's rich and its working class and poor households, with Staten Island the only borough where whites lost household income between 2010 and 2011, he said, citing Census data. The drop of nearly 4 percent in median household income here among whites, to $75,379 last year, could be attributable in part to the loss of jobs among government workers in the borough, he said.

It could also be a reason more people signed up for food stamps.

"The recovery is not reaching the people it needs to and more people are needing help," said Kellerman. "Food stamps are an essential policy social safety net to deal with poverty. Employment is the long-term solution, quality employment that's dignified, and provides people with an honest day's pay for an honest day's work."

To read the full article, visit Staten Island Advance.