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"why the hungry refuse help"
Below is an editorial that appeared last week in the New York Times. Although it talks about the situation of hungry people in New York City specifically, the subject is one that correlates to the rest of the country. Moreover, it touches on a key point of reform that Bread for the World and its partners are pushing for this year in the farm bill - highlighting that improving and increasing nutrition assistance isn't just about increasing funds for the programs. Read on for more...and remember, this is an editorial, so feel free to editorialize yourself in the comments section below!
Editorial -September 13, 2007
As many as 1.3 million New Yorkers, about one-quarter of them children, do not have enough to eat. These are precisely the people, many from working families, whom federal food stamps are supposed to help. But bureaucratic hassles imposed by the city may be discouraging hundreds of thousands of eligible New Yorkers from getting the help they need.
A study by the Urban Justice Center , a nonprofit group that advocates for the poor, found that of 9,500 recipients surveyed, more than 5,800 had their benefits cut off within 20 months of enrollment. The vast majority remained eligible for food stamps, but, in most cases, they simply did not show up to get their aid renewed. Many said they could not deal with the paperwork and long waits, or get time away from work or children to reapply at a city office.
The city’s Human Resources Administration, which manages the program, disputes the findings. Official statistics, however, show that something is seriously wrong with the program. While poverty levels in New York City remained fairly constant, the number of people receiving food stamps fell in July by nearly 7,000. That was the fourth decline in the last five months.
If the moral imperative to address hunger in the shadow of privilege isn’t enough, the economics should be. By failing to maximize enrollment — anti-hunger groups say about 500,000 eligible people are not receiving food stamps — the city is losing hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from Washington. With fewer New Yorkers receiving the benefit, more are forced to turn to soup kitchens and other emergency food sites, which the city spends millions to support.
Food stamp participation has increased under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but it had fallen significantly under his predecessor, Rudolph Giuliani, who did all he could to discourage enrollment. Mr. Bloomberg listened to critics, and the city has streamlined the initial application process, expanded office hours and generally cut red tape. That’s a good start.
Now it’s time for a more aggressive approach. Allowing reapplication by telephone would help. The mayor should also consider requiring recipients to reapply only every 12 months, which is the federal standard, rather than every six. Of course, applicants should continue to be carefully screened. Since most errors on benefits are the fault of city workers, not applicants, better training may be needed. The zeal to fight fraud should not push people deeper into hunger.
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