By Rich Bockmann
More than 20,000 Queens households saw their food stamp benefits threatened last week when the U.S. Senate passed its Farm Bill.
By a vote of 64-35, the Senate last Thursday passed the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, which sets policy for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, for the next 10 years.
In passing the bill, the Senate closed a loophole that allowed states to increase food stamp benefits by awarding a nominal $1 a year payment for heating assistance.
According to the city Human Resources Administration, 20,521 households in the borough will receive this $1 payment this year.
The bill raised the limit to $10, a move the Congressional Budget Office estimated would save $4.5 billion in the $1 trillion bill.
“To put that in context, what it means is that nearly 300,000 families in New York alone will receive $90 less a month for food. That is basically the last week of the month in groceries,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who voted to approve the bill but not before unsuccessfully trying to restore the funding.
Gillibrand, the first New York senator to sit on the Agriculture Committee in nearly four decades, introduced an amendment to restore the funding two days before the bill was passed, though the amendment was shot down by a vote of 77-33.
“In this already tough economy, a family losing this help will be devastating. More than half of food stamp recipients are children, 17 percent are seniors and now, unfortunately, as many veterans are using food stamps as any time in history,” she added.
The U.S. House of Representatives has not yet put its Farm Bill to the floor, though its Nutrition and Horticulture Committee is looking into similar measures.
Theresa Hassler, a spokeswoman for the New York City Hunger Free Communities Consortium, which last week gave a presentation at the Jamaica branch of the Queens Library on how to apply for food stamps, agreed that this potential cut would impact the most vulnerable.
“Southeast Queens has a significant older population that gets LIHEAP, and they’re very likely to see a decrease in their food stamp benefits,” Hassler said.
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4574.