By Karen Frantz
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Human Resources Administration have come under fire from several elected officials from Queens who charged that too many people in need were denied eligibility for a federal disaster food aid program and that applying was too difficult for Rockaway residents.
The aid program, known as the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides one-time payments for households affected by Hurricane Sandy. The city received $13 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the program.
But eligibility for D-SNAP was limited in the borough to a handful of ZIP codes in Far Rockaway, excluding areas like Hamilton Beach and Howard Beach that were badly hit by the superstorm.
In addition, Queens residents were required to apply for the aid benefits in person, but the nearest of only two application sites was far away in Brooklyn, at 495 Clermont Ave.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) sent a letter to HRA Commissioner Robert Doar Tuesday saying she was unhappy with the number of people who applied for the program.
“Due to the low participation numbers from the weeklong registration period, we are disappointed in the implementation of this vital emergency food program,” she wrote. The chair of the General Welfare Committee, Annabel Palma, was also a signatory to the letter.
The letter said only 3,911 families registered for D-SNAP, far less than the number of potentially eligible families, which was projected to be 30,000.
Quinn and 11 other Council members also sent a letter to Doar last week asking HRA to add additional D-SNAP registration sites in the Rockaways, to petition the USDA for expanding eligibility to additional ZIP codes and to extend the application period if needed. The last day applications were accepted was Dec. 18.
U.S. Reps. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) and Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) also sent a letter to Bloomberg last week with similar demands.
Carmen Boon, a spokeswoman for HRA, said Tuesday there were no plans to change the program.
She said finding an application site in the Rockaways would have been difficult, if not impossible, due to federal guidelines mandating that it must have a certain amount of space. The Brooklyn site can accommodate thousands of people, whereas there are no areas in the Rockaways that could do the same, she said.
There was also a free shuttle bus that took residents from the Rockaways to the Brooklyn site and back again, Boon said, departing from Mott Avenue between Beach 20 and Beach 21st streets in the Rockaways on the hour every hour. She said the department disseminated information about the shuttle on its website, through social media and to thousands of community-based organizations.
But some Rockaway residents at the Brooklyn office last Thursday said they were not aware there was a free shuttle. One woman said she had taken a bus and the subway to get there, which she wearily said “took a long time.”
Another man from Rosedale said when asked about the shuttle that it was the first he had heard of it. He said he had come out also by bus and subway only to arrive and be denied aid because he does not live in one of the eligible ZIP codes.
Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4538.