Ashown Jones never expected he would have to come to the food stamp center on 10th Avenue at 216th Street. He used to be a workstation analyst for Teach for America and made a living wage. But he quit his job last January after a difficult divorce. Now that all his savings are gone, he has little choice but to ask for assistance.
“It was odd first,” he said. “But it is not necessarily a bad experience”. Jones wants to move on and this will help him. His uncle, Ervin Goss, came with him to the New York City Human Resources Administration on October 11 to register. “I am proud of him because he is not saying he is too good to get assistance,” said Goss. “He does not stay at home.”
Jones spent the whole day at the center. He has to go to three other appointments over the next three weeks to register.
Poverty rose in New York City last year and a growing number of people, like Jones, asked for food stamps. According to the 2011 American Community Survey released earlier this month, roughly 20% of all households in New York received food stamps in 2011. It is a 7% increase since 2010.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) replaced the Food Stamp Program in August 2012. The principle is the same. The city issues monthly electronic benefits that can be used like cash to purchase food at authorized retail food stores.
Jones does not know yet how much he will get from the program. Benefit levels are based on household size, income and assets. Pam, a single mother with five children, for example, receives $952 per month in food stamps, and $250 in cash every two weeks for daily expenses. “It is never enough, because there is always stuff you need. But it provides for the basic necessities. It makes sure your house is well stocked,” explained Pam, who was reluctant to give her last name because she said she had previously had bad experiences with the press before.
Pam is a professional baker and usually makes $11 an hour. But she said it is not enough to make ends meet. She lives in a two-bedroom apartment and pays rent of $1365 a month. She said she would need to earn $14 to $15 an hour to sustain her family.
Pam came for the first time to register at the New York City Human Resources Administration in 2003, and has to come back every six month to prove she is still eligible.
“It is a real obstacle course,” she explained. “You have to run all over the place to gather the documents.” She came that day to check if the city could pay the day care fees for her three-year-old son. Right now she cannot work because she has to take care of him.
Pam is not the only who has found that the clerks repeatedly ask for more documents. Madeline, who also refused to reveal her last name, came for the first time two weeks ago. After a long wait she was told she had to come back with a birth certificate.
“This is really frustrating. I came here two weeks ago early in the morning and I only left at 4 o’clock in the afternoon,” Madeline explained. “I had to do the same today.”
Madeline, who declined to give her last name to protect her privacy, said she did not want to come to the Food Stamp center but it was her last option. She was laid off last year from the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and she is not eligible anymore for unemployment.
Her children are financially stable, but she does not want to ask them for financial help. “I know they would be here for me if something happened,” she said. “But I want to do it myself until I can’t do it no more.”