Local social service and immigration activists are pushing Nassau and Suffolk counties to take part in a federal emergency food stamp program that provides temporary benefits to low-income residents impacted by superstorm Sandy.
Although the emergency program only slightly extends the eligibility pool, leaders of Make the Road NY, an immigrant rights group, said the assistance still could help many families struggling to replace food damaged in power outages or by flooding. The temporary benefits would provide a one-time payment of $668 for a family of four to cover a month's worth of food.
"This is a real big relief that makes the difference between a family going hungry and being able to put food on the table," Karina Claudio Betancourt, a community organizer with the group, said at a news conference last week in Brentwood. Representatives of social service agencies, including the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, also attended.
Nassau Department of Social Services Commissioner John Imhof said the county has decided against requesting the additional assistance for cost reasons. He also expressed concerns that social service caseworkers would not be able to keep up with the increase in applications, causing benefits delays for regular food stamp recipients.
Implementing the program would "jeopardize the timely provision of benefits to the county's existing 36,000 food stamp recipients," Imhof said. Under state law, applications must be processed within 30 days.
Suffolk Social Service Commissioner Gregory J. Blass said officials are studying whether the county can handle an influx of new food stamp applications on top of their current caseload of 54,000 recipients.
The Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as D-SNAP, provides one-time access to food stamps for a month.
Under the regular food stamp program, an applicant's income cannot exceed 130 percent of the federal poverty line, or $2,498 in monthly income for a family of four. Under D-SNAP, the threshold would be $2,550 for a family of four. Nassau and Suffolk officials said they did not have figures for how many more families would be eligible under the new requirements.
New York City and Westchester County are the only New York areas that have requested the additional assistance in the aftermath of the storm.
Brentwood resident Esmeralda Ramos, 21, who spoke at the news conference, said replacing the food she lost in her refrigerator after five days without power following the storm has been a struggle. She said her husband, a landscaper, lost several days of wages after the storm.
"I would say this money is needed, not for the adults, but for the children," said Ramos, who is not working outside the home as she cares for her infant daughter. "As an adult you can hold your hunger a little bit longer, but it's different when it comes to children."
Make the Road NY has offices in Brentwood and throughout New York City.