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Cuomo acts to prevent cuts in food stamps for 300,000 families

Diego Quituizaca, a volunteer at Pronto, wheels out

Diego Quituizaca, a volunteer at Pronto, wheels out a shopping cart of food from the pantry to a client at Pronto in Brentwood on Jan. 2 2014. Credit: Johnny Milano

The state is moving to offset recent federal cuts to the food stamp program for about 300,000 New Yorkers -- including 12,500 Long Island recipients.

Last month, Congress approved $8 billion in cuts to the federal food stamp program over the next decade. That will mean an average loss of $127 a month for New York families, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Since November, recipients have already lost from $11 to $50 a month in food stamps, depending on family size, after the expiration of federal stimulus money added during the recession.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York will reverse some of the cuts by directing $6 million in state funds to supplement a federal heating assistance program that automatically qualifies families for additional food stamps.

Under federal guidelines, New York is one of 16 states in which food stamp recipients who receive assistance under the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (HEAP) qualify for additional food stamp dollars.

The $6 million will be used to provide heating assistance to 300,000 New Yorkers receiving food stamps who previously were not enrolled in HEAP. Their enrollment in the heating program will qualify them for additional food stamp benefits, which will equal about the amount they would have lost under February's cut, Cuomo said. The food stamp benefits for the 300,000 individuals is expected to total $457 million a year, averaging slightly more than $1,500 a year per household.

About 5,700 people in Nassau and 6,800 in Suffolk will be eligible for additional food stamp aid, according to the state.

"The State has intervened on behalf of these low-income New Yorkers to make sure they can get food for themselves and their families," Cuomo said in a statement.

Paule Pachter, executive director of Long Island Cares -- The Harry Chapin Food Bank, said the Hauppauge-based agency has seen a 25 percent increase in residents seeking food since November's food stamp cuts.

"We're having a very harsh winter, heating bills are up, the cost of food is up -- it's going to go a long way," Pachter said of Cuomo's move.

Gwen O'Shea, executive director of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island, a Melville-based social services advocacy group, said Cuomo's actions "will safeguard this essential support for families across the region."

Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, said Cuomo is going against the intent of the federal budget cuts.

"New York is maneuvering a loophole to draw down extra federal dollars," Sheffield said.

"It's not really the way this was intended to work . . . in times when resources are tight, we should ensure food stamp dollars are going to those most in need," Sheffield said. "It shows this system is in great need of reform."


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