SNAP helps low-income families supplement their budgets so they can...

SNAP helps low-income families supplement their budgets so they can buy groceries, snacks, and non-alcoholic beverages.  Credit: AP/Allison Dinner

This guest essay reflects the views of Rachel Sabella, director of No Kid Hungry New York.

When we talk about the affordability crisis on Long Island, much of the attention is on rent and mortgage payments. Housing is the biggest bill we pay each month.

But affordability is about more than the roof over our heads. It’s about what it costs to live. And for a majority of Long Islanders, the cost of buying food is making life increasingly unaffordable.

Every year since the pandemic, No Kid Hungry New York has polled families across the state about hunger, food assistance programs, and what’s happening at their kitchen tables. This year's poll surveyed 1,673 families statewide, including nearly 300 on Long Island. And when the results came back, a major trend stood out.

Nearly nine in 10 Long Islanders reported that the cost of food was rising faster than their income. 

While it might not be surprising that families living on minimum-wage salaries are feeling enormous pressure, families making more than $100,000 — definitively middle-class households on Long Island — said their buying power also is eroding at the grocery store.

And the choices families are forced to make because of this pressure are painful.

More than half of households we surveyed on Long Island told us they were buying less — or no — meat, fish, eggs, or other protein. Nearly as many reported buying less or no fresh produce. They’re buying cheaper “filler” foods instead, like rice and pasta.

Parents are taking out of their shopping carts the healthiest foods because they can’t afford them.

When we asked a young mom from Suffolk County what it would mean to have $40 more in her budget each month for groceries, she responded, “My infant would never run out of formula and I wouldn’t worry how to get more until a paycheck comes in.”

That’s what food insecurity looks like on Long Island today.

During the pandemic, many families struggling now could count on additional help through programs like the expanded Child Tax Credit and more dollars on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cards.

That help isn’t here today though the need remains, and is growing.

However, there is hope on the horizon. In the state budget adopted last month, New York unlocked more than $200 million in federal funding for a SNAP-related program called Summer EBT.

And it will be a lifeline when families most need it.

In my work, we often say that summer is the hungriest time of year. Hundreds of thousands of families on Long Island count on the two healthy no-cost or reduced-priced meals served in our schools every day.

When summer break starts and schools close, their grocery bills shoot up. The new Summer EBT program will give families an extra $120 per child to pay for groceries this summer. If you already qualify for Medicaid, SNAP, or free or reduced-price school meals, you’ll qualify for Summer EBT, too.

We have to get this rollout right.

Many families don’t know about this benefit. We need the state to rapidly launch a promotion campaign, help families understand who qualifies, and nail down the mechanics of putting extra funds on cards before schools let out. And we need school districts, community organizations, and other supporters to amplify the message.

Despite the pain families face now, this could make a big difference for thousands of parents who won’t have to pull healthy foods out of their shopping carts.

We can’t control grocery store prices. But we can make sure families have the help they need to give their kids three healthy meals a day.

This guest essay reflects the views of Rachel Sabella, director of No Kid Hungry New York.


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