2006-09-01 / Community

Weiner: Simplify Food Stamp Procedures

In light of new census data showing over 1.5 million New Yorkers living in poverty, Representative Anthony Weiner has announced legislation to feed the City's hungry residents by increasing enrollment in food stamps, the federal government's anti-hunger program. The Weiner-Serrano initiative simplifies the food stamp application process and establishes a new $200 million grant program to support the anti-hunger activities of community and faith based organizations.

According to new census figures released yesterday, New York City's poverty rate is significantly higher than the national average with nearly one-in-five New Yorkers - or more than 1.5 million City residents - living below the federal poverty level. Of these struggling New Yorkers, more than 600,000 are currently eligible for food stamps but do not receive them.

The Weiner-Serrano bill, known as the Anti-Hunger Empowerment Act of 2006, provides states with incentives to streamline the burdensome application process, which many blame for low food stamp enrollment. More federal funding will be directed to states that reduce wait times, increase hours of service, implement online applications, and provide required-document checklists to applicants, making it easier for eligible recipients to obtain benefits.

The bill will also eliminate obstacles eligible food stamp applicants currently face by removing fingerprinting requirements, allowing states to waive required face-to-face interviews and requiring that all applicants be notified of the option of a phone interview.

To continuously evaluate the effectiveness of food stamp programs, to establish benchmarks for serving the nation's hungry and to reward states that make improvements, the bill instructs the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to report annually on the efficiency of each state's program.

This new legislation will also create a new Beyond the Soup Kitchen Grant Program to provide funds for community and faith-based organizations working together to feed the hungry. Advocacy groups, colleges, universities and government agencies will be eligible to apply for grants between $500,000 and $20 million to expand grassroots anti-hunger activities, such as helping to enroll eligible applicants in the food stamp program, organizing food drives, expanding after school meal programs and advancing nutrition education.

While recent news reports suggest that Mayor Bloomberg's Poverty Commission has chosen to narrow the focus of its mission, Reps. Weiner and Serrano encouraged panel members not to leave out hunger initiatives when their recommendations for combating chronic poverty in New York City are released next month.

"It is a moral failure that millions of New Yorkers go hungry each year," said Rep. Weiner. "We cannot accept the status quo any longer. The reforms we are proposing will deliver real results for hungry New Yorkers. We are committed to seeing progress on this issue."

"Our nation's anti-hunger programs need to be strengthened," said Rep. Serrano. "It's time to try a new, integrated approach. After working with local and national anti-hunger organizations over the past few years, I came to the conclusion that it is high time to act. The bill would help the frontline providers of food to the most needy to professionalize their services. In a country with an overabundance of food, no one should go hungry because of a lack of funds or technical and professional knowledge. We have the food, and we have the networks; we now need to support the providers."

"We again applaud Congressmen Weiner and Serrano for their stellar leadership in the fight against hunger," said Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "This bill would both make it easier for working to families to obtain federal nutrition benefits and provide real ammunition to the faith based and secular armies of compassion that feed hungry Americans. It's a common sense approach that we hope Congress adopts rapidly."

A recent study completed by the office of Rep. Weiner showed that New York City's failure to enroll all its eligible food stamp participants costs the city an estimated $739 million annually in available federal funds. Currently, one third of eligible City residents, over 600,000 people, needlessly fail to receive federal assistance

for food.

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