Mayor Eric Adams’ proposal to cut hundreds of vacant jobs at a city agency tasked with fighting poverty has raised concerns that his administration will exacerbate the food insecurity crisis in New York City.
Councilmember Diana Ayala and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas on Thursday urged the mayor to reconsider his decision to eliminate vacant positions at the Human Resources Administration, the city agency that oversees public assistance programs, including the Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps. The request comes as demand for such services has increased over the last few years, but processing times for services have slowed.
“In this very dire time, we need all levels of government to function adequately and efficiently to address the needs of our constituents and neighbors,” Ayala and González-Rojas wrote this week in a letter to Adams, asking the mayor to fill the vacant positions.
On Thursday, Adams unveiled a $102.7 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2024 in which he called on city agencies to further trim their budgets. According to the plan, the mayor has proposed eliminating 773 unfilled jobs within the Department of Social Services, which oversees the Human Resources Administration.
It’s unclear how many of those jobs are involved with the food stamp program. However, Ayala and her colleagues say the understaffed department contributes to the delay in processing food stamp applications.
There were 50,000 applications for food stamps in October 2022, a 60% increase compared to the same month in 2019, DSS Deputy Commissioner Jill Berry said at a City Council committee hearing in December. The number of monthly requests for food assistance is the highest it has been since May 2020, shortly two months after the coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
“Our application volume has persisted at an unprecedented rate,” Berry said at the hearing before the Committee on General Welfare.
Berry said more than half the food stamp applications – 53.7% – were not processed within the required 30 days in fiscal year 2022.
Spokespeople for Adams did not respond to requests for comment.
About 2.7 million people – or 1 in 7 New Yorkers – relied on food stamps in 2019, according to Hunger Solutions New York, a statewide advocacy group working to alleviate hunger.
Adriana Mendoza is a benefits supervisor for the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center, which works with about 2,000 low-income households. She said when the city does not process the food stamp applications on time, the families must scramble to borrow money or sell valuables to feed themselves.
The maximum amount a family of four could receive in food benefits is $939 a month.
“In some cases, the parents are not eating in order to ensure that whatever money there is for food is going to the children,” Mendoza said.
Adams has insisted that public services won’t suffer despite the job cuts, but Catherine Trapani is skeptical. She’s the executive director of Homeless Services United, a coalition of 50 nonprofit agencies serving homeless and at-risk adults and families in New York City.
The city eventually gets around to processing the food stamp applications, Trapani said, but that doesn’t help low-income New Yorkers who need immediate help.
“They will issue the benefits retroactively to the date that the person was eligible,” she said. “But you can't eat retroactively.”