As President Donald J. Trump unveils his proposed FY2018 federal budget, a cold chill sends a shiver down the backs of millions living in poverty, America’s working poor, and the nonprofit organizations that provide them with vital human services such as emergency food. Long Island must brace itself should the President’s proposed spending plan gain approval from Congress in its current form, although this is highly doubtful. President Trump and certain members of Congress have proposed a severe gutting of many of America’s safety net programs, which if adopted will take a significant toll on the poor, seniors, children, people with disabilities, veterans, immigrants, adults struggling with low wage jobs, and the hungry.
The President’s budgetary blueprint known as A New Foundation for American Greatness has the potential to return America to a period in our history when people waited on breadlines to feed their families, and these lines will undoubtedly stretch from Floral Park to Montauk. This budget recommends a sweeping welfare reform policy striving to “replace dependency with dignity of work” and at the top of the President’s wish list is cutting billions from safety net programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP is one of our nation’s most effective safety net programs and has proven success in reducing the number of people experiencing food insecurity. SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) improves nutrition and health, improves our economy, supports the local farming industry, and lifts people up from living in poverty. Right now, there are greater than 173,000 Long Islanders utilizing this benefit to avoid domestic hunger. Many of these people also require the assistance of Long Island Cares and its network of 585 community partners to sustain themselves and their families.
The budget proposes more than $190 billion in cuts to SNAP over 10 years, including shifting significant SNAP costs–more than $100 billion–to states. According to Feeding America, this would lead to at least 45 billion meals being taken away from those in need, and this figure would be much higher if states cannot afford their newly mandated share. It would lead to a reduction in meals, or complete loss of benefits, for millions of American working families and disproportionately impact the elderly, veterans, and the unemployed. If Congress approves the reductions to SNAP as proposed by the President, many more Long Islanders will be waiting on line at our local pantries and soup kitchens. Sadly, it is impossible for the nation’s network of 200 food banks to fill the gap created by the draconian cuts featured in this budget. Regional food banks, such as Long Island Cares, are commonly seeing increases of up to 25% in the number of people utilizing their services. At this time, the nation’s emergency food system needs more help, not dramatically less.
While Long Island Cares is greatly concerned about the budget proposed by the Trump administration, we also have faith in our Congressional leaders, who earlier this month passed a FY 2017 funding bill which increased TEFAP foods by $21 million and storage and distribution support by $5 million. TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) is funded through the USDA, and Long Island Cares administers this program for the Long Island Region. This is our largest single source of food and critical to our entire operation. In 2016, Long Island Cares distributed nearly 3 million pounds of TEFAP commodities. Consequently, Long Island Cares is calling upon Congress to yet again, demonstrate its firm commitment in the fight against hunger, just as it did earlier this month.
The President’s proposed budget plan doesn’t just negatively impact SNAP and TEFAP as it includes additional stark cuts to other critical safety net programs. For instance, SSI and SSDI, which are part of the Social Security system, are also under attack. As you are well aware, SSI and SSDI provide monthly benefit checks of between $703-$1,103 to eligible recipients, many of whom are disabled and severely struggling to get by in high cost of living areas, such as Long Island. The Trump budget seeks to slash nearly $1.7 trillion from these and other vital services, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, Meals on Wheels, Women Infant and Children’s (WIC) services, and several others. Furthermore, many of the nonprofits administrating these programs are member agencies of Long Island Cares. They are our partners not just in spirit and cause, but most importantly in practice. We pledge to support them however needed as Long Island Cares is not just a traditional food bank. We have expanded to provide humanitarian assistance dedicated to advocating for causes intrinsic to basic human dignity and self sufficiency.
The demographics of Long Island have changed dramatically over the past ten years. The number of people barely getting by in a time of increasing costs and decreasing income has had a prolonged negative impact on our Long Island economy still struggling to recover from the Great Recession of 2009. If the drastic cuts recommended by the President are enacted by Congress, all of Long Island will suffer; not just those in need. We will mobilize our network of advocates and supporters, just as our founder Harry Chapin effectively did some time ago, to show our continued and renewed dedication and commitment in the fight against hunger within our region.
Paule T. Pachter, A.C.S.W., L.M.S.W. Michael W. Haynes, M.P.A.
Chief Executive Officer Chief Government Affairs Officer