Tag Archive | "policy"

Food Stamp cuts pose hardships for home health care workers

New policies would cut off 3.1 million families nationwide from the food stamp program.

Having enough money at the end of the month is too often a worry for Elsilia Carrasco, a full-time home health care worker who lives with her three children and elderly mother in the Highbridge section of The Bronx.

Every month she tries to stretch her $23,760 annual net income to pay rent, utilities and to buy groceries. Although Carrasco’s income is not enough to cover her expenses, she no longer qualifies for food benefits.

This dilemma has led Carrasco in the past to making the impossible choice of either delaying rent payments or buying groceries.

And it’s about to get even harder.

Pending proposals from the U.S. Department of Agriculture threaten to reduce those eligible for Supplemental Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, to only families who qualify for welfare cash assistance. 

This new ruling would end the option that allows states to use their own criteria to provide food assistance to low-income families who are struggling with salaries slightly above the federal poverty level.

This federal action is expected to cut off 3.1 million families nationwide from the food stamp program.

If the Trump administration rules are implemented, Carrasco’s possibilities to enroll in the program would be even more restricted. Even the current eligibility criteria found her ineligible for food security assistance, because her income was too high for the guidelines of New York State.

Every year on October 1, the SNAP program in New York increases its eligibility guidelines to accommodate the rising cost of food in the area. If pre-Trump era standards were still in place, this year Carrasco would be set to receive about $768 per month in food assistance.

But to qualify now under the new federal guidelines, her salary plus her older son’s fast-food paycheck would have to be $3,118 a month for the family of five, or 130% of poverty. Under the previous regulations, the New York State eligibility cut off was 200% of the poverty rate.

This issue brought Carrasco to Bronx Housing Court in the past, when her landlord began the process to recoup the full rent she owed. She had delayed paying portions of the rent in order to buy groceries.

“I’m not going to let my children go hungry,” Carrasco said. Her housing court case was later settled with the landlord and she remains in her apartment in the present.

Carrasco’s situation is common among home health aide workers across the city and the nation. On May 2018, 192,000 home health aides were registered in New York, the greatest concentration among the states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Their mean annual wage is $26,240.

“It is very frustrating that the dedicated home care workers providing direct services are frequently on Medicaid and food stamps,” said William Dombi, President of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, an organization that oversees companies with approximately 250,000 workers around the country. Primary payers such as Medicaid, Veteran Affairs and Agencies on Aging set payment rates so low that it’s hard for workers to make a living and for the caregivers to increase in quality.

Paying $1,215 for her two-bedroom apartment every month is not easy for Elsilia Carrasco on her $1,980 monthly salary after taxes. She often has to make choices on the priority of her bills whenever she runs out of food.

“I have a 15-year-old daughter who still goes to school full time and I’m not getting help,” Carrasco said.

Other home health workers also struggle financially. One in six home care workers lives below the federal poverty line and more than half rely on some form of public assistance, according to a 2019 U.S. Home Care Workers Report from the non-profit Paraprofessional Health Institute. In 2017 the report found that 30% of home care aides received food and nutrition assistance.

The income eligibility for SNAP keeps increasing every year, but the number of families that enroll in the benefit in New York City has not kept up. On April 2019, there were around 1,5 million total recipients, according to the New York City Open Data. This number has been steadily decreasing since 2014. This year, at least 68,000 fewer people enrolled in the food stamp program than April 2018, and around 200,000 fewer people than five years ago.

“Many families are living on the edge financially and they really do need that benefit in order to make ends meet and to make sure that their family is fed,” said Sara Abiola, Professor of Health Policy & Management at Columbia University.

The current income guidelines still allow more families than only those in deep poverty to access the benefit, but that’s about to change. “People are concerned that this new cut would threaten a lot of households in the state have not being able to afford to meet their food needs,” said Abiola.

The Department of Agriculture reported that the new system would check income, assets and other circumstances to determine the participant’s eligibility. This may include families receiving at least $50 in cash assistance for at least six months. Not screening people with more rigorous rules “compromises program integrity and reduces public confidence that benefits are being provided to eligible households,” said the Department of Agriculture in the announcement of the proposed rule.

New York State has been able  to provide food stamps to families using broad-based categories, which would be eliminated with the new federal proposals. “If you are able to determine that you are eligible based on one assessment, then you don’t have to go back and re-apply,” Abiola said, “or can determine your eligibility multiple times in multiple different ways.”

Comments against

The comment period on the proposed policy closed on September 23, with 75,000 comments addressed to the Department of Agriculture, according to the Government regulation website. At least 17 governors and the United States Conference of Mayors signed comments in opposition to the proposed rule, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Paraprofessional Health Institute said one in four direct care workers require food stamps to fulfill their nutritional needs. “Direct care workers commit their professional lives to a rewarding yet poorly rewarded job and this proposed revision would further punish these workers for their important career choice, as well as their families,” said the Bronx-based organization in their comment against the proposed regulation.

The organization foresees that without the benefit, the well being of home care workers and long term care consumers would deteriorate, leaving the threat of a large-scale public health emergency.

The first week of October, the Department of Agriculture for the third time announced new cuts to the food stamp program, proposing to standardize across states the way heat and cooling utility expenses are calculated into the eligibility requirement.  The department calculated that $4.9 billion could be cut from its food stamp program over the next five years, if approved. 

The new regulation would hit the colder, northern states the hardest if approved. And, New York could be one of them.

On August 2019, New Yorkers paid 15% more than the national average for natural gas, and 45% more than the national average for electricity, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This would make it even harder for Carrasco to enroll in SNAP. She stopped to think about her lost path to get food stamps and said  

“I think the system is upside down,” Carrasco said. “It’s not fair. Instead of helping the ones who really need help.”

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Food, MoneyComments (0)

Sounding Off On Stop and Frisk

Tension between Bronx residents and police have been smoldering in recent weeks, in the wake of police killings of two unarmed young men.

Recent protests have followed a year of public outcry over reports that city police have disproportionately stopped and frisked Black and Latino young men, particularly those in the South Bronx, based on little more than police suspicion. Most recently, a five-borough protest spurred by residents took place last Thursday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 13, the Bronx Ink staff decided to find out if Bronx residents thought the stop-and-frisk tactics  might in any way be contributing to the growing unrest. Reporters scoured 12 community districts and collected the stories of 33 people, ranging from the ages of 19 to 72.  Of those surveyed, 43 percent were Black, 30 percent Hispanic, 15 percent White, 9 percent South Asian, and 3 percent Asian. Six were women, 27 were men. Occupations ranged from student to dishwasher to paralegal. The overall population in the Bronx is 30.1 percent Black, 53.5 percent Hispanic, 10.9 percent White, and 3.2 percent Asian.

Police argue that the stop and frisk policy has resulted in removing dangerous criminals from the street. But a majority of men interviewed complained about being stopped multiple times, even though weapons were never found. Data released by the New York Police Department last year showed that more than 400 stops occurred in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx last year, resulting in only 10 confiscated guns. Most residents surveyed said they felt they were victims of profiling based on their race. Police data showed that young Black men represent 25.6 percent of the NYPD stops but only 1.9 percent of the city’s population. The same goes for young Latino men, who make up 16 percent of the NYPD’s stops but only 2.8 percent of the city’s population.

Some of the Bronx residents’ memories were fresh, and raw. Louis Soltren said he was sitting outside his Mott Haven apartment building one evening, dressed in a suit, drinking a Gatorade, taking a rest in the open air after a long day of work. That’s when a police officer approached him.

I pulled out my ID,” Soltren remembered. “The guy actually refused to see my ID. Instead of treating me like a human being, he treated me like an animal.

The officer ordered Soltren to take off his shoes and place his hands against the wall of his apartment building.

I look way different than what certain drug dealers look like,” said Soltren, a 31-year-old Spanish and Italian resident of the Bronx. “I still fall in that category. The way I see it is because of my Hispanic race.”

The New York Civil Liberties Union estimates that police stopped on average about 1,900 people per day in 2011. The policy allows an officer to stop a person for a variety reasons, including walking suspiciously or having a suspicious bulge. The data shows that 88 percent of those stopped were not charged with anything.

Police records show that in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, where Soltren has lived for 24 years, officers stopped and frisked residents 17,690  times – the fourth highest number in New York City.

Over half of the survey participants said they had been stopped. One-third of them admitted it happened more than once.

“One-hundred-one times I have been stopped by cops,” said Joys Reid, 53, a life-long Hunts Point resident, standing across the street from his apartment on Hoe avenue. “Everyday we get picked up for nothing.”

Of those interviewed, 77 percent said they opposed the practice.

“Stop and frisk I don’t think is going to stop anything because it hasn’t,” said Terrence Wilkerson, 36, a Highbridge resident for 30 years.

“Stop and frisk is borderline racism,” Wilkerson added.

The Bronx Ink poll reflects a greater trend among Black and Hispanic residents. According to a Quinnipiac University survey, 69 percent of Black voters and 53 percent of Hispanic voters disapproved of stop and frisk. In New York City overall, registered voters are split on the policy: 50 percent against, 45 percent for, and 5 percent undecided.

Only five of the people we spoke to supported the policy, two of whom were Hispanic.“I think it’s great. It’s extremely important,” said Robert Flores, 45, a Fordham resident. “I know a lot of people are against it but I feel that it needs to happen. Within this community, we are the only people robbing each other.”

Overwhelmingly, those surveyed said more positive police involvement in their community would prevent unnecessary stops. “If they see the same people everyday, they should know the community,” Peter Lorenzi, 19, a criminal justice major at Berkeley College said. “They should know people around them.”

Click on photos to hear their stories.

dfdsf

Additional reporting by Ana Ionova, Andrew Freedman, Annaliese Wiederspahn, Coleen Jose, Jan Hendrik Hinzel, Jika González, Kenny Suleimanagich, Margaret Badore, Natasha Lindstrom, Sadef A. Kully, Selase Kove-Seyram, Sonia Paul, Valentine Pasquesoone, Vidur Malik and Yi Du.

 

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, Featured, Morrisania, Multimedia, North Central Bronx, Northwest Bronx, Sizing up Stop and Frisk, Southern Bronx, Special ReportsComments (2)

District attorney’s office curbs prosecutions from police stop-and-frisk arrests

The Bronx district attorney’s office has stopped prosecuting people arrested for trespassing at public housing projects, unless the arresting officer can prove in person that the arrest was warranted, the New York Times reports.

This policy has been in place since July, when prosecutors realized that many people arrested for trespassing were not guilty. Often, police officers wrote statements that said the opposite.

It is the first time that a city district attorney’s office has publicly questioned arrests resulting from stop-and-frisk tactics.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

Bronx food stamp recipients say no to ban on sugary drinks

Bronx food stamp recipients say no to ban on sugary drinks

At some Bronx grocery stores, drinks like Coca-Cola Classic, Fanta Orange, Nestea and Seagram’s Ginger Ale are cheaper than water. A recent weekly special at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood offered five 1.5-liter bottles of Coca-Cola for $5, while advertising the same-sized bottles of Poland Spring water for $7.45.

The incentive to buy drinks that promote obesity and diabetes can be seen and heard loud and clear on the supermarket shelves in the Bronx.

Sugary drinks on sale at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Sugary drinks on sale at C-Town Supermarket in the Belmont neighborhood. Photo: Brent Ardaugh

Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. David Paterson want to discourage people — that is, poor people — from consuming too much sugar, by banning food stamp recipients from using their benefits to buy certain sugary drinks.

Many Bronx residents believe this effort unfairly targets the poor, and worry about what’s next on the mayor’s hit list.

“If you drink too much of anything it’s not a good thing,” said Irving Scott, a Bronx carpenter, who receives food stamps and believes he’s responsible enough to moderate his own behavior. “Let people have the freedom to buy what they want.”

Outside a Fine Fare Supermarket in Hunts Point, another construction worker said the proposal felt like discrimination. “I think we should be able to have the same benefits as everyone else,” said Richard Cruz, who also relies on food stamps. “We aren’t even able to get hot sandwiches right now; they have to be cold.”

On Arthur Avenue, Virginia Martinez, who uses her food stamps to buy soda, found the proposal invasive. “Bloomberg is over-doing it,” she said.

“This time it’s soda – what’s next?”

Under the two-year plan, food stamp recipients would not be able use their electronic benefit transfer cards – the card recipients use to buy subsidized food – to buy drinks that contain more than the equivalent of one packet of table sugar in a 12-ounce serving. The only exceptions would be milk products, milk substitutes and fruit juices without any added sugar.

“The [food stamp] program has always excluded certain categories of products without nutritional value – like cigarettes and alcohol – and we believe that a strong case can be made for adding sugary drinks to that list,” Bloomberg said.

Many New York City residents are asking how far is too far, but particularly in the Bronx, where according to the U.S. Census, nearly one-quarter of Bronx residents received food stamps in 2007.

If approved by the United States Department of Agriculture, food stamp recipients in New York City could not use their benefits to buy sugary drinks. Other items already excluded from the food stamp program, also called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, include tobacco, liquor, vitamins, medicine, pet food, paper products, hot food and household supplies.

This proposal is not the first time elected officials have tried to block access to sugary drinks. In 2004, the Minnesota Department of Human Services asked the United States Department of Agriculture to ban sugary drinks and candy from food stamp purchases. The federal agency rejected the proposal, claiming it would cause customer stigma at supermarket cash registers and the belief that low-income people do not buy nutritious foods.

According to the department of agriculture, research showed that food stamp recipients are wise shoppers and their nutrient intakes are similar to those of higher income consumers.

In a related attempt earlier this year in New York, Gov. Paterson pushed for a penny-an-ounce tax on sugary drinks to help narrow the state’s $9.2 billion budget gap, but lawmakers eventually slashed the proposal from the revenue bill after the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes released series of unrelenting anti-tax ads. One of the ads featured a woman saying, “Tell Albany to trim their budget fat, and leave our grocery budgets alone.”

Now Bloomberg and Paterson are preparing for round two – this time with a proposal that applies to only food stamp recipients in New York City.

“There’s no denying that childhood obesity is an epidemic, and there’s no denying that it’s hurting our children in low-income communities the most,” said Bloomberg. “Eliminating these beverages from allowable food stamp purchases would give New York families millions of more dollars to spend on food and drinks that provide real nourishment to them and their children.”

Unlike the Minnesota plan, the current proposal focuses only on sugary drinks, not both candy and sugary drinks. But health officials say it is enough to put a dent in sugary drink sales, especially those coming from food stamp users.

According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, $75 million to $135 million in nutrition assistance benefits were spent on sugary drinks in New York City last year.

Many store owners and managers, some of whom are just starting to rebound from the recession, are concerned their sales will drop if the ban goes into effect.

Wally Hassen, the manager at Day & Night Deli Grocery in Little Italy, said his store makes about $700 a week from sugary drinks, and most of his customers use food stamps.

“It’s going to affect the small businesses,” Hassen said. “They [the government] are not fixing the economy like that.”

Spokespeople for the department of health and mental hygiene would not comment on whether a plan is in place to reimburse small businesses for sales lost because of the ban.

A statement issued by the American Beverage Association, the trade association representing companies that manufacture and distribute non-alcoholic drinks, criticized the proposal saying it is just another attempt by government to tell New Yorkers what they should eat and drink, and will only have an unfair impact on those who can least afford it.

Carl Smith, a food stamp user who was recently shopping with his wife at a Key Food Supermarket on Westchester Avenue, said the ban would affect what drinks he buys.

“I won’t be able to buy it [soda] because I have no money,” Smith said. “I think it’s stupid. We should be allowed to buy food.”

Carl’s wife, Lori, said she buys four cases of soda a month, and Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Sprite are among her favorites. She, too, thinks the ban goes too far.

“What’s next? Coffee?” she asked.

Although the proposal has many Bronxites fired-up, it is part of a larger citywide effort to fight obesity and Type 2 diabetes, two conditions exacerbated by eating or drinking too much sugar.

A 2007 neighborhood report from the Bronx District Public Health Office found that obesity is more common in the Bronx than in New York City overall.

The long-term care required to treat these conditions puts stress on the health care system, causing local and national health expenditures to skyrocket. The New York State Department of Health estimates that treatment for obesity-related diseases – like Type 2 diabetes – costs the State more than $7.6 billion every year and the U.S. $150 billion.

In 1998, Medicare and Medicaid financed approximately half of the costs of obesity-related diseases in the U.S., according to a study published in the Health Affairs journal by Eric Finkelstein and his colleagues.

Obesity-related diseases affect more than just the patients; these diseases also affect current and future generations of taxpayers.

“We feel strongly that the government should not be subsidizing or promoting a product that we know makes people sick, especially in the name of nutrition,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City Health Commissioner.

Farley said the proposal targets drinks that are essentially nothing more than sugar water.

A 12-ounce serving of water contains no sugar, but original lemon-lime Gatorade has the equivalent of about five packets of table sugar and Coca-Cola Classic has nearly 10. Under the ban, most drinks with more than one packet of sugar would be excluded from allowable food stamp purchases.

Sugary drinks contain empty calories, which pump extra energy into a person’s diet without providing nourishment, just like a roommate who takes up space in an apartment but does not help with chores.

Most sugary drinks run up calorie intake without giving the body a satisfied appetite in return, causing people to consume even more calories than they would by drinking water alone. These extra calories promote excess weight gain, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough of the hormone insulin – the ticket sugar uses to gain admission into cells – or when the body ignores it. When sugar cannot move into cells, it backs up in the blood, sometimes with insulin, acting like a line of people waiting to get inside a movie theatre.

Over time, high levels of blood sugar can damage the kidneys, eyes, heart and blood vessels.

There is a clear, independent link between sugar consumption and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, according to Dr. Frank Hu, a professor at Harvard Medical School, who studies the effect of diet on Type 2 diabetes.

“The increase in consumption of sugar has paralleled with the epidemic of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the U.S.,” Hu said. “Sugar-sweetened beverages have not been on the radar screen for most health professionals until recently. In the past, so much emphasis was put on fat, but now we recognize that sugary drinks are more deleterious.”

Hu said the evidence against sugary drinks is now strong enough to start making public health recommendations.

But is the best way for a city government to combat obesity and diabetes through restricting soda for the poor?

Another solution to tax all soda drinkers crumbled earlier this year after Paterson’s penny-an-ounce tax faced opposition from the New Yorkers Against Unfair Taxes.

Reducing the size of cans and bottles in vending machines is also an alternative, according to Dr. Robert Kushner, a professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“It makes intuitive sense that the key is to reduce access,” Kushner said.

One of the challenges of reducing access, though, is identifying the many different sources of sugar available to consumers. According to Kushner, sugar is not like cigarette smoke, which comes from a single source.

Other experts, and some food stamp users, argue that restricting access alone is not enough because it does not teach people how to adopt healthier behaviors.

“There needs to be education to complement the SNAP program,” said Amy Lesh, the clinical nutrition manager at St. Barnabas Hospital. “Nothing is going to work without education.”

Food stamp recipient, Richard Cruz, a 34-year resident of Hunts Point, said he understands what the mayor is trying to do, but he does not think Bloomberg is going about it the right way.

“If he would have a class on things that make you fat, then may be people would relate to that better,” Cruz said. “I would attend one even though I’m not overweight – it’s for my health.”

Bloomberg admitted in early October that banning soda from food stamp purchases is not a perfect solution, but after a failed tax proposal, he said it is another way of going about the problem.

Dr. Peter Selwyn, a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, said political officials should speak with different stakeholders in the affected population before making policies.

“This should inform the decision making,” said Selwyn. “I’m not aware this was part of the process or not.”

The proposal is currently in Washington, D.C., where it is undergoing thoughtful and careful review, according to Hans Billger, a public affairs specialist at the United States Department of Agriculture.

Some Bronxites said even if the federal agency does approve the proposal, they are not convinced it will actually stop people from buying sugary drinks.

“If they don’t buy it with food stamps, they’re going to buy it with cash,” said Ivette Lee, a food stamp user who buys ginger ale at C-Town. “Are they going to stop making cash, too?”

Posted in Bronx Life, Food, Food and Beyond, Special ReportsComments (1)