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Times weighs in on NYC hunger

January 24, 2006

A much-anticipated Sunday editorial in The New York Times took on the issue of hunger in New York City. The editorial speaks for itself:

What if, before your next meal, you first had to fill out paperwork and then wait hours in a crowded office to be interviewed and fingerprinted? That is not a hypothetical situation for many of New York’s working poor–hundreds of thousands of whom are eligible for food stamps but do not get them because of unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles.

Recent studies by the Urban Justice Center and others document how difficult and degrading it can be for the hungry to get help. Despite improvements, like the state-mandated reduction in paperwork, the city still must regain ground lost under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who built a wall of red tape to express his distaste for the program.

For many of the working poor, food stamps are a necessity, often the difference between having to decide whether to pay the rent or eat. According to various estimates, New York has effectively turned its back on more than $700 million in federal funds that it would receive if every eligible New Yorker enrolled in the food stamp program. That money would be spent in grocery stores and bodegas, boosting the local economy.

The City Council, led by Bill de Blasio of Brooklyn and Eric Gioia of Queens, has been prodding the Human Resources Administration to accept applications by fax and to allow people to apply online and at food pantries and soup kitchens. The Bloomberg administration should embrace these ideas.

One hopeful sign is Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s s appointment of Linda Gibbs to be deputy mayor for human resources. Ms. Gibbs helped shape the city’s program for the homeless. It is the city’s hungry who now require her attention. She could start by instructing workers to stop fingerprinting every applicant. New York is one of a few states that requires this costly and obstructive process. Hunger is indignity enough.

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