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In Borough Park, Brooklyn, where Nachas is located, more than a third of families with children received SNAP benefits, according to American Community Survey estimates for 2008-2010, and large households are common.
Many of Schmerler’s clients already find it hard to live on the benefits they receive, she said. New Yorkers also deal with higher food costs than much of the country: A New York household of six can receive up to $952 in SNAP benefits per month, while the minimum bill for nutritious food is $1,181, a recent study by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness found.
Charities like Masbia, a network of kosher soup kitchens, help fill the gap between hunger and food stamps for some people. Masbia, which serves about 150 meals a day to people of any faith at its Borough Park site, does not collect benefit data from its clients, but executive director Alexander Rapaport said he believes most are SNAP recipients.
“Obviously they need more than what they get, because they end up here when the food stamps are used up,” he said.
Nationally, 90% of SNAP benefits are used by the third week of the month, a 2011 USDA study found.
In the current political climate, food stamps have come under fire. Critics say programs like SNAP encourage a culture of dependency on government aid. Some also question lifestyle choices, such as family size, that they say constitute voluntary poverty.
But activists like Sayani see nutrition as a human rights issue.
“It’s a disgrace that in the United States of America that we can’t adequately feed our populace, which includes many people who have contributed to the workforce,” he said. “Should we expect people who have fallen through the cracks to go hungry?”