New York City faulted for delays in getting emergency food aid to struggling families

Dec 19, 2023, 11:23 AM

Thousands of struggling families in New York City are waiting unacceptably long times to receive emergency food and cash aid because of delays by a city agency that violate a 2005 federal court order, advocacy groups said in new legal filings.

People who qualify for expedited Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or E-SNAP, are supposed to receive them within seven days of applying under the order. If applicants show they have an emergency, the city must give them cash aid for food the same day.

The advocacy groups filed a contempt motion Monday in federal court in Manhattan asking a judge to order the city to reduce backlogs and comply with the 2005 mandate.

They cited city records showing that from April to September of this year, about 13,700 families had to wait more than a week for E-SNAP benefits. The city’s Human Resources Administration only met the deadline to provide aid about half the time during that period, they said. In October 2022, only 20% of aid applicants got their benefits on time, the records showed.

One resident, Laquena Watson, applied for E-SNAP and cash aid in June after she gave birth to her second child, stopped working and her parental leave benefits expired. She didn’t receive her benefits until early August, and only after she reached out to the advocacy groups and they contacted the city, according to the contempt motion.

“The City’s broad and systemic failure to adequately provide E-SNAP and cash assistance to eligible New Yorkers has left thousands of families in dire straits struggling to feed themselves and their children and meet their basic needs,” Emily Lundgren, staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.

Advocates say they have engaged in discussions with city officials for the past year about meeting the benefit deadlines.

To qualify for E-SNAP, certain applicants must have less than $150 in monthly gross income and their liquid resources cannot total more than $100. People applying for regular SNAP benefits are supposed to receive them within 30 days.

The Legal Aid Society filed the contempt motion with the National Center For Law And Economic Justice, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation and the New York Legal Assistance Group.

A spokesperson for the city’s Department of Social Services, which oversees the Human Resources Administration, called the new court filing “incredibly disappointing,” because city officials have been working with the advocacy groups in reducing wait times.

“We have made very significant progress on addressing backlogs,” spokesperson Neha Sharma said Tuesday.

Sharma said the volume of SNAP and cash assistance requests in the past several years is the highest it has been since before the coronavirus pandemic, and the city has been working to fill staff vacancies to handle the workload.

In July 2023, 1.7 million residents were receiving SNAP benefits, widely known as food stamps, up from 1.5 million in July 2019. About 490,000 people were getting cash aid benefits in July 2023, up from 333,000 in 2019, Sharma said.

Backlogs of SNAP applications are an issue across the country. New York is one of 13 states where less than 80% of SNAP applications were processed on time in the 2022 fiscal year, according to the U.S. Food and Nutrition Service.

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New York City faulted for delays in getting emergency food aid to struggling families