Mind the Gap!

First, let’s start with the poverty line.  As of 2011, for the 48 contiguous states, the Dept. of Health and Human Services poverty lines are:

For a single-person household: $10,890
For a two-person household:  $14,710
Three persons: $18,530
Four persons: $22,350

The list goes up to eight, but let’s stop here. On Staten Island, 11.2% of people are at or below the poverty line. (Try to imagine living on $10,890 a year.)

Poverty line or up to 130% of the poverty line

If you make less than 130% of the poverty line, you’re eligible for food stamps (called SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program everywhere except New York State) and other programs such as WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).

130% of the poverty line

If your annual income is higher than 130%–in other words, $10,890 x 1.3 or $14,147 for an individual or $29,055 for a family of four–you’re no longer eligible for food stamps but your children are still eligible for free school lunch.

185% of the poverty line

Between 130% and 185% ($20,146.50 for a single person or $41,347.50 for a family of four), your children are eligible for reduced-cost school lunch, mothers are still eligible for WIC, and seniors can still get FMNP. (On Staten Island, talk to the folks at Seamen’s Society for Children and Families for help determining eligibilities.)

Here’s the gap

In Congressional District 13,  Staten Island, 13.4% are “food insecure.” (See Map the Meal Gap from Feeding America for the source of these data.)

Food insecurity is defined as “at some time during the year, you were unable to get food, or were uncertain about whether you could get food, for yourself or your family.” In other words, you’re food insecure if you sometimes start running out of food towards the end of the month or just before a paycheck and don’t know how you’re going to get enough food for yourself or your family. (This may sound familiar, unfortunately, even to people who see themselves as middle-class.)

Of those 13.4% of food-insecure Staten Islanders (93,440 people), 33% get or can get food stamps; 18% can get reduced school lunches for their children and other benefits; and 49% can’t get any federal food benefits.

In other words, if you make 185% or more of the poverty line ($20,146.50), you’re plain out of luck.

That’s the gap: 45,786 Staten Islanders aren’t eligible for benefits and yet don’t make enough money to reliably feed themselves or their families.

What do you do if you fall in?

You use food pantries and soup kitchens. The Staten Island Advance’s recent article, 20 percent of Staten Island is Going Hungry, describes what’s been happening at the food pantries.

If you’re not comfortable asking for free food, then work for it–volunteer at a pantry or soup kitchen. They can always use the help and, based on my experience, you won’t go home hungry or empty-handed.


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