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Lawmakers go food shopping to argue for higher SNAP benefits in New York

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Two state lawmakers are pushing to increase the minimum SNAP benefit in New York state, which presently sits at $23 per month. Syracuse area state Senator Rachel May and Queens Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas want to see that raised to $100 per month.

To demonstrate why, they went shopping Wednesday in Albany to see just how much $23 a month can buy. While prices vary from store to store and community to community, the point was clear.

They started out shopping for breakfast, and with only a handful of items in the shopping cart, they didn’t make it even to lunch.

“We know SNAP is one of the most effective programs to address hunger, but at $23, you can barely get breakfast for the month,” González-Rojas said.

May emphasized the current minimum can leave some of New York’s most vulnerable residents making impossible decisions.

“The people who typically get the minimum benefit are elderly,” she said. “Most of the time, they are living on a fixed income. They may be having to choose between their medications and their food.”

May and González-Rojas co-sponsor legislation that would more than quadruple that minimum to $100 per month.

“This is clearly not sufficient,” May said.

Just a few miles away at the State Capitol, where bipartisan agreements are hard to come by, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt told reporters his conference is open to raising benefits for those in need, but said the Democratic majority needs to address issues of affordability in New York state to truly get at the problem.

“I would be open to raising those, provided that we’re also addressing the reasons that more and more people are on SNAP benefits to begin with,” he said. “There are an increasing number of people who are on benefits because there is an increasing number of people falling out of the middle class.”

In the state Assembly, bills like the one, as well as legislation pushing to make free healthy school meals universal, have also received bipartisan support. Assembly Members Matt Slater and Brian Maher have made it a point to put their support behind pushes to address hunger in the state, and to appear at rallies in support of them.

The effort is also receiving support from those who would be directly impacted.

Northport resident Nancy Pratt shared a variety of personal reasons that she is on SNAP, including time she spent caring for her parents. But she emphasized that extra money each month would go a long way.

“Especially the price of food right now. It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I’m going to the pantry and the pantry they give you is great, but it only lasts for about a day or so.”

Back at the store, the Senator and assembly member then went about seeing what $100 can get you. González-Rojas said the difference is clear.

“The stress is lowered, and as we’re counting, it’s like, ‘We still have a little bit more, we still have a little bit more,’” she said.

Not only in quantity. Ryan Healy, advocacy coordinator for Feeding New York State, emphasized that it’s also about nutrition.

“It’s going to increase that purchasing power, making fresh fruits, vegetables, beans more affordable,” he said.

Checking out at just under $100, González-Rojas stressed the bill would benefit New Yorkers at a time when the state is experiencing what has been deemed an affordability crisis.

“Housing prices are going up, cost of living is going up,” she said. “People are stretched, families are really stressed and we don’t want people to have to choose between paying rent and putting food on the table.”

As far as this year’s budget, only the Senate one-house plan contains an increase: Raising the minimum to $50 per month. May is continuing to push for $100.

A $50 minimum is something May and González-Rojas see as within reach, and they stress will be a step in the right direction if passed.

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