New York City officials left tens of thousands of New Yorkers scrambling to buy groceries without their food stamps, a federal lawsuit filed on Friday claims.
Over half of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) applicants in December were left waiting longer than a month for benefits, according to the class-action suit filed in Manhattan federal court.
Under federal law, anyone eligible for the SNAP program must receive benefits within 30 days.
The lawsuit points to city data that shows more than 28,000 applications for SNAP and cash aid were overdue as of December. Of those, 5,711 were overdue cases date as far back as September.
One plaintiff, 55-year-old Glennice Simon, said she’s been supporting her and her son in Brooklyn using her Supplemental Security Income check since their SNAP benefits were cut in October.
“I can’t buy soap because I got to buy rice. I can’t buy toilet paper because I got to buy eggs,” she said. “I can’t let us go without food because of their mistakes.”
“All I can say is, try to put something to the side because you never know when this day is gonna come.”
Simon said that after paying rent, bills and buying groceries, she’s lucky if she has $100 left for her family.
The city’s Department of Social Services – staffed with managing SNAP benefits and cash aid – has a 20% staff vacancy rate, according to a December report from City Comptroller Brad Lander.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said the department has over 1,700 budgeted vacancies it could use to fill critical vacancies to help address the backlog of SNAP applications.
And a city Law Department spokesperson said officials are reviewing the lawsuit, which names the Adams administration, city Social Services Commissioner Gary Jenkins and Human Resources Administrator Lisa Fitzpatrick.
“The city will continue to support New Yorkers in need and we will review the litigation,” said Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesperson for the Law Department.
Nearly 2 million New Yorkers rely on SNAP to buy food at grocery stores, bodegas and farmers markets. The program is designed for New Yorkers who make less than roughly $20,000 a year or less than $42,000 for a family of four.
Individuals get a maximum allotment of $281 each month, or $939 for a family of four.
“No family should go hungry because of administrative delays they have no control over,” said Abby Biberman, the associate director of the Public Benefits Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, which is representing the plaintiffs.
“Failure to process these applications and recertifications mean that thousands of New Yorkers can’t put food on their tables or pay their rent.
Another Brooklyn plaintiff, Maria Forest, is a 71-year-old retired home care attendant who lives alone in Brooklyn. She said she hasn’t received her full SNAP benefits since September and is “just trying to make ends meet.”
“Currently, when I don’t receive SNAP benefits, I just buy the cheapest available food and the smallest available amount, like pasta … any kind of food that will fill up my stomach,” Forest said through a Polish interpreter.
“I hope that the person who made the decision to take my benefits away will be punished, especially that I wasn’t given notice in advance about this.”