Between 2012 and 2016, New York City experienced a 7.3% decline in participation in the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), despite 1.2 million city residents living in food insecure households during that time, a level higher than a decade ago. A recently published study by Hunger Free America and the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute (SNAP Declines Yet Hunger Persists: NYC Caseloads 2012-2016 and the Need to Ease Access to Benefits) analyzed data on SNAP caseloads, economic trends, and surveys of SNAP applicants and participants to better understand the large drop in SNAP participation over this period and to identify strategies to improve access to SNAP benefits for all New Yorkers in need of food assistance.

The report’s findings confirmed that the reduction in SNAP participants mirrored trends at the state and national level and was statistically associated with falling rates of poverty and unemployment, a positive outcome of New York City’s economic recovery from the Great Recession. However, many New Yorkers who struggle with poverty and food insecurity are not currently receiving these benefits. Additionally, SNAP prevalence rates varied considerably from community to community, differences that indicate the need for closer scrutiny of neighborhood level data, particularly neighborhood-level SNAP eligibility rates. Such analyses can determine whether the observed changes reflect demographic and economic changes (and particularly issues related to immigration and language) that warrant different forms of outreach and case management.

The trend analysis and results of online and in-person surveys suggest that additional City efforts beyond those implemented by HRA over the past few years are warranted to ensure that all eligible New Yorkers receive SNAP benefits. These include: tailored outreach to specific communities and demographic groups, such as older adults and those who may fear increased federal scrutiny of immigrants and their families; analysis of the dynamics of SNAP participation at the community scale to facilitate interventions targeting the needs of specific communities, particularly those undergoing economic and demographic change; and advocacy for policies to increase SNAP eligibility.

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