Food stamps give some grocers a lift, too

By Matt Porter

April 1, 2013 Updated Apr 1, 2013 at 8:28 PM EDT

(WBNG Binghamton) The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports more than 46 million people are using the federal Subsidized Nutritional Assistance Program -- also known as SNAP -- or food stamps. That's up nearly 70 percent since 2008.

In New York, the numbers are at record highs, including in Broome County, which now has more than 30,000 residents on food stamps.

Depending on family size and income level, benefits from the federal program range from $16 to more than $1,000 per month.

The increasing use of food stamps has actually created a cycle for grocers catering to low-income neighborhoods.

At the Johnson City Save-A-Lot, co-owner Roberta Douglas said nearly two out of every three shoppers in the first week of the month will pay using food stamps.

"As far as in the beginning of the month, definitely, that's when all the food stamps come out," Douglas said. "In the first nine days, we definitely see an increase in business here."

SNAP benefits are distributed in New York during the first week of the month between the first and ninth.

Douglas said she calls in for more shipments early in the month to handle the extra demand.

"They'll buy big cart loads, so that a lot of them will load up for the beginning of the month," Douglas said.

However, some say SNAP assistance is still not enough.

Single mom Theresa Mezzarone visits Mother Teresa's cupboard food pantry in Endicott once a month.

She said her food stamps don't quite fill the needs of her and her 9-year-old daughter, Katherine.

"It's like you try and buy certain things that are cheap enough so you don't run out," Mezzarone said, "But you end up running out anyway because you don't have just enough."

She said it doesn't help that food prices are rising.

"My daughter and I, for two people, they allow us $367 for the month," she said. "They say that's enough for two people, but I don't feel that it is because every single month I have to come to Mother Teresa's Cupboard."

Pantry Coordinator Mary Roma said she doesn't need to look at a calendar to know what part of the month she's in.

The lines in the pantry run by Catholic Charities of Broome County tell it all.

"That very first week of the month, they are out of everything. Again, at the end of the month it's the same thing they've used what they have," Roma said, "And at the end of the month there's nothing left."

She said in the past eight years, the pantry has gone from serving a few hundred each month to more than a thousand.

Roma said many of the patrons are working.

"Family people trying just to get by, to feed their kids, pay their bills, and keep a roof over their head," she said.

Mezzarone said without help from Mother Teresa's, her daughter would be left hungry.

Eligibility requirements for SNAP have not changed in New York since 2006.

However, the state has taken steps to make it easier for people who qualify to apply and receive SNAP benefits.

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