By ISABELLE SCHÄFER
Ashley Florio pushed the twin stroller down the streets of Coney Island. The wind was cold and she was in a hurry, because she had to pick up one of the children she is looking after from school. Before that, the 27-year old babysitter wanted to apply for food stamps at the 2865 West 8th Street center.
But when she arrived, the staff just handed her a list of addresses.
To cut expenses, the food stamp center near the sea is closing its doors on October 16th. They stopped taking new applications a month before. Officials of the center said that the whole staff was moving to lower Manhattan. Clients, they said, are reassigned to other places, none of them close by.
“I wish I had known this before, I just wasted my time over there,” Florio said. No sign mentions the closure outside the grey building. Just above the handle to the front door, somebody has written “Food stamps in here” in capital letters with a clumsy hand. Inside, at the end of a hallway, a sign in English and Spanish states that the center is not accepting applications and gives three addresses of food stamp centers in northern Brooklyn. But the clients don’t seem to notice it.
Many clients coming out of the center are unaware of the closure. As to the question of where they have been assigned, they have no clue. A Russian woman and her daughter were even shocked by the information. “We didn’t get anything,”they said.
The center said that letters have been sent out to explain the situation and tell people where to go. But many haven’t yet received them.
Although many services of the Human Resources Administration are available online, you still need to get fingerprinted for a first application to food stamps. For the people living in the area of Coney Island, this now means more hassle. To get to the center on Bergen St., for example, it takes 52 minutes on the Q train from the Coney Island station. To another center in Williamsburg, it takes up to an hour and a half.
Ashley Florio doesn’t know what to do. “I can’t go to the addresses they gave me today,” the young brunette said,.” I have to watch over the kids all day and the centers are not open during the weekend. I wish I had known this before.” She pushed her long hair out of her face. “They want us to work, but how are we supposed to work with this?”.
According to the center, there are as many as 3000 new applications coming in per month. In Coney Island, according to the U.S. census bureau, 32,551 inhabitants are dependent on foodstamps. Statistics of the HRA in New York show a 21.8% increase in food stamp recipients in August 2009, compared to the year before.
“The problem is, it’s going to get really crowded,” reckons Tina, a young mother, who didn’t want to give her last name, in case her application would be reviewed. She started getting food stamps a year ago. “There are going to be even more people over there and there’s already a line here,” she said.
The trip to other centers is an inconvenience to people with children. “Taking a carriage with you on the train is just difficult, and then I would have to wait so long with them in the office. Here I could just walk to the center when I had a bit of free time,” said Florio, while adjusting a child’s coat.
She walked away, her hair blowing in the cold wind. She will have to make up time somehow to go to another food stamp center.