Tag Archive | "Food Stamps"

‘Health Bucks’ help make healthful eating affordable


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The Washington Heights Farmer's Market gives away the most Health Bucks each year. (Photo: Nushin Rashidian)

By NUSHIN RASHIDIAN

People who use food stamps can now use them at 49 farmers markets in New York City — and get a bonus for thinking healthier.

By presenting their electronic benefits cards at the participating farmers markets and requesting “tokens” to spend with the vendors, customers will get “Health Bucks” — $2 in “Health Bucks” for every $5 in tokens.

“Health Bucks encourages people who are already shopping at the market to spend more money because it increases their budget,” says Alexis Stevens from the Council on the Environment of NYC (CENYC), which started the program in 2005.

Two dollars may not seem like much, but it adds up.

“I tell the customers it’s better to spend $25 because, at the end, it’s not $25, it’s $35,” says Johnny Malgir, an assistant to Sarah Fabian, the manager of the market at 175th Street and Broadway in Washington Heights every Thursday, which has the most customers taking advantage of the plan.

Both customers and farmers benefit from the program. But many farmers go one step further: They lower their prices to make their products more affordable than local grocers who also accept food stamps.

Sergio Nolasco of Nolasco Farms charges  $5 for a watermelon at the Washington Heights farmers’ market, but will charge $7 for the same watermelon at a market in Inwood or Sunnyside.

He says that customers in Washington Heights flock to the farmers’ market because the produce is fresh, but they still expect low prices. They are not willing to pay extra for a fruit or vegetable just because it wasn’t sprayed, or because it falls somewhere under the umbrella of “organic.”

“I do markets in the Bronx and they don’t understand the difference with pesticides or without pesticides,” Nolasco says.

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A customer hands a vendor her chosen head of broccoli. (Photo: Nushin Rashidian)

If Nolasco and other farmers don’t lower their prices to match customers’ budgets, the Health Bucks program wouldn’t be as successful as it is, says Fabian.

Karina Tiburcio has been shopping at the Washington Heights farmers’ market for five years. Each week, she uses $15 of her $250 monthly allowance to buy potatoes, bread, peaches, apples, tomatoes and corn; she uses her six Health Bucks dollars to get two heads of lettuce and one pound of green peppers for free.

“Here you pay $2 for a pound of peppers and at the market it’s $3,” Tiburcio says. “One whole dollar more.”

Tiburcio can do a lot with that one dollar at the farmers’ market. She can buy one pound of red potatoes, green beans or yellow onions; she can buy three ears of corn, three cucumbers or three pounds of apples.

Just down the street, a market on 173rd Street and Broadway charges $1 for three apples of the same size.

Stevens was allotted $180,000 this year to print 90,000 Health Bucks, which she says is not enough to encourage the 1.5 million city residents receiving food stamps to spend their money at farmers’ markets.

“We hope to expand and include more markets in the program,” she says. “We’re delighted with it and we think it’s increasing food stamp usage at our markets. It’s making our produce available to more people.”

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Coney Island is losing a food stamp center


By ISABELLE SCHÄFER

The food stamp center in Coney Island is closing its doors on October 16th

The food stamp center in Coney Island is closing its doors on Oct. 16.

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.

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