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Dear friends,

At City Limits, we believe that the most important news stories leave a lasting impact—whether that means holding the powerful accountable or shining a spotlight on injustice.

This week, we want to pull back the curtain on a recent piece reporting on hunger in New York City and bureaucratic obstacles to food stamps. I interviewed our Deputy Editor David Brand to tell you a little bit about what went into producing this article.

How did you get the idea to write this story?

An organization that helps New Yorkers apply for food stamps encouraged me to look at the Mayor’s Management Report section on SNAP benefit application processing delays because there was a big problem. The MMR is an annual review of city agency performance that tracks several “critical indicators.” Timely processing of applications for SNAP benefits—more commonly known as food stamps—is one of the items the MMR considers a critical indicator.

The MMR showed that the rate of timely processing had plummeted. The organization broke it down for me, but at first I didn’t quit it until I started talking to impacted families.

What does the datapoint from a city report mean in real-life? It means tens of thousands of low-income families were left waiting to be approved for food stamps, which meant they had to figure out how to feed themselves and their kids. I spoke to one mom who pawned her engagement ring to buy food.

What was the most surprising discovery you made while reporting it?

I used to work as a case manager in supportive housing and most of my clients received food stamps. I spent a lot of time helping them appeal and reapply when their cases were closed, usually because a piece of paperwork went missing or there was some mistake by the city. So issues with food stamp applications were not a total surprise to me, but I was stunned by the extent of the problem. Forty percent of new applicants were forced to wait. And that doesn’t include people who have had problems with recertifying.

More than 1.7 million New Yorkers across 1 million households received food stamps last fiscal year. Forty percent is a huge number.

I was also surprised by the worsening staff shortage at the city’s Human Resources Administration. As of Oct. 31 of this year, the staff vacancy rate was around 20 percent. And that’s a big part of the problem.

Why do you think this article resonated with readers?

Many readers are experiencing this problem and even a one-day wait can have a lasting impact on people with limited, fixed incomes. At least a dozen people have emailed me to describe what they’re going through, either because they’re looking for help or just to vent about how terrible the wait times have been.

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Without your support, we wouldn’t be able to tell stories like this one. We have the rare opportunity with NewsMatch to make your donation go even further. From now until Dec. 31, your support of City Limits will be matched up to $1,000. Will you help us continue to tell stories like this one?
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We need to raise $30,000 by Dec. 31 and we’re 52% there!

Many thanks,
Jeanmarie Evelly

Executive Editor, City Limits

P.S. Make a donation of $200+ by Dec 31, and you’ll receive our limited-edition book: 45 Stories, 45 Years: City Limits’ History of Covering NYC, offering a collection of historical news and photos of our city coverage since 1976.
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