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Poverty Levels in NYC

Some of the primary causes for domestic hunger and food insecurity include poverty, unemployment, lack of affordable housing, high healthcare costs, and lack of access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Areas where residents cannot access affordable and nutritious food also contribute to hunger and food insecurity. Numerous studies have shown that hunger and food insecurity are prevalent among children, college students, the elderly, minority groups and undocumented immigrants.

According to a recent report, 18% of adults and 15% of children in New York City lived in poverty in 2021. Before the pandemic, nearly 1 in 5 adults (or 1.2 million people) lived in poverty.

The poverty rate in New York City has remained relatively steady since 1980, at around 20%, yet exceeding both national (11.6%) and state (13.9%) levels.

However, the City’s poverty measure was significantly higher than the federal measure. According to the latest New York City Government Poverty Measure Report (NYCgov poverty measure), 40.8% of New York City residents were living at or near poverty in 2019.

The NYCgov poverty measure was developed in response to the shortfalls of the Census Bureau’s official measure, which does not accurately reflect other factors related to poverty, such as Earned Income Tax Credit, SNAP benefits, housing subsidies, health care, transportation and childcare costs.

SNAP Recipients

Feb 2023
1,754,927 People
19% of NYC Residents

Emergency Food Providers

April 2023
559 Locations
479 Food Pantries / 80 Soup Kitchens

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Food Insecurity

Nationally, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), in 2021, 13.5 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, meaning at some point during the year they had difficulty providing enough food for all household members due to a lack of resources or insufficient money for food.

While the prevalence of food insecurity for all households remained the same for most householders, food insecurity increased significantly from 2020 for households with no children, especially women living alone and elderly people living alone.

According to the NYC Mayor’s Office of Food Policy annual 2022 Food Metrics Annual Report, an estimated 1.2 million (14.6%) New York City residents were food insecure.

The Bronx has the highest rate at 19.7%, followed by Brooklyn at 15.5%, Manhattan at 13.6%, Queens at 12.1% and Staten Island at 10.1%.

New York City’s residents make up 50% of all food insecure people living in New York State.

According to Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization, 1 in 10 New Yorkers, or 1,882,580 people, struggle with hunger, and of them 596,060 are children.

Nearly 1.2 million New Yorkers were food insecure even before the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 185 million missing meals across the five boroughs, also known as “The Meal Gap.”

Additionally, average meal costs in New York County are estimated to be $6.31, almost twice as high as the national average, $3.25. In New York, high food prices can make circumstances even more difficult for food-insecure households.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, is the cornerstone of the nation’s safety net and nutrition assistance programs, providing assistance to millions of eligible low-income people.

Benefit levels for SNAP are based on criteria including, but not limited to, household size and income levels. Prior to the pandemic, SNAP households received and average of $240 a month.

SNAP benefits increased from April 2020 through February 2023, SNAP benefits increased temporarily due to COVID-19 legislation. However, after the emergency allotments ended earlier this year, it is estimated that SNAP benefits will decrease to $182 per month per person, or $6.00 per person per day.

SNAP provides assistance to recipients by offering monthly electronic benefits that can be used to purchase food at authorized stores.

According to research, spending by SNAP households “multiplies” throughout the national economy, as businesses supplying food and in turn, their employees, have additional funds to make purchases of their own. SNAP can also help lift people out of poverty. SNAP benefits lifted at least 2.9 million people out of poverty in 2020.

Since 2012, the number of SNAP recipients has been trending downward, peaking at 1,906,610 in December 2012 and then declining to a ten-year low point in February 2020 at 1,481,257 recipients.

SNAP Recipients in NYC

Jan 2012 – March 2023

Percentage of Population Utilizing SNAP Program

December, 2022

Notably, February 2020 was the last full month before the full onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, after which enrollment quickly spiked, hitting 1,705,337 recipients in September 2020.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the enrollment levels have fluctuated somewhat, as Federal and State changes to programs rules, unemployment, and other economic factors influenced enrollment levels.

Even with the waning impact of the pandemic, SNAP enrollment levels have not returned to those seen pre-pandemic and the highest level of enrollment since the start of the pandemic was in January 2023 when it hit 1,767,422 recipients.

SNAP enrollment rates vary across New York City, with Brooklyn having the highest enrollment rate of 33% of the borough’s population.

Bronx has 22% enrollment within the population with Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island having roughly 14% enrollment amongst the borough’s population.

SNAP Benefits Utilization by Community District

December, 2022

Overall, as of December 2022, approximately 20% of all New York City residents were enrolled in SNAP – that is one in every five people.

The five Community Districts with the highest percentage of residents on SNAP, each with over 40%, are all located in the Bronx.

There are eight Community Districts with a percentage of residents on SNAP between 30 and 40%, with three in the Bronx, four in Brooklyn, and one in Manhattan.

Generally, all areas experienced an increase in SNAP utilization, with the exception of two Community Districts in Manhattan.

However, areas with lower SNAP percentages pre-pandemic had greater increases since March 2022, especially Community Districts in Queens and Staten Island.

The Community Districts that saw the biggest increase in SNAP usage between 2019 and 2022 were Queens CB11 (43% increase), Staten Island CB3 (37% increase), Queens CB7 (36% increase), Queens CB9 (31% increase), and Staten Island CB2 (29% increase).

Two Community Districts saw a decrease in SNAP utilization, namely Manhattan CB1 (8% decrease) and Manhattan CB5 (24% decrease).

Emergency Food Assistance Program/Community Food Connection

HRA’s Community Food Connection (CFC), formerly the Emergency Food Assistance Program (EFAP), administers funding and coordinates the distribution of shelf-stable food to more than 500 food pantries and community kitchens citywide.

Reports from the end of 2022 show that food pantries had served 7,315,960 individuals and community kitchens had served 795,751 meals in New York City.

CFC also provides administrative support to cover utilities, equipment, office supplies, and personnel to a food provider (food pantries and community kitchens) with the aim to improve the nutritional status of low-income New Yorkers.

Emergency food assistance is an essential service that is often used to supplement SNAP benefits, since SNAP benefits supply, on average, approximately two weeks’ worth of food for most households.

In fiscal year 2022, CFC distributed 17,755,087 pounds of shelf stable and frozen foods. Through the City’s Pandemic Food Reserved Emergency Distribution (PFRED) program the City also distributed 55,551,690 pounds of food including fresh fruits and vegetables and culturally relevant food.

According to a Food Bank for New York City survey in early 2018, pre-dating COVID-19, 80% of food pantries and soup kitchens in NYC had seen elevated traffic and 40% reported the number of visitors increased by more than half.

Nearly half of food pantries and soup kitchens have an operating budget of under $25,000.

Before the pandemic, over half of soup kitchens and food pantries reported running out of food and 29% reported turning people away because of lack of food.

Emergency Food Providers by Community District

April, 2023

The Community Districts with the most Emergency Food Assistance Programs per capita are:

  • Brooklyn CB 17 (East Flatbush, Ramsen Village, Farragut, Rugby, Erasmus)
  • Bronx CB 3 (Crotona Park, Claremont Village, Concourse Village, Woodstock)
  • Queens CB 12 (Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Rochdale Village)
  • Bronx CB 2 (Hunts Point, Longwood, and Morrisania)
  • Brooklyn CB 16 (Brownsville and Ocean Hill)
  • Bronx CB 1 (Mott Haven, Port Morris, and Melrose)
The Community Districts with the fewest Emergency Food Assistance Programs per capita are:

  • Manhattan CB 1 (Tribeca, Seaport/Civic Center, Financial District, Battery Park City)
  • Manhattan CB 6 (Stuyvesant Town, Tudor City, Turtle Bay, Peter Cooper Village)
  • Queens CB 11 (Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Auburndale, East Flushing)
  • Staten Island CB 2 (New Dorp, Old Town, Richmondtown, South Beach, Todt Hill)
  • Queens CB 4 (Corona, Corona Heights, Elmhurst, and Newtown)
  • Bronx CB 11 (Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, Pelham Gardens, Allerton, Bronxdale)
Across the City’s 51 City Council Districts, there were 559 emergency food providers, enrolled in HRA’s Community Food Connection (CFC).

479 emergency food providers were food pantries and 80 were soup kitchens.

Community Districts with more Community Food Connection (CFC) tend to also have a higher percentage of SNAP recipients per capita.

There are some exceptions. Compared to NYC at large where there are 5.8 CFC locations per 100k residents and 19.6% of the city is a SNAP recipient, CB 12 in Brooklyn (Boro Park, Kensington, Ocean Parkway, and Midwood) has 32% SNAP recipients and less than 2 CFC locations, and CB 5 in Manhattan (Midtown) has 7% SNAP recipients and 11 CFC locations.

Food Access

For more data research & visualizations on food insecurity and food access in New York City, visit the FEED-NYC dashboard.

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Created by the NYC Council Data Team