How do Food Stamps Affect Queens Neighborhoods?

For a specific focus on how food stamps affect neighborhoods, we did in-depth reviews on food stamps in two different communities within Queens: East Elmhurst and Flushing. Relatively nearby one another, these two neighborhoods have a few of the fastest growing immigrant populations. All three of the ethnic backgrounds immigrating to New York the most (Mexicans, Ecuadorians, and Chinese) are settling down around either of the two neighborhoods.

East Elmhurst

The lives of immigrants are heavily influenced by the food stamps program. Many of these immigrants are thankful for the government assistance but others claim that the benefits they receive from SNAP are not sufficient. These mixed feelings are prominent in the hearts of immigrants. Of the several I interviewed in East Elmhurst, most called for increased action to solve the apparent problems within SNAP. Interviews have been conducted with several immigrants across multiple nationalities.

The most common complaint I heard discussed were feelings that the government does not really understand the magnitude of low income family problems,and that the money that they receive to do grocery shopping barely keeps the family from going hungry. Mexican immigrants in East Elmhurst have many small children in their families, and are under pressure to provide enough nutritous food to match their children’s needs. “It’s just one of those problems,” says Miguel, a Mexican immigrant who lives on food stamps and provides for his children. “Enough is not enough, and it’s something they don’t understand, even after we voted for them.” Miguel has a lot to say about what “they” are doing wrong. “They” refers to the government officials, who Miguel says “we voted for and did a favor for them, but they never compensated us and heard our complaints.” SNAP is one of the main programs immigrants heavily rely on, yet in the eyes of immigrants the goal of the program is hardly met in a sufficient manner.

Other immigrant families are quite happy and thankful for the food stamps program. “How else would I have been able to feed my kids,” says Bertha, a mother of three young boys who still attend elementary school. Bertha is an Ecuadorian woman who says raising children in this country is so much easier, safer, and economically “worth it” compared to being back in Ecuador. She says SNAP is “doing her a big favor” and makes her feel like she is able to do something for her kids. She is a full-time mother, and says SNAP is “just a blessing” and one of those things that makes her feel lucky. Bertha hopes that one day her children will realize how much the food stamps program has helped their family, and that her children will be as thankful to the government for implementing such aid for the people of the country.

Families with children under the age of 18 tend to receive SNAP more easily than families that consist of just adults. Immigrant families that have no children expect to have children to provide themselves with a future in the United States, and having children in this country is a blessing to many families that come from foreign countries. SNAP has helped children in East Elmhurst grow, since the day they were born until they grow into adults. Immigrant families in East Elmhurst come from China, Jamaica, Mexico, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Pakistan, Haiti, Trinidad, and so many other countries around the world. In a study conducted at the Trade Fair Supermarket in the neighborhood, one out of ten families were on food stamps, and mainly came from South Asian countries or Jamaica. Nonetheless, immigrants have both dissenting and positive outlooks on the food stamps program, and many await to see what policies the government will enact to further improve the program.

A short walk down Astoria Boulevard- places accepting EBT:


98 street Deli Grocery: We Accept Food Stamp


Deli grocery on 94 st: sign says, “We Now Accept EBT & Food Stamps”


93rd st Deli: sign says, “We Accept WIC Checks and Food Stamps”


The most dominant ethnicity in Flushing is Chinese. However, the neighborhood is extremely polyethnic, as one is able to tell from a stroll down the busiest street, Main Street. Korean, Mexican, Ecuadorian, Greek, and Indian are some of the other ethnic backgrounds with a discernible presence in Flushing.

Catering to these various ethnicities has diversified the variety of shops and supermarkets in Flushing. And all of these grocers accept food stamps. The map below is a visual representation of the number of food stores in Flushing that accept food stamps.

I noticed that the majority of people I approached to speak to regarding food stamps were hesitant to (1) confirm that they had just used an EBT card to pay for their food although I had just seen them use it and (2) to share their feelings about SNAP. However, the three people who were willing to discuss some of their experiences in the program expressed generally positive sentiments toward the program.

Xu, who immigrated over nine years ago and is a mother of two, said that she is very thankful for SNAP. Her main concern before applying for the program was the rising cost of food and how to budget accordingly. With SNAP she knows  how much she has at the beginning of every month which allows her to plan her meals and money out more wisely. Xu expressed that when she is reasonably frugal with what every supermarket in the area is promoting, it is also easy for her to stretch her food stamp benefits to include some more expensive splurge items now and then.

Gaohen, who I spoke to next, is a Chinese high school student who immigrated with his family four years ago. That day, it was his responsibility to buy groceries after all his classes. When I asked him if he thought there was any negative stigma attached to using food stamps, he commented that he had to leave his friends early to shop alone because he didn’t want them knowing his family used food stamps. He said that although it shouldn’t be something to be ashamed about, he still felt uncomfortable letting them know. Additionally, he said that he knew several friends whose families use food stamps. Then, I asked if there was any benefit besides the money of having food stamps. Gaohen mentioned how his family experiments with a lot of other cultural ingredients and produce in their meals. This inadvertently exposed him to more cultures and made him more comfortable in his polyethnic neighborhood.

Lastly, I spoke to Aisha, a Bangladeshi mother doing her weekly shopping. The most remarkable part of her story was how open she was to sharing how food stamps have affected her family. When her family moved to Flushing for the reasonable housing, the only supermarkets available were the Chinese supermarkets. After shopping at them for so many years, Aisha has grown incredibly comfortable with the Chinese cuisine. Her family is currently in the process of starting their own deli store with the hope of catering to not only their own Bangladeshi people but everyone of Flushing.

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