How do Food Stamps Help Immigrants?

36 percent of the New York population are foreign born. Nearly 1.8 million low income families, roughly 22 percent of the New York population, receive SNAP benefits. These benefits help New York City families buy healthier albeit more expensive fruits, vegetables, and other nutritious items as opposed to cheap junk food and fast food. Although there are close to two million New York residents using food stamps, there are also many residents unaware of the fact they may be eligible for SNAP. It is not uncommon to own a house, a car, and have money saved in the bank, yet still be eligible for food stamps.

People can apply for SNAP with the help of community organizations. SNAP organizations in all five boroughs can help as long as applicants bring the necessary required documents. These documents consist of proof of identity, proof of where you live, proof of income (if any), and proof of citizenship or current alien status.

Food Stamps & NYC Immigrants

In New York City, specifically, the percentage of all people who use food stamps range from falling under the US average to above depending upon the borough. From Queens, Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn, and the Bronx respectively, the percentages are 11, 10, 14, 22, and 29 (chart below).


Although there is no clear method to determine how many of the residents currently eligible for food stamps are also immigrants, there is an indirect correlation based on income. While it is incorrect to say all immigrants who move to New York City are low income (the general trend today is for well educated professionals with several degrees to immigrate), the strong immigrant communities in all boroughs typically have lower income medians than non-immigrant communities.

According to a study done by Migration World Magazine, as with many public welfare programs, the assistance SNAP provides influences more than just monetary decisions. Beyond the basic purpose of SNAP, to bridge the budget gap, food stamps also offer much more in terms of cultural development. The most rewarding benefits to enhancing the food stamp program are the secondary cultural benefits developed in immigrant communities when an integral common ground, food, is shared.

Often food is the greatest connection between immigrants and their native country. Especially for those unfamiliar with American culture and who cling to what is familiar, food bonds memories and native traditions. However, the typical specialty produce, spices, and delicacies plentiful in one country often cost more than what is commonly found on US grocery shelves. Food stamps allow immigrants a modest stipend to share native country meals in unfamiliar neighborhoods. In other cases, immigrants who do not live in a polyethnic neighborhood may not have the food of their mother country available to them. With food stamps, it is assured that these immigrant families will not turn to eating what they are familiar with seeing on television– fast food.

In the interviews we conducted, which can be found on the following page, “How do Food Stamps Affect Queens Neighborhoods,” immigrants using food stamps divulged other ways food stamps have helped their families. In short, immigrants found that having food stamps made them more willing to try the food of other cultures, more aware of the food industry, and adapt more easily to US customs.

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