They are the faces on the food lines, the callers on hold for hours to get benefits, the mothers and fathers breaking down and asking for help. The coronavirus pandemic cut their lifeline to a salary and benefits, sending many plummeting into Long Island’s safety net of food pantries, food stamps and unemployment benefits.
They are the first wave of Long Islanders hit the hardest by the COVID-19 shutdown.
Some were already on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. But there are those who were doing well who lost their jobs and, after a few months, no longer have the savings to sustain them, said Rebecca Sanin, president of the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island.
“We’re seeing issues of hunger explode,” Sanin said. “There’s a whole new set of people reaching out for food stamps to put food on the table.”
Applications for food stamps have doubled on Long Island — to 17,717 in February through April — compared with this time last year. One food bank, Island Harvest Food Bank, has distributed more than 1 million pounds of food during the crisis. Over the past two months, more than 287,000 Long Islanders — roughly a fifth of all working residents — filed for unemployment.
Worse, those running the food banks and other charities said they see tougher times ahead.
Adrian Fassett, chief executive officer for the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk, said people have received protections from the government, but, “wait for three or four months when people have to pay rent and mortgages. It’s going to get worse.”