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Tips on Finding Food Resources for Low-Income New Yorkers

by Kyara Martinez, Project Coordinator September 18, 2019

Kyara Martinez is a Project Coordinator with the Justice Center’s Legal Clinic for the Homeless.

According to City Harvest, more than 2.5 million New Yorkers go hungry every year because income has not risen to the cost of living. As New York becomes increasingly expensive, more and more New Yorkers lack the income needed to cover basic necessities such as food, clothing, housing, childcare, and transportation. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, this post covers some alternatives you can take to meet the nutritional needs of you and your family in our increasingly unaffordable city.


If you meet certain income, resource, and immigration-related* requirements, you may be eligible for public benefits, which can provide additional income and/or funds for food that supplements your food budget. Public benefits programs are designed to provide financial relief to individuals and households struggling to make ends meet, and include federal funds for food, income, and subsidized health insurance. For New York City residents, three forms of public benefits are: SNAP (food stamps), Cash Assistance, and Medicaid.

While there are many other kinds of public benefits programs, in this article we focus on SNAP, Cash Assistance/welfare, and WIC (the Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children) which all provide financial relief to families in need that can go towards buying food.

*While the recent Public Charge Rule has caused much concern, it has made no changes to immigrant eligibility for public benefits. For more specific information on the impact of the Public Charge Rule on particular categories of immigrants, please visit the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs page on the Public Charge Rule at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/immigrants/help/legal-services/public-charge.page#_blank.


SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is commonly known as food stamps, and gives families in need funds they can use to buy food at authorized grocery stores and retailers. These funds are set on an electronic card that can be used like an ATM card, and which is accepted by most stores.

To check if you are eligible for SNAP or food stamps, you can use the Access HRA eligibility screener found here, or call 718-557-1399. You can also visit a SNAP Center; to locate a center near you, click here.

In order to apply for SNAP, you must fill out an application. You can download an application online, visit a SNAP Center and apply in person, or apply by phone at 718-557-1399.

Cash Assistance

In addition to SNAP, eligible individuals can also use Cash Assistance to buy food. Cash Assistance is another public benefits program that helps low or no-income families and individuals meet their basic needs with funds for things like food, clothing, and shelter. The New York City cash assistance information page can be found here.

To apply for cash assistance, you have to visit an HRA Job/Service Center; a map of HRA Job and Service Center locations can be found here. You can also apply for SNAP and Medicaid at HRA Job/Service Centers. Before visiting, you can find out what documents you need to apply for Cash Assistance online at this page.


The Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC Benefits) is another form of public benefits that provides eligible low income women, infants and children up to age five with free nutritious foods, information on healthy eating, and health care referrals. WIC aims to serve women and children who are more likely to experience poor nutrition, such as pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding women, infants, and children up to age five.

WIC provides recipients with vouchers from a list of food items; these vouchers are $10 to $15 for women depending on their breastfeeding status and $8 for children. NYS WIC participants can buy WIC-approved foods at participating stores using an eWIC card, which is like a debit card.

To apply for WIC, you have to visit a local agency that provides WIC services. The New York State Department of Health’s WIC Program Website provides a list of agencies providing WIC services here. To find the WIC Local Agency closest to you, you can also call the Growing Up Healthy Hotline at 1-800-522-5006. When it comes time for you to visit an Agency for an appointment, you can refer to this online publication on “What to Bring to Your WIC Appointment.


Food pantries and soup kitchens are located throughout the city, and offer free food to people in need. You can find food near you using the Food Bank for New York City’s locator, which lists all the food banks, soup kitchens, senior centers, and other places you can get help near your zip code.


The New York City Department of Education offers free breakfast and lunch to all students during the school year. Families do not need to apply in order for their child to receive school meals but they should complete the Family Income Inquiry Form. This form helps schools receive money for their meal programs.

Some schools also offer afterschool meal programs. Please contact the school’s administration to see if the school has an afterschool meal program. Additionally, students are eligible to receive a morning snack and/or lunch if a school hosts an activity on a Saturday or on a holiday.

The Door is a youth development organization that offers free, nutritious meals to young people aged 12-24. To access the Door’s services, young people should become members by visiting the Door’s Membership office at 555 Broome Street, 2 PM to 5 PM Mondays through Fridays, or 2 PM to 7 PM on Wednesdays. The Door offers an array of food and nutrition services to its members, which include evening meals on the weekdays, snacks, nutritional education and counseling, cooking workshops, and emergency food packs.


The GrowNYC Greenmarket Farmers’ Markets allows SNAP recipients to use their benefits to buy fruits and vegetables, and have access to the use of Health Bucks. Health Bucks are $2 coupons that may be used by SNAP recipients to purchase fresh foods and vegetables at all NYC farmers’ markets. SNAP recipients can receive a Health Buck for every $5 worth of SNAP benefits they redeem (i.e SNAP recipient redeems $10 SNAP they’ll receive two Health Bucks worth $4).

The Stellar Farmers Markets provides multi-language nutritional education and cooking workshops (July through November).  When a SNAP recipient attends a Stellar Farmers Markets workshop and completes a survey they will receive Health Bucks worth $2.

Additional nutrition benefit programs and incentives are now accepted at GrowNYC sites other than SNAP/EBT such as Health Bucks, Greenmarket Bucks, Fresh Connect Coupons, Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, and WIC Fruit and Vegetable Checks (accepted by select Greenmarket farmers). Greenmarket, Youthmarket and Fresh Food Box in all five boroughs now accept SNAP/EBT.


There are an array of programs administered by the federal Social Security Administration, which provide additional means for people in need. Though they are not discussed in this article, these programs can provide vital relief for people who are struggling to make ends meet, and include programs like Social Security Retirement, Social Security Disability, Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income. Please visit the Social Security Administration website or the New York Region Social Security website for information on these programs and how to apply.

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