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The internet is making bricks-and-mortar welfare offices obsolete, de Blasio says


Food Stamps and EBT sign (Andrew Savulich/New York Daily News)

Mayor de Blasio brushed off concerns that closing another food stamp distribution center would hurt the neediest New Yorkers – and insisted the city also has to save money.

“The overwhelming majority of the clients now either get their benefits online or by phone, and the usage in those centers has gone down quite a bit,” de Blasio said on Wednesday when asked about the city’s latest closure plans. “We have to be smart about how we spend our money.”

The city plans to close the St. Nicholas SNAP Center on 125th St. and St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem on June 28. Two other SNAP centers in Brooklyn were closed in September, though one later re-opened at a new location.

An estimated 1.6 million New Yorkers get food stamps, according to the most recent city data. As of January, 87% choose to access benefits online and 97% are conducting SNAP interviews over the phone.

Recipients still worry the closure will make getting benefits more difficult. And advocates say the most vulnerable recipients – including seniors, people with children, disabled New Yorkers and the homeless – will feel the closures the most.

“We have to make some smart moves to keep our fiscal strength,” de Blasio said. “If a center is getting less and less use, there are times when you make a decision to close it and I think it’s appropriate but there has to be alternatives that are nearby enough.”

The mayor pointed out that there’s a SNAP center in East Harlem, which is about a mile from the Harlem location closing later this month.

“It’s not that far in the scheme of things,” de Blasio said.