Updated October 22, 2014 9:36 PM
Family poverty in the Town of Babylon rose between 2010 and 2013, according to Census Bureau estimates released last month.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 Babylon families were living in poverty last year — about 8 percent of families in the town. The bureau estimated that the family poverty rate was between 2 percent and 4.4 percent in 2010.
Babylon was the only Long Island town for which data were reported by the bureau where the rise in the family poverty rate from 2010 to 2013 was statistically significant. The federal poverty level for a family of four last year was a household income of less than $23,834.
Suffolk County’s family poverty rate was estimated at 5.5 percent last year, with no appreciable difference from 2012, but up from 4.1 percent in 2010.
Babylon Town’s overall poverty rate in 2013 was estimated at 9.1 percent, a statistically significant jump from 2010 when it was estimated at 5 percent.
The need for food pantries and outreach centers is, in some cases, growing five years after the end of the recession and two years after superstorm Sandy, agency operators said.
“It feels like the economic recovery has not reached the lower incomes,” said Keith Mainhart, outreach director at a center run by St. Martin of Tours in Amityville.
“We are a middle-class town that has really taken the brunt of the Great Recession,” Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said. Superstorm Sandy, he said, “may have pushed some families that were on the edge over the edge.”
Circumstances for some families may have improved since the Census’ American Community Survey research was conducted, he said, citing an improving regional economy.
Vito Colletti, president of the Mercy INN Soup Kitchen in Wyandanch, said he expected the need for services to “go back down, but it doesn’t ever go back to normal.” The INN, which serves hot lunches, counted 17,957 daily guests in 2012 and 22,010 in 2013. Through September this year, it had served 17,410 people, the agency reported.
Catholic Charities, which supports a variety of services at six parish outreach centers across Babylon Town, saw a 10.7 percent increase in the number of people served from 2012 to 2013. This year demand is up by 15 percent at one of the busiest centers, the Gerald J. Ryan Outreach Center at Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Roman Catholic Church in Wyandanch, officials said.
“These numbers are an alarm bell,” said Richard Koubek, a board member there and chairman of the Suffolk Welfare to Work Commission, which has reported on rising poverty across Long Island. “We are in trouble.”
Social service providers say a variety of factors could be behind the increase in the poverty rate, including cuts to food stamps, rising cost of living and persistent underemployment.
Still, executives at food banks Long Island Cares and Island Harvest have sharply increased the amount of food to food pantries and soup kitchens in the town.
“Emergency food banks are no longer for emergencies,” said Jessica Rosati, chief program officer at Long Island Cares. “We are helping families meet basic needs.”