Agencies helping poor see demand increase from food-stamp cuts

Dec. 01, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

Stephanie Strickland, whose nonprofit ministry in Thomasville helps the poor as they approach desperation, said she’s seeing the cause-and-effect consequence between greater demand for help and the phase-out of extra money for low-income people through a federal food program.
Strickland, executive director of Cooperative Community Ministry, said the nonprofit has noted an increase in people coming in for assistance since early November. For example, on Nov. 25 ministry staff and volunteers assisted 56 people, she said. In her two years with the ministry, the highest number of people helped in one day is 61.
“Being that we are only open from 9 to 11:30 and 1 to 3:30 for client services, you can imagine seeing that many people during that time for food and financial assistance,” Strickland told The High Point Enterprise.
Advocates for the poor say one reason for the increase in requests for help from nonprofits here and across the nation is a little-recognized end to extra benefits through what’s commonly referred to as the food stamp program.
For the past four years, individuals and families receiving help through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called SNAP, got a boost in benefits. People getting greater SNAP benefits until Nov. 1 were among the last beneficiaries of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly known as the stimulus program.
The $812 billion stimulus, the first major legislation through President Barack Obama, included greater SNAP assistance for low-income people sapped by the Great Recession. But Congress didn’t act to extend the modest increase in SNAP benefits when the stimulus boost phased out at the first of November, reports the N.C. Justice Center.
“Cuts to SNAP are already having a significant impact on families who, for a family of three, are seeing a reduction of $29 a month. That may not seem like a lot. But for a family whose benefits after the cut average only $1.40 per person, per meal, the reduction is making already tough decisions — like paying the bills or feeding a hungry child — even tougher,” according to the Justice Center, a liberal-leaning group based in Raleigh.
People seeking assistance from Cooperative Community Ministry have mentioned that they aren’t “able to make it as well on what they were getting” from government programs, Strickland said. “So they come to us for emergency food. We always remember those who are hungry and cold this time of year, and we ask people to give more.”
A staff member at Open Door Ministries in High Point said her nonprofit also is helping people who say they are receiving less in food stamp assistance.
At least two parents — one of two children, another of three children — filed requests with the nonprofit during November saying they need help because of reduced SNAP benefits, said Open Door’s Leslie Graham.
Congress now is locked in a partisan debate about the future of SNAP program funding. The Obama administration and its allies in and out of Congress say food stamp help, at minimum, shouldn’t be cut because of the need by families still recovering from the impact of the recession. Republicans and conservative critics of SNAP say there’s abuse of the food stamp program by those who aren’t truly in need, as well as the fiscal strain the program places on the federal deficit.

pjohnson@hpe.com | 888-3528

 

SNAP aid program

• The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, previously known as the food stamp program, is one of the nation’s largest federal programs to help low-income individuals and families with food assistance. Known commonly as SNAP, the program is administered through the Food and Nutrition Service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
• Nearly 48 million people nationwide and 1.7 million in North Carolina receive SNAP assistance. The program also helps seniors, people with disabilities and veterans.
Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture, N.C. Justice Center