On the first of this month, the 47 million Americans enrolled in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, had their food assistance benefits slashed. Now families, nonprofits and the region must come up with a way to fill the void left by the cuts.
Since 87 percent of SNAP recipients live in households with children, seniors or people with disabilities, the cuts hit both society’s poorest and its most vulnerable. Monthly benefit losses range from $11 for an individual to $43 for households of five people. For a family of four, the cuts mean a loss of $36 per month, the equivalent of about 21 meals. That’s 21 meals that already cash-strapped families must now come up with, and the loss is expected to leave many turning to resource-strapped food pantries, shelters and emergency kitchens.
“Anytime there are significant cuts to a program such as SNAP, the nonprofit community tends to be the safety net that we fall back on to be able to provide the additional assistance that’s needed,” said George Matysik, director of government affairs at Philabundance. “I think anytime you continue to make cuts as drastic as these you’re chipping away at that safety net, and it becomes more and more difficult.”
The largest hunger relief organization in the region, Philabundance distributed 30 million pounds of food to its 500 partner agencies in 2012. The organization works in both Pennsylvania, where one in seven residents or 1.8 million people receive SNAP assistance, and New Jersey, where an additional 868,000 people are enrolled in SNAP.
Philabundance and its partners – food cupboards, shelters and emergency kitchens – are bracing for the increased demand that the cuts are expected to create.
“It’s particularly difficult in that the holiday season always tends to be a period of high demand, and when you layer on top of that significant cuts to the SNAP program and then begin addressing additional cuts through the Farm Bill, you’re really seeing a perfect storm,” Matysik said.
“To meet that need, we’re going to be all hands on deck,” he said. “Whether that is through fundraising, food raising, you name it, we’re going to be all hands on deck.”
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Ronna Bolante, communications manager at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, said many food assistance providers are in a similar situation.
“They just don’t have the capacity to meet the increased demand that they’re going to have when people realize they’re getting less SNAP benefits this month,” she said.
Already some food pantries are forced to turn people away because they do not have enough supply to meet existing demands.
“They’re going to be even more taxed than they already are,” Bolante said.
The worst may be yet to come
“Right now a lot of folks are just realizing that their SNAP benefits have been reduced,” Bolante said, noting that many will not know until they get to a cash register.
Individuals are not the only ones who will be impacted by the cuts. There is a larger economic component too.
John Weidman, deputy executive director at The Food Trust, said while the primary concern is whether SNAP participants will have enough food, a close second concern is whether food businesses that accept large amounts of SNAP benefits will be able to survive.
“I think we’ve proven effectively that food businesses can be viable in low income neighborhoods, but one of the key parts of that is the food stamp program,” Weidman said.
In some low-income communities in Philadelphia, SNAP accounts for as much as one-third of stores’ revenue, Bolante said. Under the latest cuts, Pennsylvania is set to lose $183 million in SNAP spending just in the remainder of this fiscal year, and Philadelphia, which will lose $51 million in SNAP spending, will bear the brunt of these cuts.
To make matters worse, there is talk of additional cuts, ranging anywhere from $4 billion to $40 billion over a ten-year period.
SNAP is authorized under the U.S. Farm Bill, and as leaders look to reduce the national deficit, they are looking to cut from the U.S. Farm Bill and, again, from SNAP. According to the Coalition Against Hunger, the most draconian cuts of $40 billion could lead to an estimated 3.8 million Americans being cut from the SNAP program entirely, and 210,000 low-income children could lose access to free school meals.
“What really keeps us up at night is the discussion happening in Washington around the Farm Bill,” Matysik said.
“We want to be able to provide food access,” he said. “That’s our role, not only as Philabundance but that’s our role as society, that we should never let anybody in our region or in our country go hungry. With the current political climate in Congress it certainly feels as though there are those out there that don’t feel that that’s part of our responsibility as Americans, and I think clearly that’s just wrong.”
(Photo via Flickr user Polycart)-30-
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