Sunday, November 3, 2013

Food stamp cuts hit hard, officials say

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Nearly 320,000 Kansans will have less money to buy food under the cut in food stamps that went into effect Friday.

"The results will be shattering to low-income families in Douglas County," said Jeremy Farmer, chief executive officer of Just Food, the Douglas County food bank.

Farmer said he expects to see a dramatic increase in the number of people using Just Food resources near the end of November, and every month going forward. Because of this, Farmer is putting out the call for 212 people to pledge $30 per month to make up the loss.

In 2009, the economic stimulus package provided extra funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps, to help people during the Great Recession.

That extra funding has run out, meaning that a family of four that had been receiving the maximum allotment of $668 per month, will now receive $632 in food stamps per month, or $36 less than before.

That is the equivalent of losing 27 meals per month, according to calculations used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Christie Appelhanz, vice president of Kansas Action for Children, said she doubts food pantries will be able to make up for the cuts in food stamps.

"Food pantries are stretched to the limit," she said. She said she believes more children will go hungry. "We all know that kids that go hungry don't do as well in school and are more likely to get sick," she said.

The food program is negotiated through the farm bill, now being debated in a conference committee between lawmakers in the two houses of Congress. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the farm bill, which also determines farm-support payments. Dairy farmers already are warning that the price of milk could leap.

Republicans are seeking to tighten eligibility requirements for food aid and to impose new work requirements on recipients.

A bill has been introduced in the House to extend by one year the benefits increase contained in the Recovery Act through the 2014 fiscal year, but it is sitting in a House committee.

Appelhanz says she doesn't believe the economy has improved enough to cut back on food stamps.

"I'm concerned that the children who are living in poverty today will become tomorrow's poor adults," Appelhanz said.

Congress has proposed even further cuts, from $4 billion to $40 billion per year, and Gov. Sam Brownback's administration has initiated some cuts on its own.

Last month, the Kansas Department of Children and Families discontinued use of a federal grant program to help poor people apply for food stamps.

In September, state officials announced they would not seek renewal of a federal waiver that allowed 20,000 Kansans, who were unemployed and childless, to receive benefits under SNAP. The change in policy was to encourage people to get jobs, said DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore.

And last year, the Brownback administration changed the way it counts food stamp eligibility, which cut food stamps going to thousands of children in households that contained a mixture of legal citizens and undocumented immigrants. After that change took effect, food pantries, churches and social service agencies said they were inundated with requests for food.

According to the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, 11 percent of Kansans participate in the food assistance program and nearly half are children.

Of the nearly 320,000 Kansans who receive food stamps, 12,400 are military veterans and 51,000 are elderly or disabled.

Journal-World reporter Nikki Wentling and The Associated Press contributed to this story.