By Marisa Grant
Beginning today, 1.7 million food stamp recipients in North Carolina will find it more difficult to put food on the table.
For several years, since the start of the economic downturn, families receiving assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, often called food stamps) have gotten a boost to their monthly checks as part of a temporary aid package provided by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The SNAP program is an anti-hunger initiative designed to assist low-income families and help bolster local economies.
But the additional dollars expired on Oct 31.
On Sept. 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed, by a 217-210 margin, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act. Provisions in the bill included a reduction in funding of the SNAP program of $40 billion over the next 10 years.
All but one of North Carolina’s Republican representatives voted in favor of the cuts; all of the state’s Democratic delegates opposed the measure.
The sole Republican holdout from North Carolina’s delegation was Rep. Walter Jones. Jones, who was joined by 14 other Republicans in Congress in voting against the cuts, released a statement after the vote in which he said the cuts would impact people, “the vast majority of whom are children, seniors and disabled adults.”
Jones also wrote that the bill “would also do away with reforms that I have strongly supported in the past, which gives states like North Carolina the flexibility to administer SNAP program benefits in the way that works best for North Carolinians.”
Further cuts to SNAP may be made when the U.S. Senate votes on a proposed farm bill. But 39 senators signed a petition cautioning against additional cuts, noting that it would negatively impact millions of Americans.
Neither Sen. Burr nor Sen. Hagan signed the petition.
16 to 21 meals a month
Throughout the country, about 48 million people are expected to be affected by the cuts.
In North Carolina, most people received $121.37 per month throughout 2012. A household of four will see a $36 per month reduction and a person living alone will see an $11 per month reduction. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this equates to an approximate reduction of between 16 to 21 meals a month.
The impact in North Carolina is expected to be substantial. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Carolina ranks 10th in the country in the number of people who receive SNAP benefits. Eighty-one percent of North Carolina SNAP recipients live below the poverty line, and about half of those live in extreme poverty, at below 50 percent of the poverty line.
The CBPP further notes that in North Carolina, 758,000 children and 285,000 elderly or people with disabilities will be affected by these cuts. In addition, more than 50,000 veterans are expected to take a hit to their monthly benefits.
The state’s economy is expected to take a hit as well. According to the CBPP, about $166 million in benefits will be lost. The CBPP report calculated that in 2012, SNAP benefits generated $2.43 billion into North Carolina’s general economy.
Representatives from several food organizations noted how much SNAP benefits help the state’s economic growth, pointing out that every $1 in SNAP assistance has been found to equate to $1.70 in economic activity.
Alan Briggs, executive director of the N.C. Association of Feeding America Food Banks, said that the cuts to the SNAP program are “one more blow to North Carolina’s economy.” Briggs noted that money from the SNAP benefits affects everything from a grocery store’s revenue to workers and their jobs to farmers.
More folks to food banks
According to the CBPP, Briggs and others, several factors have led to an increase in the number of people who rely on assistance in order to provide food for themselves and their families, including losing a job, the general state of the economy, Hurricane Irene and the recent government shutdown.
Furthermore, these factors can determine how long a person continues to receive assistance.
SNAP beneficiaries can receive assistance for anywhere from three months to a year. When benefits expire, recipients must reapply with their county’s department of social services.
The reduced amount is anticipated to cause more people to rely on local food banks and other community organizations that provide food to needy families, Briggs said.
“As people lose benefits or see them reduced, often the only alternative is to go to a food bank,” he said. “We are expecting more people to come [as a result].”
Another issue for recipients of SNAP benefits is that many of them don’t know their benefits are being reduced. The state’s Department of Health and Human Services, which supervises the program, is not required to notify individuals that their benefits are being reduced.
DHHS sent notification to social services departments in all 100 counties instructing the departments to post notices in English and Spanish. Notices were also provided to food banks and community organizations throughout the state.
Employees of the Department of Social Services in several counties said they have not received inquiries from recipients of SNAP benefits asking about the reductions.
One employee, who asked not to be identified, said, “People probably don’t know their benefits are getting reduced. When they find out, we will start getting calls.”