Cuts coming for food assistance

MARIETTA – The money some people in the area use to help put food on their tables will take another hit this fall.

In January, recipients of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps, saw a drop of about $50 because of new calculations at the state level, based on utility bills.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities indicated the cut would mean $193 million less in assistance through September 2014 to Ohio residents who depend on the program.

That could mean $29 less per month for a family of three, according to The Associated Press.

More than 1.8 million Ohioans receive food stamp aid, dispensed through “swipe” cards. The program costs more than $2.4 billion a year in the Buckeye State alone.

Those “swipe” cards are part of the SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps.

The amount the SNAP program will face in cuts comes as a result of the end to the hike in the maximum benefits Ohio’s recipients were awarded each month in 2009 included in the economic stimulus package, which expires in November.

In Washington County, 7,992 people, or 3,948 assistance group (typically families) receive an average of $180 per assistance group in SNAP benefits, said Candy Nelson, supervisor at the Washington County Department of Job and Family Services.

As far as the November cuts, Nelson said she hesitates to comment without knowing the exact amount of reduction or other details.

With the expected drop in SNAP benefits, more people and families likely will have to depend on help from the Valley’s food pantries, including the Marietta Community Food Pantry.

Director Bill Farnsworth said the food pantry staff does not ask about income or the situations of their clients. The client indicates income level on a form for Job and Family Services purposes.

“Most people just tell if they are having a tough time,” Farnsworth said. “They have an unexpected medical or child expense. Occasionally, they need help with utilities or gasoline or being evicted.”

Farnsworth said people who sign up for benefits, such as SNAP, can get food right away at the food pantry because the SNAP benefits do not start for 30 days. Others, he said, say they work part-time and cannot make ends meet.

The situation isn’t confined to Marietta, but also occurs throughout the rest of Washington County and Ohio.

“With the cuts to food stamps, we are helping people out in the areas we serve more often than we did,” Linda Allen, head of the Western Washington County Food Pantry in Vincent.

Those coming to the pantry didn’t know how they are going to get enough food when the most recent round of cuts began this past January, Allen said.

One man told Allen he would have to depend on the pantry’s help for a while, but in the summer, he would have a garden.

The Ohio Association of Food Banks has estimated if food stamp benefits are cut by $40 billion, 163,000 adults living in Ohio not raising young children and working fewer than 20 hours per week would see their food benefits end.

In 2012, shoppers bought $829.1 billion in groceries at retailers and farmers markets across the U.S. Of that amount, more than 9 percent, or $75.2 million, of that total was paid for with SNAP or other food stamp-type programs.