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Obama’s budget plan would shrink nonprofit for poor SNAP

Tue., Feb. 15, 2011

The spending plan unveiled by the Obama administration on Monday would halve funding for two programs that provide Spokane’s most vulnerable residents with heat and shelter.

It also would mean layoffs at the agency that administers those funds.

The president’s budget would reduce the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to $2.5 billion from $5 billion.

“We estimate that would drop us back to pre-2008 levels, and could mean as many as 4,000 fewer Spokane-area households receiving heat assistance,” said Julie Honekamp, deputy director of SNAP, the nonprofit agency that provides services to more than 47,000 low-income residents in Spokane County.

Last year, SNAP distributed more than $7 million in energy assistance to 10,462 households.

This year, the agency estimated it will spend $7.3 million on more than 10,800 households, but it has only distributed about half that amount because Congress has yet to approve a 2011 budget.

“We still have people waiting, and we are only serving a third of eligible households,” said SNAP executive director Larry Stuckart.

The White House Office of Management and Budget said funding for the program was doubled in 2008 because of a spike in energy prices, which have since leveled off.

But Stuckart said the economic downturn since then has created many more families in need of heating assistance.

“We are not going to serve them all even with what we have,” Stuckart said.

In addition, Obama’s budget would halve the three-decades-old Community Service Block Grant program to $350 million.

SNAP relies on the flexible anti-poverty program to provide a wide range of services to the poor, including emergency shelter and transitional housing for the homeless, support for the program that monitors the safety of nursing home residents, a food bank in Hillyard and financial counseling to working poor people at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure.

This year, SNAP signed a 21-month contract for more than $636,000 in Community Service Block Grant funding, but pending an approved federal budget, the agency has a spending limit of 40 percent of that amount.

Republicans in Congress have said the budget cuts announced Monday may not go far enough.

Stuckart said the House of Representatives might suspend the block grants this fiscal year, resulting in an immediate 60 percent cut to SNAP and layoffs for some of its 150 employees.

“It would mean eliminating programs, reducing staff or both,” Stuckart said.

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