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Food aid reduction likely to increase demand at food banks

Wed., Nov. 6, 2013

Salvation Army Food Bank volunteer Tierney Brown, left, helps Jamie Castleberry choose food items Tuesday in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)
Salvation Army Food Bank volunteer Tierney Brown, left, helps Jamie Castleberry choose food items Tuesday in Spokane. (Colin Mulvany)

Regional food banks anticipate needing more food by month’s end as the national food aid program’s temporary expansion ends.

The 7 percent reduction in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, once called food stamps, started Nov. 1. That reduced the federal program’s budget by $5 billion. Extra money had been injected into the program beginning in 2009 to help people as the economy tanked.

“The average family (of four) will lose 20 to 22 meals per month with this cut,” said Melissa Cloninger, Second Harvest food bank’s director of donor relations. “That’s roughly five meals per week for one person.”

She added, “We absolutely see a need for food increasing.”

A family of four will have $36 less to spend on groceries per month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That family of four will still collect about $630 monthly from the federal government to buy food.

Food aid has been a political push and pull between Democrats and Republicans.

In the past five years federal food subsidies have more than doubled as eligibility rules were loosened and benefits were made more generous.

Some of that expansion was due to temporary federal stimulus spending that is now expiring.

This graphic illustrates the upcoming changes. (Story continues below.)

The loss of that extra benefit isn’t as much as Spokane mother Tierney Brown feared. “I thought it would be like $100,” she said.

To make the food aid dollars stretch further, “I’m just going to have to figure out coupons,” said Brown, who has four children.

The 32-year-old volunteers at the Salvation Army food bank, but so far hasn’t been a regular shopper there.

“But I will definitely be using the food banks more in the future,” she said.

People can go to the Salvation Army food bank once per month. That branch of the agency is “bracing” for the impact of the food aid reduction, said spokeswoman Sheila Geraghty.

Stretching the food to the end of the month is already tough, Salvation Army officials said. Slow donations coupled with this reduction could make matters tougher.

Second Harvest Food Bank distributes to about 250 food banks and distribution programs.

The effect of the cut hasn’t taken hold.

“It usually takes 30 to 60 days, but we anticipate seeing the impact by the end of November, definitely by the end of December. We don’t know when this will peak,” Cloninger said.

Already, “most families are not receiving enough money in food stamps,” she said.

More than 66 percent of Washington families who receive food aid have children, nearly 24 percent are families with elderly or disabled members and nearly 42 percent of the state’s participants have jobs, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Partners.

“The folks we believe we will begin to see are the ones who have one or more part-time jobs, and they do receive food stamps, and they have been able to make it,” Cloninger said. “But now they won’t.”

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