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Local agencies expect increased demand following cut to SNAP benefits

BY GABRIELLA DUNN | NOVEMBER 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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A section of the 2009 stimulus bill that temporarily boosted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — formerly known as food stamps — expired on Nov. 1, decreasing benefits to all recipients nationwide. With the holidays fast approaching, a time when food banks see high demand, local food-assistance agencies anticipate increased food insecurity among the area’s most struggling socioeconomic class. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, roughly 13.7 percent of Iowa’s population, approximately 421,000 people, are estimated to receive SNAP benefits in fiscal 2014. More than 40 percent of Iowans relying on SNAP benefits are children, and the state as a whole will see a $43 million decrease in SNAP funding during fiscal 2014.

“This is good news that the economy is improving and the stimulus package is no longer needed, but we understand that this change may create some hardships for Iowans,” said Amy Lorentzen McCoy, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Human Services. “This change this is about a 5.4 percent reduction, [and] this can’t be repealed.” Lorentzen McCoy said that with the timing of the expiration, which is just before the holiday season, informing individuals who do not have a steady source of food about budget planning and community resources has been a focus.

“I don’t think there’s ever a good time for a family to know their food budget is decreasing,” she said. “We want families to be as prepared as possible when they go grocery shopping, so they can plan how they’re spending, and we want them to have educational resources to plan healthy recipes on a tight budget.” An official with the Crisis Center of Johnson County Food Bank said the people there are bracing for an expanded need for their services. Adding, the center has seen a consistent increase in demand over the last three years, including a 16 percent increase in demand this year compared with last year.

“We normally see an increase in demand in November; it’s typically one of our busiest months,” said Sarah Benson Witry, Food Bank and emergency-assistance director for the Crisis Center. “We are already seeing that there’s a high need for our services, and this [benefit cut] can only increase the demand.” Part of the increased demand for food assistance in Johnson County, she said, has to do with increased population in the county in recent years. Benson Witry said the largest issues in the county contributing to food-supply instability have been underemployment and low vacancy rates among renters, which have contributed to rising rents.

“These families are already having a hard time coming up with resources to have enough food for their family, and this is just making it harder,” she said. During the holidays, increased food-assistance initiatives are taken nationwide. While this coincides with increased need for food assistance, Bob Andrlik, executive director of Table to Table, said this is merely a heightened awareness to a year-round issue.

“One thing that people in general notice is the issue of hunger more so during the holidays because a family meal is so focused in everyone’s mind,” Andrlik said. “Even though the need is there year-round, it’s more recognized … it’s a holiday feast kind of focus that we have. It puts it right up there in the front and drives that point home, both for people that don’t have the food and for people who do.” Andrlik said he expects local food-assistance agencies to be stretched thin in finding ways to fill the gap of increased need for food when demand is already high.

While SNAP recipients and food assistance agencies are trying to adjust to current decrease in benefits, further cuts to the program through congressional action may still be on the horizon, including possible changes to the program in the farm bill.


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