Food Banks Brace for Overwhelming Demand as Cuts in Food Assistance Program Take Effect
Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are hurting already overstretched food pantries.
On November 1, 2013 the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which had been boosted by the 2009 Recovery Act, was cut by $5 billion. The average benefit dropped from $1.50 to $1.40 per meal, and food pantries across the nation are making up for the loss in payments to families in need.
SNAP, which benefits one in seven Americans, is administered by the Department of Agriculture, and is authorized in a five-year omnibus Farm Bill covering all agricultural programs. The version of the Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives this year will cut an additional $40 billion for the SNAP program over the next 10 years, and will require adults between 18 and 50 without minor children to find a job or to enroll in a work-training program in order to receive benefits. It also limits the time those recipients could get benefits to three months. The Senate version of the bill calls for much smaller cuts of $4 billion over 10 years, without further restrictions.
Critics of the proposed measures to cut food assistance say that the cuts will disproportionately affect children. A Census Bureau recently released a report stating that the SNAP program has kept about four million people above the poverty line and had prevented millions more from sinking further into poverty. Currently of the 47 million Americans who turn to the SNAP program to help make ends meet, the vast majority (72 percent by some estimates) have families with children. One-quarter of SNAP participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities.
Food banks across the country, which have seen a dramatic increase in need over the past few years, are bracing for even higher demand. Three food pantries in Richmond, Virginia served nearly triple the number of families in November of this year as compared to November 2012. The Bevery Bootstraps food bank in Boston Massachusetts is helping double the number of families from one month to the next. The Havlock Food Pantry in North Carolina has nearly emptied its shelves after a sudden demand increase. Visits to Oregon food pantries were up 20-25 percent last month, and the Oregon Food Bank desperately needs foods high in protein (canned goods), whole grain foods (such as brown rice, whole grain cereal and whole-wheat pasta) and 100% fruit juice (canned, plastic or boxed).
In addition to food items, many food pantries are also in need of personal care items such as shampoo, soap, deodorant and food and formula for infants/babies.
House and Senate negotiators are trying to reach agreement on a new Farm Bill by the Jan. 1 deadline. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who lead the Senate Agriculture Committee, have returned to Washington, DC while Congress is in recess to negotiate the differences in the two bills.
What You Can Do
Support Feeding America, the nation’s leading domestic hunger-relief charity. Their mission is to feed America’s hungry through a nationwide network of member food banks and engage our country in the fight to end hunger.
Start a Move for Hunger food drive: Move for Hunger teams up with relocation companies across the country to create one of the nation’s largest year-round service programs. The Move for Hunger movers offer to pick up the unwanted, non-perishable food items from those who are moving and deliver it to their local food banks.
Gardeners, donate surplus from your garden via AmpleHarvest.org. Click here to find a participating food pantry near you.