Food stamp boost from 2009 stimulus bill expires

2013-11-02T22:00:00Z 2013-11-04T11:23:28Z Food stamp boost from 2009 stimulus bill expiresSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com
November 02, 2013 10:00 pm  • 

With Friday's expiration of a 2009 boost in food stamp funding, the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana expects longer food lines just as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

"The average family of four is losing $36," said Megan Sikes, the food bank's spokesperson.

"When you have $400 or $500 a month to spend on food, it doesn't seem like that much, but when you have only $200, $36 is a big deal," Sikes said.

According to a report by Stateline, the average benefit per household in Indiana was $300 last year and in Illinois, $285.

Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy. Stateline can be accessed at pewstates.org/projects/stateline.

According to Indiana and Illinois state officials, the amount of benefits to participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, depend on multiple factors such as income, household size and expenses.

However, charts released to the public show decreases ranging from $11 for a household of one to $65 for a household of eight. For each additional person, figure another $8 decrease.

In Indiana, the change affects some 930,000 individuals and in Illinois, more than 2 million, including 1,016,210 in Cook County, as of August.

A state-by-state Stateline analysis shows among those affected are 436,000 children and 164,000 elderly or disabled in Indiana and 886,000 children and 349,000 elderly or disabled in Illinois.

SNAP is meant to be "supplemental," but by every third week of the month, it isn't enough to last until the end, said Sikes of the Indiana food bank.

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, based in Gary, supplies some 90 food pantries across Lake and Porter counties serving some 5,000 people a week, Sikes said.

Sikes agreed with national figures showing SNAP meals amount to an average cost of $1.40 per person per meal.

"We have over 106,000 people across both counties that are going hungry at some point of the year," she said. "Thirty-six percent of those don't qualify for any government assistance, making just enough money to be out of the federal poverty threshold."

Critics of the food stamp program argue there are those who abuse the program, and Sikes agrees, but with a caveat.

"You're always going to have some abuse but actually, it's such a small number when compared to the people in legitimate need," she said.

The nation's continuing poor economy has made for some sad new developments during her years with the food bank, Sikes said.

According to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, of the 930,000 SNAP recipients, 306,790 are unemployed adults while 115,131 of them are employed.

"I have them coming from work, and they're literally crying that they don't want people from the community to know they need food," she said.

Some are working two or three jobs, she said.

"A lot of seniors use food pantries because they're living on a fixed income," she said.

Medical expenses throw off their budgets.

"Social Security and pensions don't get you where you want to be," she said.

And children are affected through no fault of their own.

"So many are just so grateful," she said, citing one elementary school girl who spent her birthday in a food line just happy to be having a meal.

Across the state border, Paul Morello, of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, also said any cut to SNAP funding will create an increase in need.

"These cuts are especially painful because the Greater Chicago Food Depository is already seeing near-record levels of need," Morello said.

"We've seen a 70 percent increase in the number of individuals served at food pantries since 2008," he said. "And we know that more than 860,000 (1 in 6) men, women and children in Cook County are food insecure, meaning they don't know where their next meal will come from."

Morello also said the face of hunger is drastically changing.

"Increasingly, the people we see at Food Depository agencies have jobs, or own cars or even homes," he said.

This is due to simply having their work hours cut back or becoming disabled and no longer being able to work, he said.

Yet Friday's expiration of the food stamp boost may be only the latest hardship.

Ahead is a deficit-reducing proposal before Congress calling for a $40 billion cut in SNAP over a 10-year period alongside potential cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

* This story has been corrected to state the Greater Chicago Food Depository has seen a 70 percent increase in the number of individuals served at food pantries since 2008.

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