Food stamp cuts to affect 3 million in Pa. and N.J.
At the stroke of midnight on Halloween, food-stamp benefits were cut throughout America for the first time in history.
People woke up Friday in unknown territory, having to figure how the loss of $5 billion in benefits – the equivalent of 1.9 billion meals nationwide in fiscal 2014 alone – will play out on the kitchen tables of the 47 million Americans who get food stamps.
“This is nothing short of catastrophic,” said Bill Clark, executive director of Philabundance, the largest hunger-relief agency in the region. “We’re looking at a whole lot of hurt.”
Nearly three million people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will have their benefits cut by around $29 per month for families of three, and $36 for families of four, according to data from the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. That translates into 21 lost meals per month for families of four.
In Pennsylvania, one in seven residents gets food stamps, now called SNAP benefits (for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), Coalition figures show. Of those, 766,000 are children, while nearly 500,000 are seniors or people with disabilities.
They are losing $183 million in SNAP benefits in one year, $52 million from the nearly 500,000 Philadelphia residents who receive benefits.
About $90 million is being cut from 900,000 New Jersey residents on SNAP, federal figures show. One in 10 New Jerseyans receives SNAP – 415,000 of them children.
In the Pennsylvania suburbs, the largest one-year loss of benefits will be $7 million in Delaware County, according to Feeding America in Chicago, the largest hunger charity in the United States. In South Jersey, the biggest loss will be in Camden County, set to lose more than $8 million in benefits.
Although the monthly loss may seem small, it’s huge for already-stretched low-income families watching every penny, anti-hunger advocates say.
“It’s going to affect me tremendously,” said Kimberly Johns, 34, of Logan. The mother of three children, including a 5-day-old girl, Johns, who is engaged, will lose at least $40 a month from the cuts.
Johns makes $1,200 a month working in the human-resources department of an insurance company. That places her well below the $23,550 poverty line for a family of four.
In Pennsylvania, people making 160 percent of the poverty line or less – around $35,000 a year for a family of four – are entitled to SNAP benefits. In New Jersey, people making 185 percent of poverty or less – around $43,000 for a family of four – can access SNAP.
“We eat healthy, and I cook a lot, using organic foods,” Johns said. “Now I’ll have to shop at lots more places to find bargains and stretch the money. I’ll have to re-budget. My children won’t get proper nutrition.”
Ironically, the origin of the SNAP cut is connected to children’s nutrition, anti-hunger advocates say.
The federal stimulus of 2009 temporarily boosted SNAP benefits to combat the recession. The boost ended Friday, after Congress decided not to sustain it.
In 2010, there was money available to avoid SNAP cuts, but Congress used the money for school meals instead, advocates say.
“I’m just baffled,” said Julie Zaebst, policy manager at the Hunger Coalition. Rather than finding money to bolster both programs, Congress decided to “rob Peter to pay Paul,” Zaebst said.
Diane Riley, director of advocacy at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, with locations throughout the state, agreed.
“How ridiculous is this?” she asked. “They increased the nutritional value for school meals being eaten at lunch by the same students whose families will be feeding those kids less at dinner” because of the cuts. “Does that make any sense?”
Still more cuts are coming. The House wants to excise an additional $40 billion from SNAP over 10 years, while the Senate is looking to take away $4.5 billion in benefits over that same period.
Every bit of that will hurt, say SNAP recipients like Leon Zankiw, 56, of Voorhees.
A former auto mechanic living on disability, Zankiw gets SNAP benefits of just $16 a month. He’s unsure how much of that will be cut, but he’s worried nonetheless.
“It’s not a lot but it helps,” said Zankiw, who lives alone. “I’ll probably have to cut off my phone so I can still eat.
“I’m very upset.”