Federal funds that since 2009 provided about a 5 percent boost in food stamp benefits ended Nov. 1, and that could force Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana to scramble in its attempt to meet an expected increased demand for food.
The automatic cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – commonly known as food stamps – trimmed about $5 billion from the $80 billion annual program that provides aid to 14 percent of all U.S. households, about 47 million people.
The average monthly benefit to families is about $133, but benefits are expected to fall by about 5 percent.
“The bill was passed because we were in a recession and people were struggling to make ends meet, and more people were unemployed and working wages were actually declining in terms of buying power,” said Natalie Jayroe, president/chief executive officer of Second Harvest. “Congress thought that by 2015 we would have turned things around.”
The original law called for the higher SNAP benefits to remain in place until 2015, Jayroe said, but Congress adjusted the law “to pay for other things and retired the SNAP benefits early.”
Not a full economic recovery
“We know the economy is not where it needs to be,” Jayroe said. “For working families, the economy hasn’t recovered yet, and food banks are stretched to their limit and won’t be able to make up the gap.”
The lower benefits affect about 1 in 6 Louisiana residents, Jayroe said, about 750,000 overall. That represents about 21 million “lost” meals – about the number Second Harvest currently provides annually, she said.
Jayroe hopes Second Harvest can fill some of the gap with increased financial and food donations from the community.
“The community has been extremely generous to us,” Jayroe said. “Prior to this cut going into effect, the community would have needed to double or triple its support to us to even approach filling this gap. The bottom line is we’re very concerned people are going to be going hungry, and there’s no way to make this up.”
Jayroe also is concerned with the prospects of the 10-year farm bill currently being debated in Congress. The House version calls for a $40 billion cut in nutrition assistance programs.
“People are already in really bad straits,” Jayroe said. “The true answer to hunger is for working families to have economic options to provide for themselves. You can’t end hunger by cutting nutrition programs.”
Just last week, the Regional Transit Authority of New Orleans and Veolia Transportation packed a bus with boxes of non-perishable food donations from employees and vendors and delivered the goods to the Second Harvest warehouse.
“This food will be delivered to members of our village who need help to feed their families,” said Kremly A. Marrero, an RTA bus driver and organizer of the food drive. “We hope this improves the quality of life in our community.”
Food and financial donations are always welcomed and urgently needed, Jayroe said.
“We can turn a $10 donation into 28 meals,” Jayroe said.
Monetary, service donations
Other community help comes in the form of volunteer hours to sort and pack food (about 60,000 hours last year).
Jayroe said since the SNAP benefits are paid at the first of the month, they normally can last a family about 2 1/2 to three weeks.
“Now maybe they’ll last two weeks, and our member agencies are going to start to see an increased number of people coming in because they’ve run out of benefits and don’t know where else to go for food,” she said. “We’ve heard a lot of anxiety. If anyone sees hunger not being addressed, please call us. We will connect them to a neighborhood-based program that is our partner.”
For more information on donating or volunteering at Second Harvest, call 734-1322 or go to www.no-hunger.org.
Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.