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Reducing food-stamp benefits would 'take food off the table,' recipients and advocates say

Published: Monday, Aug. 5 2013 6:05 p.m. MDT

Maria Rodriguez, upper right, and Franky Cruz, upper left, leave Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 with food they received. Alizeh Cruz is in the stroller with Daniel Vargas at center. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Maria Rodriguez, upper right, and Franky Cruz, upper left, leave Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013 with food they received. Alizeh Cruz is in the stroller with Daniel Vargas at center. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Maria Rodriguez and family were soaking wet when they walked into the Crossroads Urban Center's emergency food pantry Monday afternoon.

But the mother of two needed food to make ends meet, and she wasn't about to let a rainstorm deter her from obtaining food for her family.

"When I have a job, it's great. When I don't, it's hard to have food on the table," she said.

Food stamps only go so far, Rodriguez said. Any cut in benefits, such as the expected reduction in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is cause for concern.

"It's hard to have them take anything away," she said.

Nina Spencer receives food from Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Nina Spencer receives food from Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Some 253,000 Utahns are expected to experience a reduction in benefits when a temporary increase to SNAP expires Oct. 31.

Congress funded a slight increase to the program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but it is scheduled to expire this fall. Unless Congress maintains the funding level, a family of three will experience a cut of $29 per month or $319 for the remaining 11 months of the federal fiscal year.

"When you think about it, that's how many gallons of milk? That's how many loaves of bread?" said Bill Tibbitts, associate director of Crossroad Urban Center.

"However you look at it, it's a few days of eating."

Advocates for low-income people are scheduled to meet Wednesday with officials from the Department of Workforce Services, which administers food stamp benefits. The agenda of the regularly scheduled meeting includes a discussion on how DWS will notify SNAP program participants about the cuts and how community organizations can help.

Maria Rodriguez talks about the difficulty of providing food for her family in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. At back left are her son Daniel Vargas and his stepfather Franky Cruz. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Maria Rodriguez talks about the difficulty of providing food for her family in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. At back left are her son Daniel Vargas and his stepfather Franky Cruz. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger, said the House has yet to act on SNAP since it stripped the nutrition title out of the recently passed Farm Bill. The House could reconsider the cuts, but Congress is observing its August recess.

The reduction is significant because SNAP has never experienced a benefits reduction that impacts all 22 million participants, Cornia said.

“Given the fact that benefits are already inadequate for many families, these cuts will be particularly painful," she said. "We know what a difference these benefits make in the everyday lives of low-income families. Parents don’t have to send their kids to bed hungry because of this program.”

DWS spokesman Nic Dunn said food stamp use in Utah has declined in recent months.

Nina Spencer receives food from Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Nina Spencer receives food from Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"Essentially, more Utahns are finding jobs so they no longer need food stamps to sustain their families. We recognize that many Utahns still need some temporary help, and we're committed to helping them while we search for a better employment situation," Dunn said.

Nina Spencer, of Salt Lake City, who was also picking up a box of food Monday at the Crossroads Urban Center, said she worries most about families with children. While she does not receive the SNAP benefit, she is eligible for less than $30 a month for nutrition assistance.

"I know that's gone in about one day," Spencer said. "I think it's worrying everybody now."

Henry Joe Haskie, who said he lives on the streets, said he's highly concerned about cuts to nutrition programs because he relies on food stamps for most of his meals.

James Adams, front, and Jackie Sanchez stock shelves at Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) James Adams, front, and Jackie Sanchez stock shelves at Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

"If I don't have food stamps, I'll be hungry most of the time," he said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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