Federal food aid benefits to shrink starting Friday

More than 925,000 Hoosiers who accept government assistance to purchase food will receive fewer benefits starting Friday when a program enacted during the economic downturn expires.

The cuts will mean $36 less in monthly benefits for a family of four or about $11 less for a single person who qualifies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which used to be known as food stamps.

Emily Weikert Bryant, executive director of Feeding Indiana’s Hungry, said $36 “means several days’ worth of food for a struggling family.”

“Clients already have a difficult time putting enough food on their tables and paying their bills even with SNAP benefits,” she said.

The increased benefits went into effect in 2009 when Congress passed the Recovery Act, a collection of programs meant to boost the American economy. But the increase was never meant to be permanent.

SNAP is funded by the federal government but administered by the state. Officials at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration say they’ve been warning recipients about the upcoming drop in aid.

“We have been sending notifications by mail for about a month” said Marni Lemons, a spokeswoman for FSSA. “We are always prepared to receive calls from people who need assistance and any calls that come in about the reduction in SNAP aid will be well handled.”

Federal food-stamp spending reached a record $78.4 billion in fiscal 2012 amid a 77-percent increase in annual average food-stamp enrollment since 2007. Monthly food-stamp enrollment peaked in December at 47.8 million and was 47.6 million in July, the most recent month for which data was available.

Overall, the federal government will send about $98 million less to Indiana for SNAP through September 2014 than if the stimulus program had been extended. About 14 percent of Hoosiers will be affected.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., about 436,000 children in Indiana will be affected by the cuts. Another 164,000 Hoosiers who are elderly or disabled will be affected.

For a family of three, the cut equals about 16 meals a month, according to the center. That’s based on costs outlined in the U.S. Agriculture Department’s “Thrifty Food Plan.”

The reduced payments will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

“The depth and breadth of the SNAP cuts that take effect in November are unprecedented,” says a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Past cuts have affected specific states or groups, but they have not affected all participants nor been as large as these cuts.”

The cuts come as a House-Senate conference committee begins work on a farm bill that could mean even more cuts for the SNAP program. Republicans in the House have proposed cutting benefits by $40 billion over 10 years. Democrats want a cut of $4 billion.

Area food banks expect to see an increase in need once the cuts take effect.

“We hope that Hoosiers statewide will also come to the aid of our friends, neighbors, and family that will be impacted by the loss of food assistance in November by donating food, funds, or time to regional food banks or local pantries to ensure that more food is available to those in need,” said Bryant.

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