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Sarah Moore, right, stands with her boss, Catherine Matthews, in the food pantry section of the Church and Community Program in Canton, NY. Photo: Zach Hirsch
Sarah Moore, right, stands with her boss, Catherine Matthews, in the food pantry section of the Church and Community Program in Canton, NY. Photo: Zach Hirsch

SNAP recipients, supporters anxious about 2014

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In November, families who rely on food stamps saw their monthly food budget lowered, when a boost to SNAP from the 2009 federal stimulus expired.

It is almost certain there will be even more cutbacks when congress passes a new farm bill next year, although it's not clear how big those will be. Last week, we checked in with some people who worry that 2014 will mean much harder times.

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Reported by

Zach Hirsch
Reporter and Producer

On a relatively warm afternoon just days away from Christmas, it’s deceptively quiet at the Canton Church & Community program, which runs a food pantry, thr  ift shop, and outreach program. This is the calm before the storm.

Sarah Moore is the secretary at the Church and Community Program – she’s volunteered here for 3 years. She says she is slammed this holiday season, with people constantly coming in to shop for Christmas presents and pick up groceries. She says it gets a little hectic, but it’s worth it.

“I love to come and see the people come in here and smile, when we tell them we got a ham, or, we have something for them ,” she said. “Their eyes light up so big,  and it’s wonderful.”

Sarah’s own situation isn’t so different from the people she helps. She has an arrangement through the Workfare program, which means she volunteers in exchange for food stamps and a little cash. Other than the volunteer position, she doesn’t have a job, so she relies on those food stamps pretty heavily.

“I’m trying to get another job so I can get rid of social services out of my life,” she said. “Because I don’t like living on social services. I hate it. But people do what they have to do to su pport their family… My kids are 11 and 9. They’re growing kids!”

This has been a hard winter for Sarah and her family. In November, she was one of the 47 million Americans who saw her monthly food budget go down, as a result of the biggest federal cutbacks to food stamps in 50 years.

Sarah, her two kids, and her husband should have lost about 36 dollars in monthly benefits, according to the government numbers for a family of four. But she says she actually lost a hundred dollars, and she doesn’t understand why.

“What do you do?”

Sarah says the food stamps aren't enough to feed her kids, especially after the November cuts. That's when she started to lean more on the same food pantry where she volunteers.

“The formula still anticipates that about a third of the food costs will be covered by other funds. Many people don’t have other funds,” said Jamie Dollahite, a Cornell professor who also leads a nutrition education program for low-income families.

Dollahite says the cuts to food stamps were a harsh blow to people who were already in hard times.

“While it seems like the economy is doing well, if you listen to news reports and so forth, we have a lot of people who are still out of work,” she said. “So we have lots of people on SNAP benefits, and we have lots of people going to food pantries and soup kitchens because in fact their SNAP benefits are inadequate.”

In January, congress is likely to take up the farm bill again. Conservatives say food stamp recipients are too reliant on government help. So the House has proposed a farm bill that would cut 40 billion dollars from food stamps over five years. The Senate proposes to cut way less.  

It’s not yet clear how much the government will cut from food stamps, but a reduction of some kind does seem inevitable. That’s why Dollahite says the future looks bleak.

“Cuts even lower, that go below what we had before,” she said. “I can’t imagine they would be anything but pain for our low income population.”

Sarah Moore from the Church & Community program says that makes her anxious about the new year. But despite her nerves, she says she chooses not follow t he latest in food   and farm bill news.

“It’s hard, and it’s depressing,” she said. “The way I feel, I live one day at a time. I don’t live for the future, cause, I can’t.”

Sarah says she’ll do whatever she can to feed her family. 

*Correction: This story was updated to note that people are not eligible for Workfare when SNAP is their only benefit. They must also be receiving other benefits, such as cash, in order to participate. 

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