Stretching the Food Dollar and Food Pantries: Part 2
Meet Brandy, a single mother of three teenage girls – all successful students at Buncombe County schools. While she is proud of their academic accomplishments, she worries about keeping balanced meals on the table due to the recent cuts to her families’ nutrition assistance. “I had $36 dollars cut from my food benefits, and that doesn’t seem like much, but that is what I would spend on meat to last for two weeks”, says Brandy. She shops at the dollar store instead of the grocery store to help stretch her food budget.
She is just one of over 20,000 households in Buncombe County experiencing cuts to their monthly nutrition assistance. These reductions took effect November 1 when Congress allowed the 2009 Recovery Act temporary expansion to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to expire. For families of four, the reduction is $36 a month — a total of $432 for the year. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that’s a serious loss, especially in light of the very low amount of basic SNAP benefits now averaging less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.
The families facing these food funding cuts are scrambling to fill in the gaps, and many of them turn to non-profit and faith community food pantries for help. “We are very concerned for the families we serve,” says Norma Brown, Latino Outreach Coordinator at the Children First/CIS Family Resource Center at Emma (FRCE). “We are hoping to be able to meet their needs.” The food pantry at the Children First/CIS FRCE provides over 700 food boxes a year to 200 families. The demand is expected to increase due to the SNAP cut.
The FRCE food pantry relies on donations from individuals and a partnership with MANNA FoodBank to keep the pantry stocked. But lately FRCE has had difficulty keeping enough food on the shelves. MANNA Food Bank is the primary food distributor for food pantries in 16 Western North Carolina counties. MANNA reports that to make up for the recent reduction in SNAP benefits, they will have to increase their food distribution by 40% just to maintain the level of emergency food relief that they have been providing.
In an effort to absorb the increased demand for food many non-profits turn to local faith communities, and civic and corporate organizations to increase their donations and food drives. “I see our faith communities like a rubber band,” says FRCE Coordinator, Lisa Barlow. “And each month, we are asking them to give more, give more. And many times, they answer the call. But they are stretched thin, and we don’t want them to break.”
“These cuts are killing us,” says Brandy. “It’s been over a month now, and there is no getting used to it. You are making meals out of what is in your cabinet, and the cabinet is running dry.”
The cuts to the SNAP benefits will have an economic impact as well, as substantial amounts of food dollars are removed from the local economy. The FRCE estimates that the families that it provides food boxes for will loose a combined $8,000 in SNAP benefits this year due to the November 1st cut. Buncombe County estimates the county-wide impact will be $300,000-$400,000 a month in SNAP reductions. According to The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, North Carolina will lose $166 million in SNAP benefit cuts from November 2013 to September 2014. Although it is unclear what the exact economic ramifications will be, there is little doubt that this reduction in SNAP purchases at local grocery stores will have a wider economic impact.
And these are just the results from the current food funding cuts. Congress is negotiating the budget of the Farm Bill, where the level of SNAP cuts being considered range from $4 billion to $40 billion. Those cuts will impact many Americans. The numbers of households on food stamps have steadily increased during the recession and slow recovery – in 2012, nearly 48 million people received food stamps in America, compared to 17 million in 2000.
“My SNAP benefits run out after about 2 weeks,” continues Brandy. “And I buy basically soup, noodles, beans and potatoes-there are no store-bought snacks or special foods. I’ve got teenagers, and they can eat!” She laughs while she says this, but you can see the worry in her eyes. “Thank goodness the FRCE allows families to come get a box twice a month—many places let you come only once a month,” she notes.
“Food pantries and charitable organizations cannot meet these gaps alone,” says Children First/CIS Director of Advocacy, Greg Borom. “This is a policy driven problem and we need a policy driven solution. Local charities can’t absorb the cuts that Congress is considering and cuts that have already passed. We still need food drives, but we also need calls to congress. Talk to your elected officials and tell them to stop these cuts to families’ food funding.”