Sunday, November 17, 2013

Nearly 1 million Louisiana residents will see food stamp reduction beginning in ...

Japonica Thompson knows how to make her food stamps last. She is a coupon clipper and a savvy grocery shopper. A single mom, Thompson can stretch a single pork loin she finds on sale at Albertson's into three full meals for herself and her two children.

'Believe me when I tell you, there is nothing wasted in my house. We cannot afford to waste,' said Thompson, who lives in West Baton Rouge with her 5-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

Yet as frugal as she is, Thompson is worried about what will happen when the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps, rolls back some benefits. In 2009, the federal government temporarily boosted SNAP's funding, hoping to mitigate the effect of the country's economic recession. Now, that extra funding is falling away, and will affect people's benefits.

Starting in November, all 47 million food stamp recipients across the U.S., including 866,000 people in Louisiana, will see a reduction in their monthly assistance. For Thompson, this means feeding her family of three on $497 per month, instead of $526 per month.

'It was already so hard to start off with,' she said.

Even before the food stamp cut, Thompson relied on The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to help her make ends meet. She visits the food bank once every six weeks -- the most it will allow any individual to come -- to pick up donated groceries.

In that sense, Thompson is hardly alone. More than half the clientele at The Greater Baton Rouge Food bank already receives food stamps, but finds they aren't enough to get them through the month. Many run out of money for food by the last week of the month and come to the food bank for assistance.

'We will not be able to get enough food to address the meal gap. We were already not able to do it,' said Mike Manning, president and CEO of the Baton Rouge food bank, which serves 11 parishes.

The cuts to individuals and families in the food stamp program will range from $11 to $36 per month. Though that might not seem like a lot, it works out to 41 million meals throughout the state each year. That is more meals than all of Louisiana's food banks give out each year combined, said Michael Kantor, spokesman for the Second Harvest Food Bank in New Orleans.

'We do not have the capacity to meet that demand. Private charities simply can't fill that gap,' said Kantor, whose organization serves 23 parishes in south Louisiana.

Louisiana's Department of Children and Family Services won't know how much money its SNAP program has lost until the beginning of December, according to spokesman Trey Williams.

In September, the state received approximately $120 million in food assistance from the federal government. The average payment to a household using food stamps in Louisiana was $310. An individual using food stamps receives an average of $139.

Several women who receive food stamps and live at a local Baton Rouge shelter said they were aware the cut was coming. They said many of their friends and family were posting about the food stamp reduction on Facebook.

One woman was particularly concerned about her grandmother, who was drawing only $89 in food stamps per month before the cut. Now, she'll be getting even less. Local charity workers said they share that concern about senior citizens in general, because they often can't pick up extra work or a second job to make up the financial difference.

'I am particularly concerned about our elders. It breaks my heart. I don't know how they are going to live off what they will be getting,' said Kietha Gage, who helps get people enrolled in the SNAP program for The Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.
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