- Ada, Oklahoma

September 21, 2013

Cuts to food stamps program will be felt locally

Eric Swanson Staff Writer

Ada — Oklahomans who rely on food stamps to feed their families may have to absorb a double blow starting this year.

More than 600,000 Oklahomans who receive food stamps will see their federal benefits drop starting Nov. 1, according to a news release from the Oklahoma Department of Human Resources. The department estimates that a family of four with no income would lose $36 in food aid each month, or the equivalent of 21 meals.

The federal government has cut spending on food stamps before, but not on such a massive scale, DHS spokesman Mark Beutler said Thursday. He noted that all recipients will see their benefits drop, regardless of how much assistance they receive.

“These cuts will affect everyone,” he said.

Beutler said Oklahoma could lose about $66 million in revenue from November of this year through September 2014 because food stamp recipients will have less money to spend on groceries.

People who receive benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Aid Program will see two major changes this fall. First, most households will see their deductions and income thresholds increase on Oct. 1 to reflect the cost of food.

The following month, most families will see their assistance drop because the extra benefits will expire.

The federal government increased food stamp benefits in 2009 as part of a larger stimulus package, which was aimed at easing the pain of the national recession. The extra benefits are set to expire Oct. 31.

Cuts to the SNAP program may be one reason why local food pantries are receiving more requests for assistance, said Jana Loyd, director of the Salvation Army in Ada.

“We have seen a very large increase in the number of food requests, and we are not the only ones,” she said in a phone interview Friday.

She said the Salvation Army received between nine and 14 requests for assistance during the period from February through April, but that number nearly tripled from May through August.

She said the looming cuts to SNAP were partly responsible for the increased number of requests, but other factors played a role as well.

Gary Brandt, past of the First Lutheran Church, predicted that cuts to SNAP will result in additional requests for assistance from local food pantries.

“Without a doubt,” he said.

More cuts?

More cuts to food stamps may be coming, as the U.S. House voted Thursday to slash nearly $40 billion from SNAP over the next decade. The program currently provides an average of $133 in monthly benefits to more than 47 million people.

Rep. Tom Cole said Friday he voted in favor of the measure because curbs federal spending on SNAP, which currently costs about $80 billion a year. He added that another Oklahoma congressman, Rep. Frank Lucas, also supported the bill.

“He assures me that it can be done without hurting anybody who genuinely needs help,” Cole said.

Lucas said the bill includes common-sense reforms to the food stamp program that would close loopholes, eliminate waste and abuse and encourage recipients to find work.

“SNAP serves an important purpose to help Americans who are struggling, so it is equally important that we ensure the program is working in the most effective and efficient way,” Lucas said in a written statement.

The GOP-backed measure includes new work requirements, which would allow states to require 20 hours of work activities per week from able-bodied adults with young children if child care is available. Those requirements would apply to all parents with school-age children.

The bill would also end government waivers that allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely.

The House voted 217-210 to approve the measure, which represented lawmakers’ efforts to finish work on a larger farm bill that traditionally included farm programs and food stamps, the Associated Press reported Thursday. The House Agriculture Committee approved a combined bill earlier this year, but it was defeated in June amid conservative objections that it didn’t go far enough in cutting food stamps.

House Republicans later split the legislation into two bills and approved a measure that included only farm bills in July. The House took up the food stamp bill, with its deeper cuts, last week.

Republicans have said the House will need to have a procedural vote on whether the two bills will go to a House-Senate negotiating committee together, according to the Associated Press. If the bills make it that far, negotiations could be difficult.

The Senate has already passed its own version of the farm bill, which would reduce SNAP funding by $400 million — one-tenth of the cuts proposed in the House bill. The White House has threatened to reject the House bill.

Cole said that the Senate bill indicates that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle want to overhaul the food stamp program.

“Both parties have come to the conclusion that cuts need to be made to the program,” he said. “It’s out of control.”