More than 1 million Arizonans to go over the ‘hunger cliff’ tomorrow

Posted by AzblueMeanie:

The Arizona Capitol Times (subscription required) has the Arizona numbers for the number of people affected by the expiration of the stimulus funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) aka food stamps, because of the failure of Congress to act before midnight tonight. Cuts to food stamp benefits hit more than 1 million Arizonans Friday:

More than 1.1 million Arizonans who
depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – better known
as food stamps – will see their benefits reduced Friday in a
long-planned national cut.

The Nov. 1 cuts range from $11 a month for a single recipient to $65 or more for large families. Advocates said that poses a severe challenge
for recipients on a tight budget.

“It does seemlike a small amount of money, but it is significant to people who are counting on every penny,” said Angela Schultz, outlook
and community development manager at Arizona Community Action Association.

The maximum SNAP benefit for one person is $200 a month, but the level is often lower because benefits are adjusted according to income
and the number of people in a family. The average benefit for a single
recipient in Arizona in September, for example, was just $124.49, said
John Bowen, legislative specialist of Arizona Department of Economic Security.

The cut is “not a huge amount, but for those whose primary source of food is SNAP, it is a half-week budget,” said Brian Simpson, a spokesman for the Association of Arizona Food Banks.

The reduction in benefits was scheduled in 2009, when Congress passed a temporary increase in benefits as part of the American Recovery and
Reinvestment Act – the federal economic stimulus. The increase was set then to expire this Nov. 1.

House Democrats introduced a bill in September that would extend SNAP benefits at their current levels through 2016. But that bill has yet to get a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, all but ensuring that the reductions will take effect as planned Nov. 1.

* * *

The pending cut has charity organizations
in the state bracing for an increase in business, as food-stamp recipients try to stretch their food budgets.

“They are going to visit food bank more frequently,” which will put more pressure on food pantries to keep up with demand, Simpson said.

[These agencies are also facing cuts in federal assistance due to cuts to TEFAP as a result of the automatic sequester.]

Pregnant women and infants can seek help
from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and the
elderly can turn to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Simpson
said. But people outside those groups have few other options.

State officials said that just under half of the 1.1 million Arizonans who get food stamps are children. Schultz said another 13
percent of the state’s recipients are seniors or the disabled.

MSNBC's All In with Chris Hayes did an excellent report on this on Wednesday night. Food stamp cuts to create 'hunger cliff': "About 47 million poor people are about to have less to eat — and the worst may still be coming."

Here is the panel discussion in the second segment
The poor take another hit
"Chris Hayes and his panelists look at the "Hunger Cliff" and the disconnect between Washington and the most desperate Americans."

Millions of Americans fell victim to food insecurity when the Great Recession hit in 2009, but didn't benefit from the economic recovery. And the worst may be yet to come. America’s new hunger crisis:

Food activists expect a “Hunger Cliff” on November 1, when automatic
cuts to food stamp benefits will send a deluge of new hungry people to
places like the River Fund Food Pantry, which are already strained.

“I thought we were busy now; I don’t know what it will be like then,
because all of those people getting cut will definitely be accessing a
pantry,” said Das. “It definitely will be a catastrophe.”

Those cuts were never supposed to be catastrophic; instead they were
intended to gradually wind food stamp spending back down to normal
levels, after boosting them in response to the 2008 financial collapse.

* * *

The 2009 stimulus bill raised the cap on food stamp benefits and
pumped an additional $45.2 billion into the program over the next
several years. But as provisions of the law expire, the program is
scheduled to receive a $5 billion cut over the next year alone.
Those cuts will reduce monthly benefits for every single food stamp
recipient in the country; a family of four will receive $36 less per
month, on average.

Billions more in cuts are scheduled to occur in the following two
years, despite the fact that food insecurity in America has not even
begun to return to pre-recession levels.

“I believe we have a hunger crisis,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, who sits
on a House committee responsible for the food stamp program. “When 50
million people in the richest country on the planet are hungry, that’s a
crisis.”

There’s little sign that McGovern’s colleagues in Congress will step in
to stave off the crisis. In fact, some Republicans in Congress are
pushing further cuts to the food stamp program as part of broader budget
negotiations that could bump an additional 4 million people off of the
food stamps rolls by the end of next year.

* * *

Visiting food pantries is a common practice for those who can’t
stretch their food stamp money, also known as SNAP benefits, until the
end of the month, according to Lisa Davis, senior vice president of
government relations for the national food bank network Feeding America.

“Right now SNAP benefits are not overly generous,” Davis told
MSNBC.com. “They average out to be about $1.49 per person per meal, and
we know from our food banks that many of the clients coming to them are
those who are receiving SNAP, but the benefits aren’t getting them
through the entire month.”

* * *

On the same week that SNAP recipients are expected to lose $5 billion
in benefits, members of both chambers of Congress are meeting to
negotiate another potentially massive budget cut to the program.

This week, a committee will attempt to reconcile the House and Senate
versions of the farm bill. The Senate version includes $4.1 billion in
cuts to food stamps over the next decade; the House version includes no
language related to food stamps, but House Republicans are expected to
insist on including language from a separate House bill, which would
slash $39 billion out of program over the course of the next ten years.

If House Republicans get their way and passed a $39 billion cut, it would cause nearly 4 million people to lose SNAP eligibility in 2014 alone,
according to projections from the independent Congressional Budget
Office. That cut would magnify the effect of the “Hunger Cliff” by
orders of magnitude.

“I’m sad to say that we’re constantly putting out fires wherever
Republicans try to light them,” said McGovern, D-Mass., a member of the
Agriculture Committee and one of Congress’ leading advocates for more
robust nutrition programs. As a member of the Farm Bill conference
committee, McGovern will be conducting “damage control,” trying to limit
the scope of the cuts.

McGovern believes that nutrition policy in the U.S. should be
overhauled as part of a plan to end hunger entirely. But instead, “what
we’re doing is body blocking this cut and that cut,” he said. Recalling
that Barack Obama promised during his first presidential campaign to end child hunger by 2015, McGovern added, “we haven’t done a goddamn thing to do that, to be honest.”

* * *

The White House has promised to veto any major cut to food stamps, but
with even the Senate legislation cutting $4 billion out of the program,
some kind of haircut looks inevitable. If that happens, then food
pantries will once again be forced to pick up the slack as best they
can.

When people don’t have the resources to feed themselves, and government
welfare programs aren’t giving them the help they need, food banks are
often the safety net of last resort. However, these non-profit charities
are also dependent on government subsidies, and many of them are seeing
their budgets shrink even as demand for their services reaches
unprecedented levels. This holds especially true in low-income areas
where food pantries rely on the donations of churchgoers who are
themselves struggling[.]

* * *

At the same time, federal grants for food banks and pantries have taken a
haircut. Although food stamps were left untouched by the
across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester, food banks took a
modest hit when TEFAP, a USDA program which subsidizes food storage and
distribution for food banks, got trimmed by 5%.

* * *

For food banks across the country, the government shutdown strained
resources even further. As government workers temporarily lost their
jobs and preschool-aged children lost the free meals which they would
have received at their Head Start programs, pantries raced to make emergency food deliveries.
Had the shutdown lasted into November, many food banks would have lost
their TEFAP funding and may have had to stop making food deliveries
entirely.

Reopening the government has relieved some of the strain on food
banks and pantries, but not by much. The USDA still estimates that 49 million Americans are food insecure, and there are no indications that the number will come down anytime soon.

In the wealthiest country in the world and the world's largest supplier of food products, it is a national disgrace that we allow our own children, and people in desperate financial circumstances to go hungry.

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