Meadville Tribune

September 24, 2013

Proposed food assistance funding cuts could mean longer lines at food pantries

By Konstantine Fekos
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — The potential loss of at least $39 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit funding over a 10-year period could mean trouble for local food relief agencies already struggling to meet the current demand.

The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act of 2013, approved recently by the House of Representatives, proposes major cuts and other changes to current food stamp regulations, including mandatory employment or work training for adults within a certain age range and program eligibility updates.

More than 14,100 adults and children in Crawford County currently benefit through the food stamp program, according to the latest Department of Public Welfare (DPW) statistics, which reports more 1.8 million people in the SNAP program statewide.

The potential cut could leave local food pantries in a bind, with the number of patrons expected to grow and more donated food needed.

“I do believe it would cause us to have increased recipients at our food pantries,” said Shawnel Toomey, essential services supervisor at Center for Family Services. “With an increase in food pantry recipients, I can only hope the community will continue to support us for emergency supplies in our food drives.”

“We’ll have more families in here trying to get use from all the food pantries,” said Debbie Vittorio, manager of Meadville’s CFS food pantry.

Seven food pantries make up the center’s Crawford County Food Pantry Program. The program provides food boxes for 1,200 to 1,300 families each month, according to Vittorio, which translates into an average of more than 3,000 people per month county-wide.

“A cut in SNAP foods will put a real strain on everybody,” Vittorio said. “Just about everyone who comes here gets food stamps already, so they’ll be looking for more food from somewhere.”

Each family enrolled in the CFS program is allotted one food box per month, excluding emergency boxes which aren’t available on a monthly basis.

“What’s alarming is that low-wage working families are actually going to be hit with a double-whammy,” Toomey said.

Toomey cited a direct relation between SNAP benefits and children’s eligibility for free meals in public schools.

“If you lose SNAP benefits, you lose those free meals,” she said. “I don’t understand how that will help our nation.”

The DPW has no calculations for possible outcomes at this time since the proposal is still in its preliminary stages, according to Anne Bale, deputy press secretary.

“It’s standard practice not to base our program on potential plans,” she said. “The bill could change many times or not pass at all.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania spoke out against the bill after the House vote, calling the cuts extreme and unprecedented.

“Over the last few years, the Senate has pushed for substantial reforms to the SNAP program to improve efficiency and effectiveness,” he said. “Despite these steps, the House is intent on further eroding a program that is vital to thousands of Pennsylvania children and seniors.”

The federal government spent approximately $81 billion on SNAP benefits in the 2012 fiscal year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), a non-partisan research institute which analyzes state and federal budget policies.

SNAP benefits lessen the severity of state and national poverty generally as well as generate about $1.70 in economic activity for every SNAP dollar, according to CBPP reports.

“I’d sooner think we would have a larger impact on this nation by cutting all of our senators and legislators who receive lifetime pensions and health benefits,” Toomey said. “Let’s cut all that and see what kind of an impact it has.”



Konstantine Fekos can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at kfekos@meadvilletribune.com.