Amid political bickering, SNAP recipients face cuts

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October 20th, 2013

Omaha, NE – Last week the Senate voted to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling.

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This action dodged default and sent federal workers back to work. But according to Dr. Ernie Goss, economist at Creighton University, it didn’t solve the problem.

“What needs to happen is to cut the spending that is producing that deficit and that debt,” Goss said. “And that unfortunately is not being done.”

The deal funds the government until Jan. 15 and the Treasury until Feb. 7. However, Goss said another problem is a direct hit to low-income families. Starting in November the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP will see cuts and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says as many as 3.8 million Americans could lose SNAP benefits in 2014 and nearly 3 million more each year over the next decade.

Goss said cutting Snap now would be devastating to low- income families.

“So there is real pain out there and you are seeing some Americans that are now and will continue to seek food through food banks, or food through Snap it’s called, the food stamp program,” Goss said. “So unfortunately even though we are in a recovery, the economy is expanding a bit (but) not fast enough. The number of individuals in America needing assistance continues to go up.”

Food Bank for the Heartland supplies food to 285 pantries in both Nebraska and western Iowa. (Photo Courtesy Food Bank for the Heartland)

Food Bank for the Heartland supplies food to 285 pantries in both Nebraska and western Iowa. (Photo Courtesy Food Bank for the Heartland)

Brian Barks, director of development and public relations for Food Bank for the Heartland, said his organization helps supply 285 front-line pantries across 93 counties in Nebraska and western Iowa. Food Bank for the Heartland is a non-profit organization supplying food pantries, emergency shelters and after-school programs as well as senior housing sites and rehabilitation centers with food. They get 50 percent of their food from donations from manufacturers, 25 percent they buy directly and 25 percent they receive with help from the USDA.

Barks said if the delayed fiscal deadlock, which now looms in early 2014, isn’t broken and concessions aren’t made by either side, then it would have disastrous effects on the people his organization helps.

“I (have) to believe it would be pretty serious,” Barks said. “The folks that we help the most that ultimately receive the food we have here are kids and seniors. Seniors who are have to make a difficult decision right now on whether to ‘do I pay the utility bill or do I buy food?’, ‘Do I pay for medicine that I need, or do I pay for food?’, there are a lot of seniors out there who are making those serious decisions every single day.”

Mike Hornacek is the executive director at Together, Inc., an interfaith non-profit organization providing families and individuals emergency resources such as food and housing. Together, Inc. obtains more than 50 percent of its food from Food Bank from the Heartland.

Together, Inc. gives out more than 250,000 pounds of food every year to more than 15,000 families. He said Together, Inc. has seen an increase in requests for food since before the beginning of the government shutdown. Hornacek said organizations like his rely on help from larger Food Banks like Food Bank for the Heartland and if that link was broken it would have devastating results.

“It is kind of a chain reaction,” Hornacek said. “It’s going to affect the amount of food Food Bank for the Heartland can get, which then in turn is going to impact the amount of food we can get. So then we are going to turn to the community a lot more in the form of food drives, asking for donations, things like that. If that doesn’t work or meet the capacity then the even worse happens, which is – people are going to go hungry because they come to the place they normally come to, to make ends meet and we aren’t going to be able to meet that need.”

Goss said as bad as it is, the potential for it to be worse is there. He said if by February things haven’t changed then the deadlock could cause even more cuts.

“Then social security of something like that will have to be cut,” Goss said. “And that will be up to the Secretary of the Treasury so if we reach that impasse again in February and they fail to raise it, there will be some pain. And that’s not, from and economic standpoint, that is not a wise decision.”

Gloryanna Renshaw is a full time toddler teacher as well as student and mother of three. She lost her job in January and was not eligible for state assistance, so after paying her monthly bills she knew she wouldn’t have enough to feed her children for the month. She turned to a local food pantry for help. She said having to choose between paying a utility bill and having dinner this week can cause loads of stress.

“It puts you in a moral dilemma as well as an actual legal dilemma,” Renshaw said. “Because if you don’t feed your children that is abuse and neglect. And if do not pay for the medicine for myself that is abuse, that is neglect of myself. My children cannot function without me being physically well. It’s a catch 22, which sword goes deeper? Of course I would always sacrifice myself for my children.”

Hornacek said for better or worse his organization will continue to help those in need. But he said the tough part is knowing he can’t help everyone.

“It’s the satisfaction of walking the lobby and seeing smiles people faces that we are making huge differences in their lives,” Hornacek said. “The hard part about it, on the same side is we can’t help everybody. For the 15,000 that we helped last year, there is probably another 10 to 15 thousand that we had to say ‘no’ to. And that is extremely difficult too.”

Hornacek and Barks said the community has time and again come through to help with donations and food drives. And if pressed to find another channel for food they know public support would answer the call.

Renshaw said if the assistance with food from the pantry wasn’t available, her kids would have went without food.

“Then I would have three very, very hungry children,” Renshaw said. “It would put us in a very, very bad place. What would be more important food in their bellies or a roof over their heads?”

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