Article 25

Taking Food from the Poor

In Uncategorized on 01/17/2013 at 3:30 pm

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Georgine Getty, executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network, addresses a conference on child poverty in Cincinnati.

Cuts threaten to strain low-income families

By Mark Payne

Photo by Aimie Willhoite

 

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as “food stamps,” could face significant spending cuts in federal budget talks in the next few months.

Although President Obama and Congress reached a deal on income-tax rates (part of the “fiscal cliff” package), they postponed a decision about scheduled cuts for virtually all federal spending, including everything from the military to SNAP.

Passage of a one-year extension of the Farm Bill included a $100 million cut in a nutrition education and obesity prevention education program operated by SNAP. But it could have been – and still could get –much worse.

In July 2012 the House Agriculture Committee passed House Resolution 6083, the Federal Agriculture and Risk Management Act of 2012, by a 35-11 vote. This bill proposed to cut nearly $16 billion in SNAP spending. A Senate bill proposed to cut it by nearly $4.5 billion.

“I am deeply concerned about the cuts proposed to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Cleveland).

Cleveland has the second-highest rate in child poverty in the nation, just ahead of Cincinnati.

The proposed $16 billion cut could have cost some 500,000 households $90 each in SNAP benefits per month. Furthermore, 1.8 million individuals, including 280,000 low-income children, would lose eligibility for SNAP benefits.

In Cincinnati, 30,000 children struggle to find food everyday, according to federal statistics and reports by local charities. That number could grow if cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program move forward in Congress. The SNAP program isn’t protected by “sequestration,” which means it could be put back on the chopping block in two months.

These cuts could have devastating impacts, especially in a city already struggling with poverty.

The Cincinnati Chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul saw a nearly 20 percent increase in visits to its food pantry in 2012, according to Eric Young, spokesman for the charity.

“Many of our guests are working poor who need that little bit of help to get over the hump when funds get tight,” Young says. “We see an increase in visitors near the end of each month as many families exhaust their monthly benefits but are still in need of food. That group is where we could see that greatest impact.”

Cincinnati is ranked third-highest in the nation for child poverty, behind Cleveland and Detroit.

At a 2012 forum, “Cincinnati – Third in the Nation in Child Poverty: a Report Card for Change,” social workers and others gave a glimpse of child poverty looks like.

“Child poverty has a wide variety of faces,” said Anthony Smith, assistant superintendent of the Cincinnati Public School District.

The event emphasized the effects hunger has on children, such as a student’s being unable to focus or stay awake in school and behavioral and developmental issues.

“You can’t be doing the job of a child when hungry,” said Georgine Getty, executive director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network.

In the 20 counties that the FreeStore FoodBank serves, about 25 percent of children are “food insecure,” according to Kurt Reiber, president of the organization’s board of directors.

Cincinnati’s overall poverty rate, using federal standards, is 30.6 percent. Of that group, 48 percent are children, according to the American Community Survey. Cincinnati’s child poverty rate doubles that of Ohio as a whole, which sits at 23.3 percent.

Cincinnati has lived with poverty for a while, especially since 2000, when the poverty rate was 21.9 percent. In 2008 it jumped to 25.1. From 2000 to 2010, Cincinnati’s poverty rate grew nearly 9 percent.

The FreeStore FoodBank in Over-the-Rhine serves about 4,000 families a month. Seventy percent of these families receive food stamps, according to a survey by the charity.

“Since many of our clients are receiving food stamps, any reduction in the amount of food stamps they receive will need to be replaced,” says Rick Gerwe, chief operating officer of the FreeStore FoodBank. “Food banks and pantries will be the place they go to subsidize the food-stamp purchases at the reduced levels.”

This comes at a time when obtaining food for the poor is becoming more difficult.

“Availability of USDA sourced shelf-stable food and meat is about 40 percent less this year than last year and last year was down 40 percent from the previous year,” Gerwe says.

Food manufacturers and retailers are cutting down on waste, which leads to lower amounts given to food banks around the country, according to Gerwe.

“We are serving a client base that is growing at a time when sources of donated food is diminishing and food-stamp levels are being reduced,” he says. “The budget decisions regarding food stamps will put more stress on food banks and food pantries to meet the needs of old and new clients.”

 

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