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Food stamp cutbacks to hurt county families

Average monthly reduction to be $50

A mild winter may have been appreciated last year, but because it brought lower natural gas costs, those who depend on food stamps for their family will be hit this year with what the county’s director of job and family services calls a significant cut.

“This is going to be a huge amount of reduction,” Gene Myers, JFS director, said.

On average the approximately 17,000 individuals who use the federal food stamp program will see a monthly cut of $50. The reduction was made by the Food and Nutrition Service that overseas the food allotment program.

That size of reduction galvanized JFS directors throughout the state in a protest.

“We asked them for a waiver,” Myers said. “That is entirely too much of a cut to these families. For whatever reason they didn’t allow it.”

Each family or individual on assistance is given a standard utility allowance that is the estimate by the federal government of what their monthly utility bills will be for a winter season. Last year that allowance was $533. This year it has been reduced to $367.

That allowance is used in the client’s budget to determine the amount of food stamps a recipient will receive. If the allowance goes up, food stamp allotment also goes up since it means a recipient will have a higher utility bill.

If the allowance goes down, the amount of food stamps also goes down since lower utility bills means the recipient would have more disposable income from Social Security or other such programs to pay for food.

“This is nothing new,” Myers said. “It goes up and down. This has been going on for a long time. Now this is a significant reduction in benefits. Our entire state directors asked can we have a waiver from the reduction because of the climate we are in. They didn’t grant that waiver.”

For the past five years Charles Bell has run Compassion First Food Pantry in Chesapeake, that is open one day a week serving families in the eastern end of Lawrence County. Even before the current food stamp cut, Bell has seen more people turning to his operation for help.

“We have been running 10 to 25 new families a week at our food pantry,” Bell said.

The food pantry had been serving 70 to 80 families a week. That figure started jumping this summer to 90 to 120 families a week.

“And the food banks don’t have the food there,” Bell said. “We have to go out and pay more retail price.”

Right now Bell spends $1,500 to $2,000 a month for food.

“It is hurting the people that are needing it the most,” he said.