December 20, 2014

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Local food banks will have to shoulder food stamp cuts

COURTESY OF SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK

COURTESY OF SECOND HARVEST FOOD BANK

The $8 billion in cuts to food stamps over 10 years in the farm bill passed in the Senate on Tuesday will further increase demand on food banks and food pantries, according to the head of the food bank that serves Lorain County.

Juliana Chase-Morefield, Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio executive director, said demand is already outpacing food supplies due to hard economic times and previous cuts to food programs.

“We can’t absorb all of these continued cuts to the food stamp program,” she said. “It’s just not possible.”

Second Harvest, which also serves Crawford, Erie and Huron counties, distributed about 7.5 million pounds of food, the equivalent of 6 million meals in 2013, Chase-Morefield said.

That’s triple the amount of a decade ago. In November and December 2012, Lorain County food pantries fed 31,801 people. A year later, 34,873 were fed, a 9.7 percent increase.

Chase-Morefield partly attributes the most recent increase to the Nov. 2 expiration of federal taxpayer stimulus money that was approved in 2009 for food stamps in response to the Great Recession. The expiration cut monthly distribution by 5.5 percent.

For a mother with two children, the reduction meant about $29 less to spend per month. For a family of four, the cut was $36 a month, to $632.

In January, a new state rule in 72 of Ohio’s 88 counties eliminated food stamps for able-bodied people not working 20 hours per week or in job training 20 hours per week. The rule affects about 134,000 of the 1.8 million Ohioans receiving food stamps through the $80 billion per year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It affects about 3,600 of the 44,000 Lorain County residents receiving food stamps.

The bill will cut the deficit — estimated to drop to $514 billion by the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30 — by $16.6 billion over 10 years, the CBO reported. The White House said President Barack Obama will sign the bill on Friday in Michigan, the home state of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

Both Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, praised the bill in written statements.

Brown said the bill “balances the need for reform while making smart investments in conservation, nutrition, renewable energy and rural development programs.”

Portman praised the bill for eliminating a loophole that allowed poor people to automatically receive higher benefits without proof of utility costs.

“This bill helps restore the integrity of the SNAP entitlement program which is riddled with loopholes that allowed the program to grow faster than economic conditions would have otherwise allowed,” Portman said.

Chase-Morefield said Democrats allowed Republicans to set the terms of the debate over the food stamp program.

“It became a question of how much, not whether it was going to get cut,” Chase-Morefield said. “There’s hope that the economy is improving, but for too many families, it’s not improving fast enough. Eliminating these safety nets just puts families a little bit farther behind while they’re still trying to recover.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.