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Major cuts to SNAP benefits starting in November

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Posted: Monday, August 26, 2013 12:00 am

About 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania will see a reduction in their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as the food stamp program, starting Nov. 1, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities .

The report was co-released with Just Harvest , Coalition Against Hunger and Public Citizens for Children and Youth .

Due to an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 , all of the 47 million people nationwide who receive SNAP benefits will be affected. These cuts will see a family of four receive $36 less per month, the equivalent of about 21 meals, according to the report.

The scheduled cuts will total $5 billion in the 2014 fiscal year, with Pennsylvania losing $183 million in federal funding, according to the report.

And these cuts have not only affected citizens statewide, but also those in Centre County.

The last four years in Pennsylvania have seen a dramatic increase in the number of children receiving SNAP benefits, according to statistics from the Department of Public Welfare .

In Centre County , the number has gone up 34 percent, from 2,312 children in 2009 to 3,098 in 2013, Fisher said. Allegheny County experienced a 40.4 percent increase, while Philadelphia County saw participation rates in the program rise 44 percent, she said.

Statewide, there has been a 47.3 percent increase, with the total rising to 757,927 children, Family Economic Security Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth Kathy Fisher said .

Kids are especially vulnerable, said Julie Zaebst, Coalition Against Hunger interim director .

“Not having enough nutritious food can affect a child's ability to develop physically and mentally, and it jeopardizes their ability to learn and thrive in school,” Zaebst said.

She said one of the biggest concerns is that SNAP benefits are already inadequate to support a family — a problem that will only get worse when the scheduled cuts go into effect.

“Many families’ benefits already run out before the end of the month, which means they'll have to make further sacrifices to make ends meet, including skipping meals or buying cheaper, processed foods to stretch their budgets,” Zaebst said via email. "These kinds of sacrifices have harmful effects on a person's health and well-being."

Fisher said the cuts had come unexpectedly early, with the increase in benefits due to the ARRA not set to expire until the minimum level of benefits had surpassed them naturally.

“No one knew with much notice that this was going to happen. You don't know where Congress is going to pull the money from,” Fisher said. “Congress is scaling back on the people who need it the most.”

Rochelle Jackson, a public policy advocate at Just Harvest, said those affected by these benefit cuts should contact their elected representatives.

“If you are upset and angry, you need to write them a letter, stop in their office, give them a call,” Jackson said. “Hopefully that will empower them and give their voice some leverage."

Welcome to the discussion.