CINCINNATI – Shanae Bishop lives downtown with her three kids, and it can be a struggle to keep them fed.
Starting Nov. 1, she’ll be getting even less help from the federal government.
Her government food assistance – which used to be called food stamps but is now known as SNAP – will drop from $546 a month down to $511. It’s the money she uses to buy baby formula, among other necessities, and now it will be gone even faster each month, she said.
“I’m going to have to use money,” said Bishop, who is currently unemployed. “I barely got that.”
Bishop is one of the roughly 100,000 Tri-State families who will be hurting a bit more when the federal government reduces SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits.
The government increased food stamp benefits through Nov. 1, 2013 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the federal stimulus.
But while the economy has improved for some since the end of the recession that spawned the stimulus, it hasn’t gotten better for the poor and working poor who rely on SNAP benefits, said Kurt Reiber, president and CEO of the Freestore Foodbank.
“If you look at it from the point of view of someone who’s just getting by as it is, these are folks who can least afford any kind of impact on their finances,” Reiber said.
Hamilton County alone had 70,683 families – representing 143,244 individuals – who received SNAP benefits in September of this year, said Brian Gregg, chief communications officer for the county’s Department of Job and Family Services.
That number is significantly higher than the latest U.S. Census data indicates. But Census data is based on a survey taken during a particular point in time, so it’s not unusual for those figures to differ from the county’s.
A typical family of four in Hamilton County now qualifies for $632 per month in SNAP benefits, Gregg said, down from $668.
While that decrease doesn’t sound substantial, it can make a huge difference for struggling families, said Lauren Copeland, the Family Center coordinator for Brighton Center in Newport. The nonprofit serves eight Northern Kentucky counties.
“With families being squeezed so tight and having to make some difficult decisions, that could definitely impact the families we serve,” Copeland said. “It’s going to be a regional issue.”
Bigger Cuts Are Coming
Freestore Foodbank’s Reiber worries the Nov. 1 cut in benefits are just the start.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress are still debating how much the federal government should spend on SNAP, and big cuts are sure to come.
The Democrat-controlled Senate has proposed reducing SNAP funding by $4 billion while the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill that would cut funding by $39 billion.
“Even if they reach some sort of middle ground, we’re going to have people we consider working poor being impacted pretty dramatically,” Reiber said.
A WCPO review of the latest available Census data shows that more than half the households in Greater Cincinnati that receive food stamps have at least one person in the house who is working.
More than half those households have at least one child younger than 18.
Reiber and Copeland said they expect to see more and more of those families visit their respective food pantries as SNAP benefits are reduced.
Bishop said she certainly expects to need more donated food to get by.
“I ain’t got no choice,” she said.
How To Help
Freestore Foodbank supplies 275 food pantries in 20 counties. On Nov. 7, every dollar donated to the nonprofit will be doubled. The organization is trying to raise $400,000 that day to meet the growing demand. To donate, go to www.fsfbmedia.org .
To donate to Brighton Center, go to www.brightoncenter.org .