Families and individuals who receive food-stamp benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see a drop in funds this month, as a five-year boost from a 2009 food stimulus law expires on Nov. 1. Households will see an average of $36 per month less to spend on food for a family of four. This cut will affect all 47 million recipients of benefits across the country — 17 percent of all households in North Carolina.
More cuts could be on the horizon as the House and Senate attempt a compromise on the farm bill, one that could mean more changes to the food-stamp program.
For a household of one, benefits will go down by $11 each month, starting on Nov. 1. A household of two will have $20 less to spend food each month, and household of three, $29 less. A family of five will have $43 less each month, on to a family of 8, who have $65 less to spend on groceries each month. This will affect all households, even if they do not claim any income.
Stokes County’s Department of Social Services Health and Nutrition Supervisor, Sharon Bullins, said DSS would recommend local food banks to clients to make up the difference, including East Stokes Outreach Ministry in Walnut Cove and King Outreach Ministry, as well as local churches. “I hope the community, neighbors, and friends, if they are able to help, can help out more,” Bullins said.
The cause of the decrease in benefits is the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the Stimulus Act, which became law in 2009, in response to the recession. The stimulus was limited to five years and it expires on Nov. 1.
According to a press release issued by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, federal regulations allow states to decide if they should notify individual households by mail of the decrease in benefits. North Carolina elected not to mail out individual notices. Instead, a letter was posted at all DHHS waiting areas. A copy of the letter was also sent out to food banks across the state.
Since this is a change in federal law, no recipients have the right to a hearing to dispute the decrease in benefits.
Further decreases may be on the horizon, after the farm bill is complete. The version of the farm bill that was approved by the Senate included small changes to the food-stamp program, but the House voted on a larger cut to the program, spread out over ten years, by tightening restrictions on who would qualify for food-stamps.
Those affected are encouraged to call a customer service line at 1-888-622-7328, or to contact your local Food and Nutrition Services office. A copy of the notice in both English and Spanish is posted at www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/pubnotice/index.htm.
Impact to local food banks
Marchelle Brown, director of East Stokes Outreach Ministry in Walnut Cove, said they were notified of the changes and had posted the information. With a “continued increase” of clients over the past three months, the ministry is going through a “tough period” right now, Brown said, and spending an average of $9,000 per month on groceries for clients, with the largest source of income for the ministry coming from thrift store profits, at an average of $7,000 per month. Food and monetary donations are also received from churches, civic groups, and individuals. Due to the overwhelming need in the county, clients can only be assisted six times per year. Food stamp recipients can only spend their allotment on food items, which leaves many without essentials such as laundry detergent, shampoo, and other personal care items. In the past, the ministry was able to assist with these items, but now clients must choose food only.
“It’s been tough,” Brown said. “For the past month we’ve had to make tighter adjustments on the food we have given out, so we are able to continue to feed the multitudes. There are people we are still turning down because of our lack of food right now, if they have already been here more than six times this year. Things are really tough right now.”
Brown said the decrease in benefits would only bring more to the food banks in the county, especially with the decrease of $36 per month or more for a family of four and up. “$36 less for a family of four is a lot. That equals multiple meals for a family,” a family that is now being directed by DSS to visit the food banks to make up the difference.
East Stokes Outreach Ministry’s Thrift Store is located at 301 W. Third St. in Walnut Cove. The food pantry and office is located at 317 N. Main St. in Walnut Cove. The ministry will soon break ground on a new food pantry building, thanks to grants and donations.
Mike Culler, director of King Outreach Ministry, said they had been notified of the decrease in benefits and posted the notice. Culler said he hadn’t heard any comments or questions from anyone so far and said people may not have realized their monthly amount would decrease. King Outreach Ministry serves an average of 145 to 160 families each month, which represents around 500 to 600 people, according to Culler.
Overall community support for the King-based food bank is great, Culler said, but also mentioned that a few regular donors would not be able to donate as much next year. “We do hope the community will step up in this time of need. We have a very giving community and we can always count on the kindness of our citizens to help.”
Food donations and personal care items are always needed for both bood banks.
King Outreach Ministry’s office/food pantry location is at 413 Kingsway Dr. in King . The ministry also operates a thrift shop in King at 417 E. King St., with profits going directly to assist clients.
Donations are typically up this time of the year, due to multiple food drives going on at local schools, which are greatly appreciated, but donations normally received for Stokes County’s food banks from Second Harvest Food Bank have dwindled, due to overall need on the rise, which means less food on the shelves overall. Plus, with benefits going down starting Nov. 1, need is great for donations for both food banks in Stokes County.
Any group or individual who wish to donate food or money should contact East Stokes Outreach Ministry at 591-5254, or mail donations to East Stokes Outreach Ministry, P.O. Box 973, Walnut Cove, NC 27052. Visit the website at www.eaststokesoutreachministry.org.
To donate to King Outreach Ministry, call 336-983-4357, or mail donations to King Outreach Ministry, P.O. Box 1450-27021, King, NC 27021. Visit the website at www.kingoutreach.org.