Ty Swenson
West Seattle Food Bank volunteers stuff grocery bags with essential staples in advance of their clients arriving for the day. West Seattle and White Center food banks said recent federal cuts to the food stamp program are going to have a negative impact on local families struggling with food security.

Federal SNAP cuts cause for concern at local food banks

The beginning of November marked the end of $5 billion in emergency food stamp funding implemented in 2009 to ease the burden of food security for Americans slammed by the financial crisis, and local food banks say the cuts will likely put severe pressure on their clients.

An estimated 47 million people will see their SNAP (food stamp) benefits shrink this month as a result of the cut and, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in Washington State it means $114 million less dollars that will directly impact 1,113,000 residents (16 percent of our population).

At the individual level, it breaks down like this: $11 less for an individual, $20 less for a household of two, $29 less for three and $36 less for a family of four.

Those individual numbers may not seem striking to some, but West Seattle Food Bank Operations Director Steven Curry said those few dollars lead to big rifts in people’s budgets.

“Who does that really hit? Who it really influences is the children, disabled folks and the working poor who are primarily our clients who are already in crisis,” according to Curry, who went on to say most of his clients use both SNAP benefits and food bank donations, and every little bit helps in keeping someone on a razor-thin budget from not being able to pay rent and utilities.

“The subsidies of food, not only does it help people nutritionally, what it does is it helps us dramatically from having a larger homeless population,” he explained. “They are barely keeping a roof over their head and they’ve come up with a way of being able to adequately address their nutrition through the combination of both SNAP, or food stamps, and utilization of the food bank.”

For a local family of three, Curry said the cuts will result in $3 less a day for food, or 20 to 23 fewer meals a month.

“This is causing people immense crisis because now they don’t know how to get their food … this is what we are looking at on the horizon,” he said, adding WSFB is expecting new food bank clients with the reduction in SNAP benefits, but his biggest concern is, “What is going to happen to the clients who are already here? They’re life is going to get much, much more difficult, their strategies for survival are not going to work and they are going to be more food insecure …”

Rick Jump, Executive Director of the White Center Food Bank, said October was their busiest month so far this year (and that was before the cuts), so he is expecting extremely high demand in November and December.

“While these cuts don’t seem significant to you and I, for a family living on the edge it can be devastating,” Jump said.

The Hunger Cliff
“What’s going on at the federal level, unfortunately, is even worse,” Curry said. “The senate has passed a bill to basically cut five more billion dollars out of (the SNAP program, on top of these November cuts) … (and) the House wants to cut $39 billion more, which is unbelievable.”

“It’s literally called the hunger cliff and we are in the process here today of going off the cliff for hunger because it does not seem at all that the government … not only are they not going address it, but it is probably going to get worse at the federal level,” he said. “That’s the thing that probably gets me the most is when you hear that political debate of, ‘Well, people just need to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and go out there and get a job,’ or ‘You need to be independently responsible and just go out and get this done.’ Well, we are talking about senior citizens, disabled people, and people with children who are already working. That’s who we are talking about.”

Helping out at home
November and December are traditionally high volume donation months for the West Seattle and White Center food banks, as those more fortunate get into the spirit of giving. Curry said that tradition will be very important this year as “Folks are going to need more food.”

Curry and the rest of the WSFB team are firing up their fundraising opportunities and looking at ways to purchase more food internally as SNAP cuts start to hit local families this month and beyond.

“We are waiting to see what the effects are for folks,” he said. “There is a lot of depression and a lot of angst out there in the community right now.”

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