Stimulus ends, slashing food aid

By Tobie Baker Journal staff writer

Food assistance benefits increased in October, but those gains were quickly erased starting Nov. 1.

Montezuma County social services director Dennis Story said households likely saw their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, formerly known as food stamps, rise in October because of annual cost-of-living increases. Those increased benefits, however, were erased this month as the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired.

“The stimulus legislation increased SNAP benefits to help people affected by the recession,” Story said. “As the stimulus package expired, those increased benefits were eliminated resulting in a decrease in benefits.”

Shoppers at Walmart in Cortez were informed of the reduced benefits once management placed fliers on the store’s entrances.

General manager Ron Knezek said the aim was to help families better prepare, but he added that the reduction has yet to make much of an impact.

“Sales and traffic are not off right now,” he said. “I haven’t received any customer complaints.”

The Colorado Department of Human Services projects the maximum $200 monthly SNAP benefits allotted for a single person would decrease by $11. A family of four would see their maximum $668 benefit decrease by $36.

Story urged families needing assistance to make up for the loss to contact Hunger Free Colorado at (855) 855-4626.

In the first three years of the Great Recession, the number of participants receiving food stamps in Montezuma County nearly doubled. In 2011, the latest figures available, more than 3,300, or 12 percent, of Montezuma County residents, received SNAP benefits. In 2007, before the recession, 1,887, or eight percent, of local residents received SNAP benefits.

“SNAP is one of the most powerful anti-hunger tools available, helping millions of low-income working families, children, seniors, people struggling to find work and even veterans get enough to eat,” said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Dean cited several recent studies that confirm that SNAP benefits dramatically reduce food insecurity, which nearly 1 of every 7 households faced at some point last year. She added that SNAP helped to keep nearly 4.7 million Americans out of poverty in 2011, including 2.1 million children.

Across Colorado, about a half-million people, or about 230,000 families, rely on SNAP annually.

SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2014 will average less than $1.40 per person per meal, said Dean.

Both the House and Senate have passed legislation to cut SNAP, and a House-Senate conference committee is working to iron out a final bill.

The Senate bill reduces SNAP by $4 billion over 10 years, but the House bill slashes SNAP by nearly $40 billion.

In June, U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton of Cortez voted for The FARRM Act, which authorized $20 billion in reforms to the SNAP program. On his website, the chairman of the House subcommittee on agriculture, energy and trade stated the reforms would eliminate waste, fraud and abuse while ensuring continued access to those in need of assistance. The measure didn’t pass.

Nationwide, nearly 48 million Americans, including 22 million children, are SNAP participants.

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