A cut in federal food stamp benefits is putting increased pressure on food banks and other agencies that serve the poor.
Officials of Crosslines Ministries of Joplin and Carthage, and the Joplin Salvation Army say they already are seeing an increase in requests for food help and expect those numbers to climb.
Benefits from food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) were decreased starting Nov. 1, with the expiration of a temporary boost that went into effect in 2009 as part of economic stimulus efforts. As a result, food stamp payments dropped more than 5 percent. Though numbers vary based on income, a family of four on average would see a decrease of $34 to drop their monthly allocation to $632.
At the same time, additional cuts are expected — far greater if a Republican plan is approved — as part of congressional action on the Farm Bill.
More people started coming through the door of the food pantry in Crosslines starting in October, according to Kathy Lewis, executive director. Lt. Jamie Curry, of the Joplin Salvation Army, said workers late last month noticed an increase in people for the organization’s daily meals program.
“We’re seeing people ask for help that we’ve never seen before,” said Curry. “We don’t have a food pantry, but we do set out free food when it’s donated and it goes like gangbusters.”
Crosslines in October helped 980 families with government commodities or food from its pantry. That compares to 906 a year ago, Lewis said.
“We verify income and the amount they receive in food stamps each time,” she said. “Just about everybody has had the amount of food stamps go down. We’re definitely seeing the increased need.”
Georgia Jones, director of Soul’s Harbor mission, said she is seeing more requests for food and families coming more frequently to the food bank operated by the shelter. And, she said, she’s seeing desperation when the shelter, like most other agencies in the region, enforce limits designed to ensure the available help can be stretched among as many families as possible.
“I’ve had people break down in tears and tell me their kids are hungry,” Curry said. “But people must use their food stamps wisely.”
Attendance at Salvation Army meals is up significantly, Curry said.
“We’re getting between 200 and 300 people; it started going up at the end of October,” she said.
Crosslines in Carthage is helping about 75 families each month and though there’s not been a significant increase in numbers, Belle Lown, director, said she and volunteers “are seeing families we’ve not seen for a long time who are having to come back in for food.”
“We haven’t seen it yet to the extent we think we will,” Lown said. “The sad part is, coupling it with the increase in food costs, our budget isn’t going as far as it used to. The organizations that do this are really going to need more help from the community.”
Lewis said most of the people coming to Crosslines are working, some, more than one job.
“But they’re working jobs that don’t pay that much and food prices are getting higher,” she said. “We’re also seeing more elderly people on fixed incomes that don’t stretch as far.”
Amber Rose, of Webb City, said she has a full-time job that doesn’t always translate to full-time work, or pay.
“If we show up and there’s not enough to do, we get sent home,” she said. “And that makes it harder, because benefits are based on what you could potentially make.”
Rose, who is raising two sons, said a cut in Food Stamp benefits will hurt. But, she said, she also takes advantage of commodities, and to buy healthy food, especially fruits and vegetables, when she can find them on sale.
“We’ll go to the Salvation Army for Thanksgiving dinner,” she said. “I would have to spend all my money for a week if I cooked Thanksgiving at home.”
Debbie Hamel, of Carterville, who is disabled and raising two grandchildren, said she also works to make her food stamp budget stretch. She said she “couldn’t make it” without the help, but pinches pennies by using it buying lots of macaroni, beans and other staples.
“I couldn’t make it without food stamps raising two,” she said.
The Economic Security Corp. does not run a food pantry, but provides help low-income residents with housing, utility assistance and other programs, that serve about 40,000 people in a five-county region.
John Joines, ESC executive director, said he is seeing increased demands in all programs that help the poor. He said poverty has increased in Missouri and the region in recent years, raising even more concerns about additional food stamp cuts and reductions in other programs, either by decisions from Congress or as a result of federal sequestration.
“People already were saying they couldn’t get enough food and it was before these most recent cuts,” he said. “I know we have to balance the budget, but it’s not right to balance it on the backs of one group of people.”
Lewis, at Joplin’s Crosslines, and Jones, at Soul’s Harbor, both also said they recognized the need for government spending cuts.
“We have to recognize that and we as individuals and churches will have to do a better job of taking care of our neighbors and friends.” Lewis said.
A “food summit” was held in Greene County on Wednesday. Springfield city officials organized the event to discuss a response to increased requests for food help.
Want to help?
Donations particularly needed at Crosslines and other shelters currently include canned fruit, peanut butter and jelly, canned meat, cooking oil and soup. Lewis said Crosslines also needs children’s winter clothing and blankets in king and queen sizes.