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In light of recent cuts to the nation’s food stamps program, some Charles County groups are seeing the effects of the reduction in action.
As of Nov. 1, the temporary bolster that came to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestmant Act expired, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Maryland, the program is known as the Food Supplement Program, and participants apply for it through the local Department of Social Services. Maryland lost $82 million in benefits, affecting 774,000 state residents, or 13 percent of the population, according to the CBPP.
For families of four, benefits were reduced from a maximum of $668 per month to $632, a loss of $396 annually. In 2014, this will equate to an average of $1.40 per person per meal.
Brenda DiCarlo, the executive director of the Southern Maryland Food Bank, said they already have begun to see firsthand the effects on the population they serve.
“For most of the clients ... it was a panic. Suddenly there was a loss of benefits,” DiCarlo said. “There were people rushing to pantries trying to fill the need.”
Since the initial cuts, DiCarlo said, they have begun to see the panic level off some for now, and are seeing more people try and stretch their dollars to provide more effectively for their families.
“Families are understanding that they need to use SNAP sparingly,” DiCarlo said. “I don’t know if we saw more people as much as we saw more need from the existing clients.”
DiCarlo said on average, the 38 sites across the region that the food bank serves reported seeing about 10 to 15 new families seeking initial assistance. Compared to the struggles they faced with maintaining an adequate supply early last year, DiCarlo said overall this year has gone better.
“This year has been fantastic, and we didn’t think it would be because of the economy,” DiCarlo said. “Being now a week away from Thanksgiving ... we do have several tons less than we have in past seasons. We’re doing OK still, but we’re not where we were in the past.”
DiCarlo also said they found that despite the cuts having been on the books since 2009, many families did not realize what was looming.
“I don’t know how much warning the families received ... prior to some short notice,” DiCarlo said. “It didn’t give them a lot of time to plan or understand why ... and in that situation, panic sets in more.”
DiCarlo said she was unsure how many tons of food short they are this Thanksgiving season and also said they have several food pantries “waiting in the wings” to receive food from the food bank. The donations have decreased some in size, which she attributes to the state of the economy.
“Our sites are here to support those families,” DiCarlo said. “We’ll get through it. We always do.”
Over at Shepherd’s Table, a weekly soup kitchen that operates out of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Waldorf through a group called Our Place, President Veronica Haileyesus Bullock said they have seen an uptick in people seeking their services, as well. Where they used to serve between 25 and 40 people, Bullock said that within the past two to three weeks they’ve been seeing anywhere from 60 to 70 people coming in for food.
“Right now we ask our sponsors to bring more food because we were ready for 50 to 60 people, and then we had 70 so we had to rush and buy more food,” Bullock said. “I ask them now to provide for around 70.”
Shepherd’s Table is in the process of converting to serving people seven days a week, and when it does, Bullock said, it will switch its name over to Our Place.
When a reporter visited Shepherd’s Table earlier this month, some of its patrons shared their stories of trying to keep up in the wake of the cuts.
“I was getting $25. It’s $11 now,” 53-year-old Theresa said. “That’s like, a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk, you know? I’m trying to find a job, but I’m disabled and can’t afford to lose my Social Security. I go to food banks, but they are getting lean, too.”
“They took $30 from us,” said Susie, 49. “We [she and two daughters] used to get $260 to feed us for a month, and now it’s $230. We’re scraping and scrimping. We come here sometimes, and friends and family help out a lot. We do all right, considering. I buy a larger size and break it down into smaller meals, things like that. We’re down to one meal a day a lot of the time.”
Both women asked to be identified by first names only to protect their privacy.
Charles County government spokeswoman Donna Fuqua said many of the county’s programs are unaffected by the cuts.
Bill Kreuter, the supervisor of food services for Charles County Public Schools, responded similarly.
“It really doesn’t have an effect,” Kreuter said. “If a family receives [food stamps] we get an electronic match from the state, and the student gets free or reduced-[price] meals. If they apply, it doesn’t go back up the chain for SNAP benefits. They have guidelines all their own.”
Staff writer Joel Davis contributed to this report. email@example.com