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Area Families, Food Banks Dealing With Cuts In Federal Hunger Benefits

(A truck from the Food Bank of South Jersey.  File photo)

(A truck from the Food Bank of South Jersey. File photo)

Tim Jimenez Tim Jimenez
Tim Jimenez is a general assignment reporter at KYW Newsradio...
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By Tim Jimenez

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Starting today, 47 million Americans are losing some of their food-stamp benefits.

The federal “SNAP” program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is getting less money because a temporary increase in funding, part of the 2009 stimulus plan, is expiring (see related story).

Local advocates say that means food pantries are facing an even bigger burden.

Ronna Bolante, with the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, says a lot of local food banks are small and volunteer run. She says that since the recession, they’ve been hit hard by a greater need. And this latest cut, she says, means even more pressure.

“By taking away SNAP benefits for struggling families, we’re placing an even greater strain on these already overburdened pantries and their volunteers,” Bolante tells KYW Newsradio.

She says a family of four is facing an average loss of $36 a month in benefits. It doesn’t sound like much, Bolante says, but for low-income families looking to bridge a hunger gap, it can mean the world.

“People who are hungry also struggle to be productive at work, and kids who are hungry really can’t focus in school,” she says, “so we’re essentially robbing them of the ability to succeed and become productive adults.”

She says the cuts affecting these families will hurt the overall economy as well. Pennsylvania businesses accepting SNAP could lose out on $183 million.

Suzan Gould, executive director of Manna on Main Street, in Lansdale (Montgomery County), says they’ve been preparing for this day:

“What we have done here is that we have increased the amount of food that families can get by anywhere from five to ten percent for our food pantry.”

She credits a generous community, and organizations like Philabundance for helping them keep up with demand, but says there’s still uncertainty going forward.

She says their volunteers, about 20 a day in their soup kitchen and food pantry, are going to continue to do their best to help the people they see.

“It’s important to understand who it is that are getting SNAP benefits: working poor, seniors, families with children,” she notes.

In Pennsylvania, she says, that’s 766,000 kids who rely on SNAP benefits for meals.