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Food Stamp Cuts Affect 4.2 Million Californians

Olivia Niland |
November 20, 2013 | 2:56 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Federal food assistance could be further reduced by $40 billion over the next 10 years (Wikimedia)
Federal food assistance could be further reduced by $40 billion over the next 10 years (Wikimedia)
Reductions in food stamp benefits across the country have impacted more than four million Californians since going into effect at the beginning of this month. 

When a 2009 stimulus package expired on Nov. 1, the cut automatically went into effect, impacting over ten percent of all California families who receive food benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known at the state level as the CalFresh Program.

Roughly 550,000 Los Angeles County households and 160,000 San Bernardino County households receive food stamps, with more than one million individuals affected by the cuts between the two counties.  

"This cut has impacted people a great deal," said Sue Sigler, Executive Director of the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB), which helps Californians access food assistance and nutrition programs. "This hasn't affected just some people and not others; everyone receiving food stamps in California has been affected."

The reductions are expected to result in the equivalent of 21 fewer individual meals per month, and cuts of about $36 less per month for a family of four who currently receives federal food assistance, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In order to qualify for food stamps, individuals must earn no more than 130 percent of the federal poverty level. A majority of the 4.2 million Californians who will be affected by this cut are children, the elderly and disabled, according to the CAFB.

"These cuts are affecting our most vulnerable citizens," said Sigler. "Children, the elderly and disabled, these are people who don't have the option of going out and finding employment if they don't have enough to eat."

The food stamp reductions will hit Californians especially hard because according to a recent Food Research and Action Center report, the state is home to two of the nation's hungriest cities—Fresno and Bakersfield, the fifth and second hungriest cities respectively.

In addition to families and individuals, the cut in food stamp benefits is also expected to affect food retailers, as those who rely upon federal assistance will be forced to reduce food purchases. For every $1 in food stamps spent, an estimated $1.70 is generated in economic activity, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

"Everyone agrees that the biggest bang for the buck in terms of economic stimulation comes from food stamp dollars," said Sigler. 

The four-year food stamp benefit increase resulted from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, launched in 2009 in order to help stimulate the economy during the recession. 

Affected participants were notified about the cuts by e-mail several months ago, according to California Department of Social Services spokesperson Michael Weston, who said that those affected are encouraged to utilize “alternatives” such as food banks for further assistance. 

This approach is problematic, according to Sigler, as non-profit organizations such as food banks are often expected to fill the gap left by federal food assistance, despite limited resources.

"To put it into perspective, food banks provide 3.3 billion meals nationally each year," said Sigler. "As a result of the reductions on Nov. 1, 1.9 billion meals have already been cut, and the House's version of the Farm Bill proposes cutting another 1.5 billion meals. Add these two cuts together, and that's more meals than food banks across the country are providing each year in total."

The current reduction will save the country an estimated $5 billion a year—with $457 million in savings in California alone, according to a Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Report. 

Further cuts have already been approved by the House's approval of a Republican measure which would slash $40 billion from food assistance benefits over the next 10 years, during which time private, non-profit organizations anticipate that many food assistance responsibilities will fall to them. 

"Food banks really ramped up our efforts after the recession," said Sigler. "But we don't have the resources to make up the gap in providing for citizens' welfare. For people in Washington to say that non-profit organizations should make up these shortcomings is just unrealistic. Food banks would have to double what we're already doing just to meet these needs, and we're already doing more than ever."

Reach Staff Reporter Olivia Niland hereFollow Olivia Niland on Twitter @olivianiland.



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