Food Stamp Benefits Shrink As Congress Debates Further Cuts

Nov 1, 2013

 Cuts to food stamp benefits could lead to more reliance on food banks like the University District Food Bank in Seattle.
Cuts to food stamp benefits could lead to more reliance on food banks like the University District Food Bank in Seattle.
Credit KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

In Washington state, food stamp recipients are being notified that their benefits will be reduced in November. Federal stimulus funding has provided a boost to benefits since 2009, but that funding just expired.

At the University District Food Bank in Seattle, the line begins an hour and a half before the doors open. A Russian woman named Svetlana says she always tries to be one of the first ones there. She says this food bank is one of the best because it lets people take more fresh produce. She receives food stamps too, which she uses for meat and cheese, groceries that are harder to come by at the food bank.

Svetlana has a 15-year-old daughter who often begs her to get a pizza delivered.  “We never ever buy pizza for order,” she said.

It’s too expensive. And the cut in food stamps won’t make the juggling act any easier.

Washington state has 592,000 families enrolled in its food stamp program. The federal reduction in funding means that the average food assistance benefit will shrink by $20 a month. That means the average recipient will now get $215 a month for food.

The increase was meant to be temporary, to help people cope with the recession. Julie Washburn is the executive director of the Washington Food Coalition. She said food banks are seeing fewer new clients as the economy improves. But she said the number of returning clients is not going down. “If you look back 10 years ago there was just shy of five million returning clients in the state of Washington,” Washburn said.  “Now the new normal for the last couple years has been over seven million.”

Linda Varon is one of the people who regularly combines her food stamps, social security income, and trips to the Marysville Community Food Bank, across the street from where she lives.  “There’s a lot of other seniors in this building who are in the same boat. They totally depend on the food bank and food stamps,” Varon said.

She said she sees a lot of families using the food bank, and worries about how they will cope with the funding cuts. “I’m going to get by because I have the food bank, and, you know, I’m so grateful for that,” Varon said. “But it’s going to affect people who get more food stamps and lost more.”

A family of four will see benefits reduced by $36, bringing their maximum food stamp benefit to $632 a month.

Food bank directors say they’re not sure yet what impact the cuts will have on demand. But what they’re worried about are the larger cuts to the food stamp program that Congress is currently debating.