Effects of SNAP cuts set in

By Eleanor Black

During its monthly food distribution night Nov. 21, Wesley Evening Food Pantry was filled with families waiting to be called up so it could pick up any food items it may need. 

One of those waiting was Nicole Sechrest of Urbana, who said she has been on food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, since 1999. Like many other households across the country, she had recently found out that SNAP benefits were cut starting Nov. 1.

Her benefits were cut by $20, the maximum for a two-person household. Her initial reaction was shock, then worry about what the cut would mean for her family.

“I kind of was shocked, like, ‘No, it’s not going to get cut, we’ll be just fine,’” she said. “‘But if it does get cut, then we go to the food banks. But what if the food banks shut down?’”

Sechrest found out about the cuts from one of her friends, then had to confirm the news with her caseworker, whom she meets with once a week.

“I just had to figure out by myself (about the cut) and it was kind of scary,” she said. “You had to ask questions and then you hear a bunch of bull about it.”

The cut came as a result of the end of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s temporary boost to the program, initiated in response to the recession, which increased monthly benefits by 13.6 percent.

David Lloyd, policy analyst at Voices for Illinois Children, a children’s advocacy group, said the boost was made to stimulate both the economy and aid families who were personally impacted by the recession.

“SNAP benefits are considered one of the best ways to stimulate the economy, mostly because when people receive them they immediately spend them because food is a necessity,” he said. “Economists basically estimated that whenever we give an extra dollar of SNAP benefits out, there’s a multiplier effect that benefits the economy. There’s big bang for your buck.”

Lloyd said the cuts will affect about two million people, including about 900,000 children.

“It was essentially a 7 percent cut on average, or about $9 per person, per month,” he said. “Now the average benefit per person per meal is less than $1.40. It has extremely negative effects on families who are still struggling around the country and in Illinois.”

He added that so far, the immediate effects have been on food retailers, especially as the cuts started during the holiday season.

Donna Camp, the director of Wesley Evening Food Pantry, said it was too early to tell how people would be affected but she imagined that there may be an increase in attendance.

“It could be that the first month or so, people may just be trying to get by. It will be as the SNAP cuts continue, that three months from now, six months from now, somebody has a health issue and their car breaks down, now they’re really having to decide, ‘What do I pay for?’” she said. “If they know that they can get food here, then that helps them be able to take care of some of their other needs.”

Eleanor can be reached at [email protected]