Five percent cut to federal food aid program starts November 1; nearly 100,000 Alaskan households impacted
ANCHORAGE – Cuts to the federal food stamp program taking effect Friday will remove hundreds of dollars from the grocery budgets of thousands of Alaskans.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, received billions in additional funding in 2009, part of the nation’s multi-billion dollar stimulus package. Those billions also came with an expiration date: November 1, 2013. Now thousands of Alaskans, and millions of Americans, will see a five percent cut in their monthly benefits starting Friday.
That’s bound to leave the more than 94,000 Alaskans registered for SNAP unable to put enough food on the table. More than 38,000 households statewide — 14,000 of which are in Anchorage — will be affected.
In all, the SNAP program has seen a 53 percent jump in Alaskan enrollment since 2008. Susan Bomalaski, the executive director of Catholic Social Services, said their St. Francis House food pantry delivers a ton of food — more than 2,000 pounds — to needy families every day. She said many who come to the pantry rely on food banks in addition to their SNAP benefits.
“People are really struggling,” she said, overseeing volunteers guiding people through the facility’s small food pantry. She said SNAP often means the difference between paying the bills and putting food on the table.
“People come here and they get food so they can pay their utility bill, or they can pay their rent,” she said. “Costs are rising faster than wages are rising, so people are falling into homelessness. So food pantries are really one of the ways we help people stay in their homes.”
When the SNAP cuts come into effect, “you’ve now got to spend $100 more a month on food, what happens to your rent?”
Previously, a family of four in Alaska was receiving $797 dollars a month through SNAP. Starting tomorrow, they’ll receive $755 dollars a month. That’s a difference of more than $500 a year.
“I would be grateful if the benefits would be increased,” said Joseph Malone. He was picking up groceries for his family Thursday afternoon at St. Francis House. Working full-time, his wife babysits their five-month-old son Jacob while she finishes school. For the last year, his job hasn’t been enough to make ends meet. So, like thousands of Alaskans statewide, he turns to his local food pantry to make ends meet.
“The price of food has gone up so dramatically … it’s very difficult to make ends meet,” he said, loading cans of potatoes and a loaf of bread in his cart. Joseph said he’s ineligible for SNAP benefits, but his wife does receive them. When the cut shows up in the benefits next month, he said the family “is just going to be doing the best that we can do … if you have to postpone bills or trim the fat in some other crucial areas to make it happen, then that’s the way we do it.”
For Joseph and his family of three, those cuts mean a $400 dollar bite out of their annual food budget.
Bomalaski expects to see even more people lining up at the food pantry if more cuts to SNAP go through. The pantry is already struggling to keep enough food on the shelves. She’s not sure how the pantry will handle rising demand.
“Congress is debating the farm bill right now, and both the House and Senate versions are potentially cutting millions of people off of those food stamps,” she said.
“It’s hard to envision that people think food stamps are a luxury,” she said. “We all need to eat, we need healthy food to eat.”
For Joseph and his family, he said dealing with the five percent cut is something they’ll figure out, one way or another.
“It’s something that … anything helps,” he said quietly. “It’s one of the situations where anything helps.”