Unless Congress acts, across-the-board cuts to food stamp benefits will take effect Nov. 1, impacting about 253,000 Utahns or approximately 100,000 households.
In 2009, the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act boosted these Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits by about 13 percent as the nation reeled from the Great Recession. Food stamp amounts are based on the Thrifty Food Plan, a minimal menu set by the United States Department of Agriculture and periodically adjusted to keep pace with inflation.
The original intent of the stimulus was to continue the higher SNAP benefit until inflation surpassed it. But in 2011, Congress chose to sunset the increase as of Oct. 31, 2013, to offset improvements to the Child Nutrition program.
Depending on circumstances, a person can currently receive anywhere from $16 to $200 per month in food stamps. For Layton resident Randy Batchelor, his household of four which includes two teenagers taps the maximum monthly benefit of $668.
Come November, Batchelor will receive $36 less, a cut that he's not sure how his household will handle.
"Once a month we do a huge shopping trip and get everything we'll need," Batchelor said, "and then leave some aside for milk and bread and other stuff that we might run out of."The dilemma of having to further stretch their food dollars "worries me a little bit," Batchelor acknowledged. "We can always go with cheaper brands. At the end of the month we're running pretty tight we'll have to figure what we can do without."
In the meantime, staff at the state Department of Workforce Services (DWS) is gearing up to get the word out to clients about the pending cut, fully expecting a flood of phone calls after Halloween.
While DWS has no plans to send out a mass mailing, the agency will likely post notices on its website and in offices and could also include information on the phone message that clients hear while on hold.
"We'll work to keep staffing levels so that phone waits are as low as possible, and that people understand what's going on," said DWS General Counsel Geoffrey Landward, noting that his agency did not enact the cut but is tasked with coaching people through it.
Gina Cornia, executive director for Utahns Against Hunger, said that advocates on behalf of low-income people plan to orga nize in tandem with DWS to help them manage the transition.
Ginette Bott, chief marketing officer for the Utah Food Bank, said they're keeping a watchful eye on future cuts to assistance programs."It is important to us to be prepared to meet any increases in need for Utahns statewide," Bott said.
That increased need will likely occur, Cornia predicts.
"Will they buy cheaper food or supplement by going to emergency food pantries?" Cornia asked. "It doesn't sound like a lot of money, but if your only food budget is food stamps, that makes it a lot harder to bridge that gap."Linda Hilton, community outreach leader for the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, said that many of their clients are stressed about the coming cut especially as they head into winter.
"They'll have to decide what part of their limited budget to cut," Hilton said, "if they want to keep food for their family at the same level."
Twitter: @catmck Monthly food stamp cuts to occur Nov. 1*
One-person household • $11 ($200 drops to $189)
Two-person household • $20 ($367 drops to $347)
Three-person household • $29 ($526 drops to $497)
Four-person household • $36 ($668 drops to $632)
$1.40 • After the cut, average meal allowance per person
* Based on maximum monthly benefit
Sources: United States Department of Agriculture and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities