The farm bill passed by Congress earlier this week trims $8.5 billion over the next decade in food-stamp benefits, but the cuts likely will not impact low-income Utahns.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that administers food stamps to 47 million Americans was a topic of hot debate for the past six months. The Senate bill sought $4 billion in SNAP cuts over a 10-year period, while the House of Representatives proposal outlined $40 billion in reductions.
Althoughmost of the cuts sought in the House bill were ultimatelyleft out of the legislation, the reductions approved will cut benefits to some 850,000 households in 17 states by an average of $90 per month, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Utah is not among them because it does not link food-stamp eligibility to aid for home heating and air conditioning and so will dodge those reductions.
About 250,000 Utahns receive SNAP benefits. More than half of the households that qualify for food stamps have children, according to Gina Cornia, executive director of Utahns Against Hunger.
"Monthly [food stamp] benefits will not go down," Cornia said. "That is good news for Utah."
One exception is college students. Under the new provisions, they do not qualify for food stamps. Food stamps also will be more difficult to obtain for felons convicted of "heinous" crimes.
The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Actboosted SNAP benefits but in November, Congress rolled them back to pre-recession levels. For a family of four that qualified for the maximum benefit of food stamps, that meant a reduction of $36 per month to $632.
The cut sent many recipients to food pantries to make up the difference.
In Salt Lake City, for example, the Crossroads Urban Center’s client list jumped 18 percent last month from January 2013, said Rachel Fischbein, emergency services director. During the past month, the pantry served 1,915 clients.
"I hope 18 percent is not an indicator for what’s ahead," she said. "For us, it’s always bad if we get busier."
Thus far, however, donations have been able to keep pace with the surge in demand at the Crossroads Urban Center pantry.
January is always a tough month for the needy, said Mary Richardson, neighborhood coordinator for Salt Lake Community Action pantries. And in suburban and rural areas the need for food is up, she said.
Roughly half of the 24,000 households served by Community Action pantries also receive food-stamp benefits, she said.
"When the cuts rolled out in November, we definitely felt it," Richardson said.
Even though most Utahns won’t see food stamps cut further, summertime looms as the most difficult time, she said, because children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and breakfasts won’t be in school to receive them.
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