On November 1st, 2013, President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 expired. The stimulus program enhanced the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, increasing food stamp and other benefits nationwide by about 13.6 percent. But now that it has ended, those benefits have been cut back.
Now, we’re back at pre-recession SNAP allotment levels, and many families are struggling to cope with the changes. In New Mexico alone, where about 20 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, about 444,000 people each year are served by SNAP. Families of three will see an average decrease of about $29 per month in benefits, according to the Huffington Post.
Benefits are based on the size and income of each household. The maximum benefit is now $429 per month, and the average household in NM receives about $290 per month. That’s not much for a month’s worth of groceries, especially when you consider that the average American spends about $151 per week on groceries (for one person), according to a 2012 Gallup poll.
So what can families do when they don’t bring in enough income to support their families and federal benefits are being cut back? Many have no choice but to visit local food pantries and shelters, forced to rely on the generosity of others just to get by.
About 20 percent of adults and 30 percent of children in New Mexico experience food insecurity, and the state has the highest level of childhood hunger in the nation.
“It isn’t good for society to have such a large number of people without proper nutrition,” says Melody Wattenbarger, CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank. “SNAP is the basic food safety net in our country and any cuts for that drive up demand. These cuts that are being proposed—the number that we’re hearing, they’re so massive. There’s just no way that private sector food programs, like Roadrunner Food Bank, can ever hope to meet that need. We won’t be successful in filling that gap.”
Further cuts to SNAP could be on the way, and the topic is currently being hotly debated in Washington. Many believe that benefits programs like SNAP are a drain on taxpayer and federal dollars, supporting well and able Americans that are simply not working. In some cases, that may be correct, but the majority of individuals covered by the program are from working families that simply can’t bring in enough on their own. Others may be unable to work because of medical or psychological conditions.
Many families will be waiting anxiously to hear the verdict on SNAP—will it be cut even more or will it continue to help families in need? Until we know more, keep your local food banks in mind—because there are definitely families and children out there who will be needing a little extra help in the new year.