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Thousands of Louisianans to suffer due to decreases in SNAP benefits

3rd September 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fritz Esker
Contributing Writer

A temporary four-year boost to Sup­plemental Nutrition Assistance Pro­gram (SNAP) benefits will end on November 1, resulting in substantial cuts for every SNAP household in America.

According to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Louisiana can expect a $98 million cut in SNAP benefits for the 2014 fiscal year. An estimated 20 percent of Louisiana’s total population, consisting of 878,146 recipients spread throughout 392,667 households, receives these benefits. In the United States, only the District of Columbia (22%), Mississippi (22%), New Mexico (21%), and Oregon (21%) have higher percentages of their population receiving SNAP benefits. Kentucky and Tennessee are tied with Louisiana at 20%.

The Numbers
In the 2013-14 fiscal year, the Orleans region has 81,171 total SNAP cases according to numbers provided by the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services. Orleans Midtown has the highest number within the region at 41,414, followed by Jefferson Westbank at 18,660, then Jefferson Eastbank at 11,019. Orleans Algiers has 4,962 cases, St. Bernard has 3,998, and Plaquemines at 1,118.

Numbers provided by the US Department of Agriculture indicate Louisiana’s average monthly benefit per person on SNAP was $136.10 for 2012. There had been a steady in­crease in average benefits each year since 2008, when benefits were just $108.04. It climbed to $128.86 in 2009, to $129.77 in 2010, to $130.59 in 2011. These increases are attributed to the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvest­ment Act, designed to increase economic stimulus and ease hardship. Without this boost, the benefits are expected to average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014.

The maximum monthly benefits per household starting after October will be $189 for a household of 1 (down from $200), $347 for a household of two (down from $367), $497 for a household of three (down from $526), and $632 for a household of four (down from $668).

The Consequences
The consequences could be dire for poverty stricken or disabled residents. In a report on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website, Stacy Dean and Dottie Rosenbaum state, “These cuts will likely cause hardship for some SNAP participants, who include 22 million children in 2014 (10 million of whom live in ‘deep poverty,’ with family incomes below half of the poverty line) and 9 million people who are elderly or have a serious disability.”

Senator Mary Landrieu voiced strong support of the SNAP program and emphasized its importance to Louisianans, citing that half of the state’s SNAP recipients are children and that every $1 in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in local economic activity.

“SNAP is an effective way to help struggling Louisiana families, many of whom are working families, to make ends meet and provide nutritious food to their children,” Senator Landrieu said. “I continue to support this vital program because it enables Louisiana children, seniors, and persons with disabilities to have reliable access to healthy foods so they can become more productive, successful citizens…How we treat the most vulnerable among us is a testament to our fundamental values.”

Jane Remson, director of the New Orleans chapter of Bread for the World, an ecumenical Christian organization dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger around the world, says the cuts are part of a larger Republican strategy to eliminate the program entirely.

“I think they want to do away with the programs altogether, and the way to do that is to just keep cutting,” Remson said.

Remson said that money should not be the primary concern in addressing the issue, that it is the duty of Christians to look out for poor, the hungry, and the less fortunate.

“It’s not a dollars and cents issue; it’s a moral issue,” Remson said. “People are working, they’re just not earning enough to provide for their families.”

SNAP and Farmers Markets
An area where SNAP dollars are reinvested into New Orleans’ local economy is farmers markets. In recent years, local farmers markets have made a push to make their healthy, locally grown products available to people using SNAP. Traditionally, poor people have frequently suffered from malnutrition, as the most affordable food and beverage choices are often unhealthy.

While local officials are concerned about a potential loss in SNAP customers due to the benefit cuts, there are measures in place to encourage SNAP members to keep shopping at farmers markets. Emery Van Hook Sonnier, interim executive director of Market Umbrella, which operates the Crescent City Farmers Market, says there is a program called Market Match in place where if a customer uses $20 with SNAP, then the market will match that $20. This $40 of food for $20 campaign runs six months out of the year: in July/Aug­ust/Sept­ember and January/Feb­ruary/­March.

Sonnier said that while this program has always been important, it will be particularly important once the SNAP cuts take effect. She added that Market Umbrella will continue to work to find new ways to make farmers markets accessible to economically disadvantaged customers.

“Farmers markets are for everybody, not just people of a certain income bracket or a certain race,” Sonnier said.

State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry said it’s important to emphasize healthy choices. Even though SNAP benefits are being cut, Dr. Guidry pointed to programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) for teaching people the importance of eating well and exercise.

“The way to increase nutrition, health, and fitness in our state is through education,” Dr. Guidry said.

* Inquiries made to the offices of Senator David Vitter and Governor Bobby Jindal were not returned as of press time.

This article originally published in the September 02, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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