July 11, 2012

Food stamp cuts could make DFW charities' bad situation worse

Dorothy Moon worries every day about how she will feed her family of six.

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ARLINGTON -- Dorothy Moon worries every day about how she will feed her family of six.

A stay-at-home mom whose male partner is an unemployed auto worker, Moon relies heavily on the $793 a month she gets in food stamps and on the extra canned vegetables, meat and bread she gets from the food pantry at Arlington Charities.

But Moon and many others like her face an uncertain future.

Congress is considering steep reductions in food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Record spending made SNAP a prime target for cuts as lawmakers try to forge a five-year reauthorization of agricultural programs.

"No one should be hungry in the world with the amount of food we have," Moon said as she waited at Arlington Charities.

North Texas food banks and agencies that help a growing number of families like Moon's are also concerned about the burden that the food stamp cuts would shift to charities whose donations are already dwindling.

Andrea Helms, spokeswoman for Tarrant Area Food Bank, said food banks and their partner agencies can't provide as much nutritious food that SNAP can.

"As supplemental nutrition, SNAP makes the difference between healthy eating and skipping meals for families who have suffered job losses, high medical bills or other crises and cannot afford to purchase sufficient food if they want to pay the rent or mortgage and utility bills," she said.

The food stamp initiative cost around $75.7 billion last year, double what it cost four years ago, and is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's biggest expense. In April, about 46.2 million Americans, or 1 in 7, received food stamp benefits.

The House and Senate have produced competing plans for reducing that expenditure, with the House calling for $16.1 billion in cuts and the Senate seeking about $4 billion. The current farm legislation expires at the end of September, but it will likely be extended until after the November election.

The proposed cuts would affect more than 300,000 Texans, according to the Texas Food Bank Network. It says children and disabled people would be affected most.

"These are real cuts with real consequences for hungry families," said Celia Cole, CEO of the network. "It is outrageous that Congress is considering cutting a program that has nothing to do with deficit reduction, and everything to do with keeping Texans healthy and productive."

The proposed cuts are coming at a bad time for Arlington Charities, which serves 50,000 people a year, because it is receiving fewer donations, Executive Director Melanie Gibson said. She is considering telling families to come for food every 60 days instead of 30 days, and her staff encourages clients to apply for food stamps because the agency can't serve as a grocery store.

"This scares me, and it scares me for my clients. From my perspective, the demand is already so heavy, and we are considering cutbacks," she said.

The concerns are similar at Eastside Ministries in Fort Worth, where families and individuals receive food assistance. It helped 6,400 families in 2010 and about 7,200 in 2011, Director Jan Havins said. She can't understand why funding cuts are being proposed when the economy is still so fragile.

Moon said one of her highest priorities is making sure her children have nutritious food.

"I never thought that food would be a problem," she said. "This is mind-blowing and scary."

This report includes material from Bloomberg News.

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696 Twitter: @fwstliz

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