Anti-hunger advocates sound alarm about looming cuts to food program

TRENTON – They are cuts to those who are least able to absorb any more hardships.  That is how one agency views looming benefits reductions to poorer families’ ability to purchase food.

A non-profit watchdog warned Monday that approximately 858,000 New Jerseyans will see a reduction in federal food stamp assistance when a temporary increase to the program ends this fall.

N.J. Policy Perspective said that the program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will suffer a cut in assistance on Nov. 1. The temporary boost had been part of the stimulus known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help get the country out of the economic downturn.

Of the 858,000 N.J. residents who will be affected, 413,000 are children, according to NJPP.

Nationally, more than 47 million people will be hurt by this reduction, NJPP said.

For a family of three in New Jersey, that cut will likely mean a reduction of $29 a month – $319 for the remaining 11 months of the federal fiscal year.

To people on the front lines of trying to provide meals to the hungry, this looming reduction to SNAP is misguided and uneducated.

“At worst, it’s a real vendetta against this program,’’ said Diane Riley, director of Advocacy at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. “We’re talking about actual meals being lost for people, people who are working at least some hours a week, school children needing to learn. These are people we need to keep fed.’’

And Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, said part of the problem is the myth that charity care makes up the difference when government funding drops.  “It cannot fill this gap,’’ she said today.      

Raymond Castro of NJPP said the average family of three in New Jersey will lose about 20 meals a month if this early sunset of the SNAP increase goes into effect.

This end to the stimulus increase is in addition to talk in Washington of cutting the program nationally by $40 billion over 10 years, he explained.

And the cuts in New Jersey would be on top of other reductions needy people have suffered since the recession began, cuts to the Earned Income Tax Credit, adult family care and other programs, the advocates said today.

The SNAP program responds to the economy, they said.  Its participation level rises when the economy drops and there are more people in need, and the participation level drops once the economy starts to rebound.

“That’s the good thing about the SNAP program,’’ LaTourette said.  “But you have people in Washington actually talking about gutting this program.’’  

To prepare for the looming reductions, LaTourette and Riley said they are working to inform recipients now so they won’t be surprised on Nov. 1, give them a working knowledge of where they might be able to turn, and they are urging them to call their elected officials.

“Pantries will be looking at empty shelves,’’ LaTourette said, adding many will have to limit the number of times a month clients can utilize them. Anti-hunger advocates sound alarm about looming cuts to food program