The 30-year-old Piedmont resident said she and her two children, ages 9 and 10, go without meat the last week of the month, when the money often runs low. Sometimes she visits a food bank to keep her family fed, Patterson said.
Beginning this month, Patterson will get about $26 less in food stamps. She is one of the more than 24,000 Calhoun County residents who will have less money to spend on food as a 2009 temporary increase of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, known as food stamps, expired Friday.
That $26 cut could mean about four fewer meals for her family, Patterson said.
“I’ll cook spaghetti or Hamburger Helper. We don’t do big stuff,” Patterson said. “This also means we’ll cut out snacks for school.”
She’s been unemployed for nearly a year, Patterson said, and despite the many applications she’s turned in without landing a job, she hasn’t given up looking.
By the numbers
For a family of four who receive the maximum benefit, SNAP payments have shrunk by about $36 or about 5.5 percent.
That may not seem like much, said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst at the anti-poverty group Alabama Arise, but it could have a devastating effect on low-income SNAP recipients.
The cut takes the average benefit to less than $1.40 per meal, according to an August study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Nationally, the $5 billion cut will affect 22 million children in the United States, according to the center’s study.
The average monthly benefit from SNAP in 2011 was $281, according to an annual report that year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
There were 24,858 SNAP recipients in Calhoun County, or about 21 percent of the county’s population, in August, the last month for which figures from the Alabama Department of Human Resources are available; they received $3.4 million in benefits in August. Next month’s SNAP benefits in Calhoun County could be reduced by more than $185,000 because of the cut.
Statewide in 2012 the average monthly number of SNAP recipients was 910,000. Alabama received $1.4 billion from the federal government last year to pay for those benefits.
Gundlach believes food stamp recipients are often wrongly thought of as being able to work, but unwilling.
“But the data just doesn’t support that,” Gundlach said. “Most of the people who are on food stamps are children, the elderly, the disabled or the working poor.”
The federal government’s budget for SNAP increased from about $30 billion in 2007 – the year before the Great Recession – to about $81 billion last year.
Gundlach said that while the economy continues to improve, those changes aren’t being reflected in the lives of most SNAP recipients.
“For them, their economies don’t really change all that much with a little uptick or downtick in the unemployment rate,” Gundlach said.
The ripple effect
The cuts will also increase pressure on local food pantries, Gundlach said, as SNAP recipients try to make their food stamp benefits last throughout the month.
Maudine Holloway, director of Community Enabler Developer, said her Anniston food- and clothing-assistance nonprofit usually receives more food donations during the holidays.
“But our donations have been off,” Holloway said. “Just a few special churches have brought in donations. I don’t know how we’re going to manage.”
Community Enabler provided food to more than 5,000 people last year, largely families and the elderly, Holloway said. The organization has helped more than 4,000 this year through October, she said. She expects to serve more this year than last, but with less food to give, individual portions have become smaller.
Holloway said she is preparing for a much harder year now that SNAP has been cut.
“Next year it’s really going to hit us,” she said. “People out there that are hungry are really going to catch it. We’re better than this. America, we’re better than this.”
Local grocers will also feel the impact of the cuts, Gundlach said, particularly in low-income communities where grocers depend more heavily on money from SNAP recipients.
“In these communities, people who work in those stores are dependent on other people spending their food stamps in order for them to keep their job,” Gundlach said.
Gundlach said the cuts could “ironically result in a loss of jobs, which is the very thing that the argument for cutting is hanging its hat on.”
The Alabama Department of Human Resources estimates that the SNAP program created an economic impact of $2.5 billion last year.
More cuts to SNAP are expected as legislators work to pass a new five-year farm bill, which addresses agricultural and food issues. Committees from both the Senate and the House started negotiations on the bill Oct. 30.
The Democrat-controlled Senate proposed the SNAP program be cut by $4.5 billion over 10 years. The Republican-led House proposed it be cut by $39 billion over the same time period.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the House version would remove approximately 3.8 million low-income people from the SNAP program in 2014, and an average of almost 3 million people each year over the next decade.
“What these cuts do is make it that much harder for these families to get close to the end of the month with the food stamps they’ve got,” Gundlach said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.
August SNAP recipients & benefits
Calhoun County ................ 24,858, $3.4 million
Alabama .......................913,774, $118.5 million