Thousands of families in Central Virginia now have fewer financial resources to work with while shopping for food in supermarkets and farmers markets.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus, ended recently, and with it went the extra funding it provided the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
The cuts are expected to send more unemployed and underemployed workers to food pantries, food banks and kitchens as they struggle to make their money last the month.
Most households in Virginia will see about a 5.4-percent decrease in SNAP benefits, according to the Virginia Department of Social Services.
“It’s just a 5-percent decrease, but when you are living on the edge, 5 percent is a big difference,” said Jeanell Smith, a SNAP educator and family nutrition program assistant with the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Officials said benefits could drop an average of $11 per month for individuals in the food stamp program and $36 a month for a family of four. Larger families could see up to $65 less each month. Decreases will vary because food stamps are based on income, household size and expenses.
Children and the elderly are expected to be affected the most by the cuts. Local officials said that as a result of the decrease, area pantries and food banks, already stretched, will see more people at their doors.
“It comes at a tough time of the year when people are trying to budget heating costs with other costs and they may have to decide whether to buy food, gasoline for their car to get to work or pay for heat,” said Michael McKee, chief executive officer for the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank. “This is the time of year when a lot of people rely on food banks and food kitchens to help make ends meet.”
McKee said the cuts may not seem like a lot, but could feed a family of four for a weekend.
“If you shop well, $36 can go a long way for a family of four,” he said. “That’s enough money to buy dried beans, peanut butter, large containers of oatmeal and other items that can be used to feed a family for a weekend or longer.”
McKee said food banks and pantries have grown accustomed to scrambling to help feed the working poor since the economy tanked in 2008.
“We now serve about 113,000 people, about twice what we served in 2006,” he said. “We lost a lot of good-paying, full-time jobs with benefits in the recession, but most of the jobs created since then have been lower-paid jobs that are often part-time. We have a lot of underemployed people.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Virginia’s total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force, is 5.7 percent.
But 11.6 percent of the state’s civilian labor force is either unemployed, working only on occasion or employed part-time because full-time jobs are not available.
“Losing [food stamps] benefits is going to hurt those families who are working and struggling,” McKee said.