News Column

Cuts in Food Stamps Avoided for 9 Months

Jan. 3, 2013

Donna Gehrke-White, Sun Sentinel

Families on food stamps won't have to worry about the federal government cutting the food program: Congress extended the current provisions for another nine months as part of the federal farm policy.

"It helps us immensely," said the Rev. Pam Cahoon, executive director of CROS (Christians Reaching Out to Society) Ministries, a coalition of about 100 religious groups that runs food pantries and other programs to feed the hungry in Palm Beach County, Fla.

She had worried that any cuts in food stamps would hurt the hundreds of thousands of South Floridians now receiving the aid to feed their families.

"Too many [families] need it to survive," said Michele Venable of the nonprofit Jubilee Center of South Florida.

South Florida families especially rely on it during winter break and in the summer when children can't get their free or subsidized school breakfasts and lunches, said Venable at the Hollywood-based soup kitchen and food pantry. That puts a burden on hard-pressed families to come up with the food to provide the extra meals, she said.

"Some of our children go without -- they go hungry," said Venable.

However, the proposed cuts would largely affect other states that automatically give people food stamps if they qualify for some programs, such as heating assistance, that South Florida doesn't have, said Michael Mahaffey, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Tequesta).

Benefits should "go to the truly needy," said Rooney, who is chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock, Poultry and Dairy. The congressman said in a statement that he favors restrictions on food stamps that would prevent abuse and save taxpayers' dollars.

Current federal aid to food stamps won't end until Sept. 30 when federal lawmakers will have to decide by then the nation's farm policy. Food stamps -- its formal name is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- is part of that federal agriculture policy.

Both the Senate and the House have agreed on cutting food stamps, but the Senate's version favors cutting much less than the House does.

The food aid program is now costing billions of dollars more a year since the Great Recession started in late 2007.

Even with an improving economy this year, the number of South Floridians on food stamps has continued to show double-digit increases. Broward and Palm Beach counties had 477,392 receiving food stamps as of November, the last month the Department of Children and Families had released data in December. Those getting the federal food aid in Palm Beach County jumped 14 percent in a year while the numbers grew 12 percent in Broward.

In fact, the number of people on food stamps has almost tripled since the Great Recession began in December 2007, when only 162,860 were on the program in the two counties.

Cutting food stamps now could only hurt South Florida with so many receiving the aid, said Cahoon of the coalition that runs food pantries and other programs to feed the hungry in Palm Beach County.

Source: (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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