Utah County braces for food stamp cuts

With a recent cut in food stamp funding, Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo is gearing up for increased demand. Photo courtesy AP
With a recent cut in food stamp funding, Community Action Services and Food Bank in Provo is gearing up for increased demand. (Photo courtesy AP)

A nationwide cut in food stamp funding has reduced benefits for the nine percent of Utahns on food stamps, and Utah County non-profits and businesses are bracing themselves for the cut’s impact.

The cut began after federal funding from the 2009 Recovery Act, which boosted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), ended on Nov. 1. For 253,000 Utah recipients of SNAP benefits, the effects hit hard.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the cuts reduce benefits by $36 for a household of four, a significant number considering SNAP benefits after the cuts will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.

“More people are going to find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for help,” said Jorge Juarez, Housing and Homeless Coordinator for United Way of Utah County. “Money that they had available for other things is going to have to go to food. Utilities might be in danger, some rent payments may be in danger, other things previously being addressed will not be able to be met.”

But the effects reach beyond those on benefits, affecting organizations throughout Utah County.

United Way of Utah County deals primarily with information and referral services, helping people to find resources to overcome difficult circumstances. According to Juarez, it is preparing to handle an increase in calls — both from those wanting to give resources and those needing them. The demand is expected to increase as SNAP recipients receive their slashed benefits on their assigned distribution date this month.

Additionally, the organization’s Sub for Santa program, which provides gifts to children of families in need, has already seen an increase in demand. According to Juarez, individuals started calling for assistance in early October, a month before normal. The cuts will also test churches and businesses.

“The biggest impact is probably going to be places like Smiths or Walmart,” Juarez said. “There will be less money going to those businesses, so it will affect those businesses more than anyone.”

The strain has already been felt at Community Action Services and Food Bank in Utah County, which is preparing for greater demand this month.

“We’ve seen an increase in clients this year, even independent of the (food stamp) cuts,” said Craig Severinsen, the organization’s communications director. “In the past six months we’ve seen as many families as we normally see in a year.”

While the exact reason for the increase in families is unclear, the possible sources of strain are many, Severinsen said. The government shutdown, sequester and the cuts to food stamps have all contributed to increased need across the country are likely pain-points for the 6,000 families served in the last six months.

Community Action Services has had to ramp-up efforts, holding more food drives and events to combat a decrease in giving over the last seven years.

“We’re doing well, but we do need support,” Severinsen said. “If the whole community got together and the whole community supported each other it wouldn’t matter what Washington did. It wouldn’t matter if they cut food stamps. It wouldn’t matter because the community has banded together.”

Severinsen suggested that students and others in the Utah County community get involved by donating money to Community Action Services. Because of the organization’s partnerships, it is able to provide five meals for every dollar donated. BYU students will be asked to donate soon during the Valley United Food Drive later this month.

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