By Tiffeny Owens
The Cullman Times
Nearly 5,000 households in Cullman County receiving food stamps have had benefits reduced this month with the expiration of a temporary increase in the federal food assistance program.
The decrease is the result of the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that went into effect in April 2009. According to the Alabama Department of Human Resources that administers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, a family of four receiving the maximum benefit will see their benefit decrease from $668 to $632 per month. An individual recipient receiving the maximum benefit will see a decrease from $200 to $189 per month. However, many families and individuals do not receive the maximum benefit, said Barry Spear, Alabama DHR spokesman, in a news release.
According to Alabama DHR’s June monthly report, Alabama had 422,338 households and 914,339 people receiving SNAP benefits. They received $117.8 million in benefits for the month, or $129 per person. At the end of October, there were approximately 4,990 households in Cullman County receiving SNAP benefits, said Angelia Watts with Cullman County DHR.
Each household should have received a notice by mail telling them the exact amount of their benefits after the reduction. They may also call 1-800-382-0499 to find out the new amount of their monthly benefit.
The reduction will impact nearly 48 million SNAP recipients nationwide— 87 percent of whom live in households with children, seniors, or people with disabilities, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
More than 80 percent of SNAP households have a monthly income below the federal poverty line ($19,500 a year for a family of three), and more than 40 percent live in deep poverty, with income below half of the poverty line. Nationally, more than 21 million children — more than 1 in 4 of all children — live in a household that receives SNAP.
Federal funding for SNAP — which 100 percent funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — spiked during the recession, with benefits increasing by nearly 14 percent in 2009. Simultaneously, enrollment surged during the recession, increasing by 70 percent from 2007 to 2011 before leveling off, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The cuts won’t just affect low-income families; groceries and discount retailers that accept food stamps are also bracing for the reduction.
“ We are watching this issue closely. We are cautious, but modestly optimistic that customers who are focused on price will turn to Walmart as a solution,” said Jack Sinclair, executive vice president of the food business for Walmart U.S. in a statement. “We know that the SNAP reductions going will bring additional pressure to our customers. Our customers always rely on us to be a price leader, and we take that responsibility seriously."
Walmart said it plans to roll back prices on key items, such as select sugar, flour and corn products, to help its customers stretch their budgets even further.
According to the American Center for Progress, the SNAP cuts will result in 11,300 lost jobs in the retail market— including grocery stores— 21,000 jobs lost in food manufacturing and agriculture, and more than 8,000 jobs lost in trucking and warehousing.
In Alabama, SNAP benefits cannot be used to buy beer, wine, liquor, tobacco or non-food items. They can be used to buy plants or seeds that produce food.
* Tiffeny Owens can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 256-734-2131, ext. 135.