Drop in SNAP benefits sends local food banks into overdrive

December 19, 2013 • Local News

Carl Harrison, driver and warehouse worker for Salvation Army in Roswell, packs a basket of emergency food for a family of four at the Salvation Army Food Bank, Tuesday. (Tess Townsend Photo)

Clients were queuing up for shopping carts of emergency food at the Salvation Army Food Bank on South East Main Street early Tuesday afternoon.

“Gotta do what you gotta do to make it as a mom,” said Evon, 33, of Roswell, as she waited for her cart.

The 2009 Recovery Act’s stimulus funding for federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps, expired Nov. 1.

The ensuing decrease in SNAP assistance — a total drop of $43 million per month in New Mexico, according to the state Human Services Department — has put local food pantries in the position of making up the difference for aid recipients.

In Chaves County, which is home to 15,482 SNAP recipients according to HSD, food banks Roadrunner Mobile Food Pantry and Salvation Army-Roswell report an increase in clients since the temporary boost to SNAP ended.

Reduction in benefits varies by family size, with a family of three seeing a deduction of $29 from each monthly check, according to HSD.

Salvation Army Business Coordinator Fran Brown said that such a cut has a tangible effect on food security in a household.

“For some of these families, $40 a month is the last week in the month that they have food,” she said.

Evon, who declined to state her last name out of a desire for privacy, said her family of four saw their monthly SNAP check drop from $443 to $386.

The former nursing assistant, who cannot work due to disability, had visited food banks in the past but said that the cutbacks have made her, her employed husband and two young sons increasingly dependent on community resources for help.

Billie Jene Montano, supervisor of the Salvation Army Food Bank on South East Main, said data from the food bank reflect the severity of the effects of SNAP funding cuts.

“There’s tons of new families because they don’t have enough food,” she said. “Before, I didn’t see this many come in here.”

Statistics provided by Montano show that numbers began to climb mid-October. The last two weeks of the month, 202 clients visited the emergency shelf, bringing the total for the month to 397, records show.

Montano attributed the spike in October to clients’ fears of impending slumps in payments from SNAP and other food assistance programs such as Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).

“Everything weighed on people’s minds and so they were just trying to scrounge up what they could, where they could,” she said.

November brought in 332 recipients, according to the data. In comparison, 219 came to take away emergency food in September, records show.

Roadrunner Mobile Food Pantry Coordinator Jane Batson echoed Montano, saying the roving pantry on wheels has “definitely seen an increase in the number of people requesting food over the past two months.”

“We have also seen an increase in the number of people coming to us during the days in between the monthly deliveries,” she wrote in an email.

Resources are not sufficient to serve all families who come, she added.

“Unfortunately, we have more families coming for food on the third Thursday in Roswell than we have food to give from the mobile food pantry. I would say that involves an average of 10-15 families that we cannot serve completely due to lack of food,” she wrote.

Not all local pantries have seen an abnormal increase in need. Harvest Ministries and Saint Peter’s Church, which both run food pantries, report only a slight influx, which they attribute to normal holiday season traffic.

For food providers that do see an atypical increase, there is a silver lining: community support.

Alyssa Barnes, director of community initiatives for Albuquerque-based Roadrunner Food Bank, said the food bank projects it will distribute 900,000 pounds of food to its 26 active partners in Chaves County by the end of the fiscal year in June 2014.

The mobile food pantry, Harvest, and Salvation Army-Roswell are all partners of Roadrunner.

The statewide food bank distributed 140,000 fewer pounds of food in the county in the last fiscal year, Barnes said.

Barnes attributes the projected increase to upticks in donations, especially from retail donors such as Walmart.

Salvation Army-Roswell Capt. Mandy Perez said contributions from the community have been instrumental in helping her organization meet a “noticeable and significant increasing need” that she says started two years ago but intensified recently.

“Our community has been extremely generous in both gift in kind (non-perishable foods) and monetary donations,” Perez wrote in an email.

But Barnes fears the 2013 farm bill will herald mounting struggles for food banks when it is passed next year. The bill includes proposals for new cuts to SNAP and The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), a federal program that provides food to community pantries.

“We’re nervous about the proposed changes to the farm bill. We want to make sure that our lines don’t get any longer,” she said.

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