Food stamp cuts hit millions; local food banks bracing for strain

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX -- Food stamp benefits for 47 million people will be trimmed by $5 billion starting today, when a temporary bump-up enacted during the recession expires.

Enrollment in food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has soared.

Some 47.6 million people, or nearly 15 percent of the population, get them, according to September federal data. That compares to 26.3 million, or 8.7% of the population, in 2007. The average benefit per person is $133.19 a month.

For families who rely on food stamps, it means a lot of planning and tough choices.

Here in Arizona, the cuts will affect more than 1 million people. The average person receives about $120 per month to buy groceries. The cuts mean individuals will be losing about $11. Families will lose about $65.

The cuts, coming on the heels of October's government shutdown, mean more people will be turning to local food banks.

"Our numbers are really up," Jerry Brown of St. Mary's Food Bank told 3TV's Ryan O'Donnell. "The amount of people that we distributed food to really jumped .... It really showed us how many folks are living paycheck to paycheck. When those paychecks didn't come during the shutdown last month, there were people at our doorstep almost immediately.

"This is a tough time of the year for us," he continued. "We're building for the holiday season and we distributed a lot more food in October than we normally do. That puts us in a difficult position for November."

Brown said St. Mary's is depending on a variety of drives schools and businesses will be holding.

"We need 7,000 to 10,000 turkeys to make sure that everybody has a great holiday," he said.

To that end, St. Mary's is holding its seventh annual "Gobble, Gobble!" Super Saturday Turkey Drive on Nov. 23.

In addition, Safeway is hosting "Turkey Tuesdays" this month. For everybody who donates a turkey on a Tuesday (Nov. 5, 12, 19 and 26), the chain will donate an additional turkey to St. Mary's and United Food Bank.