The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

November 8, 2013

Food pantries feeling the pinch

By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — For the first time in more than a decade, Vicki Clark might have to use a food pantry.

The 53-year-old Clinton resident received $60 less in food stamps this month to feed herself and her son, the result of a boost to the food program for low income residents from the 2009 federal stimulus expiring.

"There's no way I can live on $140 a month," Clark said.

The USDA's Supplemental Nutrion Assistance Program was cut by about $36 a month for the average family of four, sending many residents to area food banks with already bare shelves.

In October, 215 families sought food from the Associate Benevolent Society and the Salvation Army, an 11 percent increase from September, according to Information, Referral and Assistance Executive Director Regan Michaelsen.

"We have definitely had more people requesting food. We think people are just in a panic," Michaelsen said.

Associate Benevolent Society Executive Director Paula Mallory has seen the need to grow exponentially in her time at the organization.

Last month, the Benevolent Society provided food to 98 families, more than three times the amount they served when Mallory started 10 years ago.

The amount of people using the area food pantries that also use food stamps has increased by nearly 100 percent in the same time period with 90 percent of the families receiving or applying for food stamps. Cuts to the SNAP program only compound the organization's struggle to keep shelves stocked.

"With pretty close to all the food pantries we do the people are in the process of applying for food stamps or are using food stamps." Mallory said. "A lot of our people work, they just can't make ends meet. People are making more trips to the food bank and we try to help as much as we can, but I'm still nervous. It's shocking to go from 30 food pantries, to 60 and to 90. It makes a big difference."

The change to the SNAP program affects 422,000 Iowans and 47 million Americans.

Clark started using food stamps in 1996 after she suffered a stroke and heart attack and went on disability. Her usual monthly check was $200 until this month when the cuts took effect. Now, she fears she'll have to use a food pantry as her own shelves get bare toward the end of the month.

"If I lose my food stamps I have to decide if I'm going to buy food or pay a bill or buy medication. When you can't fend for yourself it kind of makes you feel worthless," Clark said. "But I gotta do what I gotta do."

The Salvation Arm finds many clients use the food pantry as a supplement to the food they buy with food stamps.

"People are feeling the pinch and they need help," Salvation Army Lt. Jeanette Jensen. "We are constantly running through supplies. We've had to put all our money into the pantry."

James Adkins, 22, of Clinton, stood outside the Benevolent Society on Thursday, a place he didn't find himself in before his food stamps were cut from $200 to $86 a month.

He's been on food stamps for nearly two years and, like Clark, is on disability.

"I can't afford to buy food for the whole month. I used to be able to buy meat and vegetables and enough food to last the whole month. Now I can buy maybe a couple pork chops and some vegetables, but I have to come here," Adkins said.

More cuts to the SNAP program, which has more than doubled in cost since 2008, could be on the way as Congress debates different versions of the Farm Bill. Under the Senate bill, the SNAP program would be cut by $4 billion over the course of 10 years. The House bill calls for $40 billion in cuts over the same period, lending no comfort to the thinly stretched food pantries and the people who use them.

"I think people are already starting to panic and know there are more cuts to come," Michaelsen said. "I do think it's going to get worse."