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Food stamp benefits cut for thousands in Hall County
As federal leaders battle over funding program, area agencies struggle to meet rising need
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Food stamp recipients are seeing their benefits reduced this month due to an end in federal stimulus funding.

As part of the 2009 Recovery Act, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program received a temporary boost in funding to compensate for the shrinking economy.

In Hall County, 31,888 people receive food stamps. As of Friday, each of the 13,563 recipient households in the county now receive about 5 percent less each month.

“This change will impact every household that receives food stamps and the amount will vary depending on the household size and income,” said Erica Williams, communication coordinator for the Georgia Department of Human Services. “For example, for a household of three, this change could mean a reduction in benefits of up to $29 per month.”

The federally funded program provides monthly benefits to low-income households to help pay for food. Nationwide, the benefits go to 1 in 7 Americans and fluctuate based on factors that include food prices, inflation and income.

Recipients use Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which function similar to debit cards, allowing them to purchase most food items, excluding hot and previously prepared food, alcohol and cigarettes.

Local charities are already bracing for an increased demand due to the cuts.

“Food stamps are the first line of defense,” said Kay Blackstock, executive director of the Georgia Mountain Food Bank. “When people are in crisis situations and they need those emergency benefits, they turn to those programs.

“The benefits are already very small compared to what it takes to feed a family, and when they cut even deeper, it is usually the food pantries that have to fill in the gaps.”

The food bank already has been contacted by individuals worried about reduced benefits. Blackstock estimates the organization will have to do five times the amount of work it does now to keep up with demand.

“It is something that is on the mind of every charitable organization,” she said. “It is terrifying knowing it is going to get worse.”

Due to the struggling economy, SNAP has more than doubled in cost since 2008, now almost $80 billion a year, and has become a target for Republicans looking to cut federal spending.

Negotiations are underway in Congress to further cut food stamp funding as part of a wide-ranging farm bill.

Legislation in the Republican-controlled House would cut funding by an additional $4 billion, 10 times more than the Senate farm bill, as well as tighten eligibility requirements and allow states to enact new work requirements for recipients.

Democrats and President Barack Obama oppose major cuts to the program.

The difference in reduction amounts between the two parties is the biggest obstacle to a final bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said at a conference meeting that he was hoping to find common ground on the issue, but Republican leaders, such as Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., want larger cuts, insisting the program should be only for the neediest people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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