Those who use food stamps worry about cuts

SNOHOMISH — Krista Nichols said she uses the $440 she gets each month in food stamps to buy groceries for her husband and their four adopted children.

She and her family are among the estimated 1.1 million people in Washington who would see cuts in their monthly food stamp allotments if the budget cut approved by the House of Representatives goes into effect.

Nichols, 41, and her family moved to Snohomish in June 2012 after her husband, who has a master’s of divinity degree, lost his job at a church in southern Oregon.

The job loss occurred just a few months after they bought a house in Oregon, losing equity they had built up from previous home purchases.

“When we lost everything, the one thing I knew is that I could feed my kids,” she said.

Nichols said she never imagined that she would ever need to use food stamps. “The first few times, I tried to pretend I didn’t know how to use it,” she said.

It’s humbling to go into a store buying groceries for a family of six and having to use the electronic card used in food stamp transactions, Nichols said.

“We’re so thankful it’s there,” she said. “It’s been a lifesaver for our family.”

In Washington, D.C, the debate continues on just how big the cut should be, with the House proposing $40 billion cuts over the next decade.

The question to be decided is just how much to spend on the program, which costs nearly $80 billion a year.

The average family of four on the program in Washington receives about $234 a month in food stamps, said Gina Clark, director of public policy at Food Lifeline in Seattle. The nonprofit organization helps stock 275 food banks and feeding programs in Western Washington.

If the smaller $4.5 billion cut being proposed in the Senate is approved, about one-quarter of all Washington food stamp recipients would see a reduction of $90 a month in benefits, she said.

The cuts proposed in Congress would be in addition to the 13 percent cut that goes into effect Nov. 1, removing money added to the program made during the recession. That alone will drop the program back to 2007 levels, said Dell Deierling, director of the Marysville Community Food Bank.

“If there’s more of a cut coming, it’s going to put real pressure on a lot of people,” Deierling said. “Knowing that 13 percent drop is coming, I’m preparing for a pretty busy holiday period.”

Last year, the food bank served nearly 5,800 people, 35 percent of whom were children, he said. Many of the households served by the food bank also use food stamps to have enough to eat, he said.

Monthly food stamp allotments are often used up by the third week of the month. The food stamp program is helpful, but it’s not enough, said Jefferson Rose, a worker with the Seattle nonprofit Within Reach, who helps Snohomish food bank clients.

“People are supported by food banks and the food stamp program but hunger still exists,” he said.

Elizabeth Grant, executive director of the Snohomish Community Food Bank, said that in 2009, when she first began working at the food bank, it served 120 to 180 households a week. Now it’s nearly 300.

“When people think of families in need, they think of the fellow on the corner or those who are homeless,” she said.

Instead they are often people like bus drivers or store clerks or “your next door neighbor’s grandmother,” Grant said.

Cuts to the food stamp program would affect kids, seniors and those who are unemployed, who are trying to get back on their feet financially, she said.

“This would be one more hit,” Grant said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Food Lifeline in Seattle

The agency serves 275 food banks, meal programs and emergency shelters in 17 Western Washington counties.

During the past year it has provided food for more than 744,000 people:

•50 percent are adults

•15 percent are seniors

•35 percent are children

•4.5 million meals, snacks

•54 percent of food bank customers statewide also receive food stamps.

•49 percent statewide choose between paying for food or utilities and heat.

On average, individuals and families went to their community food bank seven times a year.

Source: Food Lifeline

Resources: For assistance with signing up for food stamps, go to WithinReach.org.

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