Update Nov. 26 2013: This article has been revised to correct an error, in which Dr. Robert Fischer was misquoted as stating “[t]here are 16,000 people on food stamps in the city of Cleveland alone.” The correct number is 160,000. The Observer apologizes for its mistake.
Earlier this month, Congress allowed the 2009 increases to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to expire, resulting in a cut in food stamp benefits for 48 million low-income Americans.
There are 272,143 residents of Cuyahoga County who currently use food stamps. They represent about 21.6 percent of the total population. With a cut of 5.7 percent to their food stamp benefits, they are set to lose an average of about $29 per month per family, enough for sixteen meals.
“There are 160,000 people on food stamps in the city of Cleveland alone,” noted Dr. Robert Fischer, the co-director of the Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development at CWRU.
“About 40 percent of those recipients are children under the age of 18. The cuts are significant and they hit a lot of families.”
In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act doubled the amount of money given to SNAP as a part of the federal economic stimulus. For Ohio, this meant $193 million towards the food-stamp program. However, as of Nov. 1, these benefits have since expired.
Many in Congress, as well as the local government, are looking to increase the cuts to pay for other programs, such as the Affordable Care Act, public education and Medicare expansions.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced a new program in September, which will put more restrictions on food stamp users. As of Jan. 1, any able-bodied adult without children will be expected to have a job or volunteer position if they want to continue receiving SNAP benefits.
“The challenge for our country is, in a job market that may not have a lot of space for these people, how do you help them meet that requirement,” said Fischer.
“It’s hitting a very disadvantaged population,” he adds. “Five years ago, food stamp recipients were the lowest income people. But over the course of the financial meltdown, so many families fell into poverty and had a need for food stamps. A lot of formerly middle class families now need food assistance.”
Dana Irribarren, executive director for the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland, has seen firsthand how the cuts are affecting people. The Hunger Network operates over 100 pantries in Cuyahoga County and serves 60,000 people each month.
“Food stamps are usually tight for people,” she said. “They end up using pantries if their income is so low that they can’t add to their food stamp income.”
Although she has no specific statistics yet, Irribarren says that many of the pantries noticed an increase in clients in early November, when the food stamp cuts hit.
“If you think about it, the cut is huge,” she said. “We’re going to continue to try to fundraise and meet our guidelines, but, unless something changes, I don’t know whether we’ll be able to meet this need”
Said Irribarren, “It’s like the perfect storm. It doesn’t make sense, and how we respond to it is a huge question that everybody is asking.”