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Food Stamp Cuts Threaten to Leave Many San Antonians Hungry

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Many San Antonio families will face the prospect of not-so-happy-holidays thanks to nationwide cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka food stamps. While SNAP benefits saw a temporary economic stimulus infusion in 2009 after the recession, that short-term increase has expired and $5 billion in cuts to the program made by Congress in 2010 kicked in at the start of November, leaving state and local food networks to grapple with increased demand.

Today, families are feeling the effects of an average 5-7 percent decrease in SNAP benefits. To put it in perspective, a family of four experienced a reduction of $36 a month—from $668 down to $632—amounting to a loss of about 21 meals each month. Local anti-hunger advocates contend these food stamps slashes will heavily contribute to food insecurity in a state that already suffers from hunger.

For area food banks, that means a strain on an already limited supply. In Bexar County some 319,000 residents receive SNAP benefits. The majority—nearly 60 percent—are either children or seniors. The cuts total $32.5 million annually, equating to a reduction of more than 14 million meals. Eric Cooper of the San Antonio Food Bank tells the Current the local nutrition resource is already feeling the hit.

“Our inventory has been under a lot of demand—there’s a feeling that it’s going out faster than it’s coming in,” says Cooper. “It’s just not a comfortable place for us, knowing that it’s pretty slim pickings at the moment.”

The SAFB feeds 58,000 hungry San Antonio residents a week. The cafeteria hall, SAFB representatives say, is typically used as an emergency resource, but now residents are coming in for regular meals—a growing trend they largely attribute to the curb in SNAP.

“We’re already seeing those households come to us to make up the difference,” Cooper says. “We are working as hard as we can to get our community to respond, but I think the demand will be too great for us to keep up.”

In Texas, 1.7 million households have been affected by the reduction in SNAP benefits. That’s 180 million meals pulled off the table across the state.

A little more than 18 percent of Texas households experience “food insecurity,” according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Food insecurity” is not defined simply by the feeling of “going to bed hungry.” Rather, it means resources to purchase food are so scarce that families must reduce quality, eat unbalanced diets (hello, cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and/or skip meals, according to the state’s food bank network. Many family members face the tough choice of allocating resources to ensure young children stay nourished, skimping on their own meals and/or those of older relatives in the same household. Texas ranks among the top 12 states in terms of food insecurity and places second in the nation for number of food insecure households.

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