Food pantry: Steep cuts to food stamps will increase demand

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - A vote in Washington, DC Thursday was being closely watched around the country and especially in our state where one in every four Mississippians receives food stamps. The United States House of Representatives voted 217-210 to approve $39 billion worth of cuts to the SNAP program over the next 10 years.

The House bill would cut food stamps to 3.5 million Americans who don't have children and who are considered as able bodied adults. The proposed eligibility rules would require adults between the ages of 18 and 50 without minor children to either get a job or to enroll in a work training program in order to receive benefits. Those benefits would also be limited to three months. States would not be allowed to request waivers during times when unemployment numbers are high.

Volunteers at the Hancock County Food Pantry prepare bags of food five days a week for people whose incomes don't stretch very far.

WLOX spoke to a woman at the pantry receiving food. She didn't want to be identified, but said she doesn't like having to go to food pantries or receiving SNAP benefits. However, she feels she has no choice after being out of work for nearly a year.

"My son is 18 years old. He's been looking for work since he was 17. He's put in applications all the way through this town," she said. "We have to be on food assistance. I mean, what else are we going to do?"

Hancock County Food Pantry officials said 60 percent of people they help also receive food stamps.

"People that are working, age 18 to 59, are eligible to come in every 90 days for food. Of course, that doesn't last 90 days and it's not intended to," said Ed Catone, Executive Director. "We're supplementing their food stamps and their income. Seniors who are 60 years old and older can come in every 30 days."

"So we're thinking if the funding is cut and they get less food stamps, there may be a bigger demand for support from other sources," Catone said. "What we would do then, I don't know. We may have to consider changing that 90 day requirement to something less."

Volunteers said they don't know how they could handle an added demand for food. The Hancock County Food Pantry is run entirely by volunteers, and is not part of a government agency. It relies solely on donations.

"You only have so many resources. So you try to do the best you can with the resources that you have and feed those people that really need it as often as you can," said Catone.

Meanwhile, the woman who said she went back to college, but is still struggling to find a job said of possibly losing her food stamp benefits, "I don't know what we're going to do. And if Congress cuts it lower, that's not helping nobody here. There's so many people out of work. They'll starve. Literally."

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