For families and individuals using food stamps, a reduction on those benefits means less income for the household budget, local social agency officials said.
"Food stamps are not just about getting food," said Eric Saunders, executive director of New Hope Ministries in Dillsburg. "Food stamps function as income replacement. If food stamps are cut, that means household income is cut."
More than 47 million Americans who receive food stamps will see their benefits go down starting Friday. A temporary benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus that boosts food stamp dollars will no longer be available.
That means a family of four receiving food stamps will start receiving $36 less a month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The benefits, which go to one in seven Americans, fluctuate based on factors that include food prices, inflation and income. The rolls have swelled as the economy has struggled in recent years, with the stimulus providing higher benefits and many people signing up for the first time.
The Rev. Paul Gorog, executive director of the York Rescue Mission, said he believes the food stamp reductions will put a strain on large families.
Locally, the mission expects to see more people showing up for meals, he said.
"When they're not able to get the food they need, they'll come," Gorog said. "The need for meals will become greater. There are people, families that depend heavily on these food stamps."
Seniors, too: Seniors using food stamps could have harder decisions to make as they already struggle with keeping up with food, medical and household costs on limited incomes, said Jenny Nace, information specialist with the York County Area Agency on Aging.
"We do have information on other resources that will be available (to assist them)," she said. "For families of seniors we suggest they have a talk with older adults about their benefits. The sooner, the better before a crisis occurs."
Families also can check senior relatives' refrigerators and cupboards and watch for weight loss to make sure the seniors have enough food.
Like Saunders, George Lenkner, the Salvation Army's business manager, said food stamps are an income source that people will have a hard time replacing at home.
Lenkner said he expects that families that normally come to the agency's food pantry two to three times a year may make additional visits for food.
"We give out food to clients once in a 30-day period to help them get over the hump when they run out of food," he said. "We're expecting a higher use of our pantry service by those who will first try to handle (food stamps reduction) and then find out their other income won't be able to make up for that."
Saunders said people who depend on food stamps for their primary source of nutrition may look to local pantries to help fill that role because of the benefits reduction.
Already more need: New Hope just finished the first quarter of its fiscal year - which runs June 30 to June, 30, 2014 - and is already on pace to exceed last year's distribution of 1.5 million pounds of food to more than 12,250 individuals from close to 5,710 families, Saunders said.
Several families are dealing with underemployment, unemployment and medical issues that deplete their income, while other people struggle financially though they work two jobs, Saunders said.
Food stamps reductions mean New Hope will have to help more people find jobs, update resumes or receive additional education to improve their quality of life, he said.
"We also have nutrition classes on how to eat well on a budget, Saunders said. "We want to give people opportunities to change their situations so they won't need to depend on food banks and food stamps."
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