Food assistance funding reduced

MARQUETTE – Michigan children, low-wage workers, seniors and veterans were to receive fewer dollars in food assistance starting Friday.

This is when cuts totaling $183 million over the next year in Michigan take place as a modest increase in benefits, passed to help the country recover from the Great Recession, expires.

Congress still is considering more cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

The change will amount to a loss of about $36 a month for a family of four, or about a dime per meal.

In Marquette County, 8,052 people are in the food assistance program, with the SNAP dollar loss listed at $840,811.83, according to the Michigan League for Public Policy.

“We know people are hurting,” said Melissa K. Smith, MLPP senior policy analyst. “We know there aren’t enough jobs. We shouldn’t be cutting food.”

The U.S. House has passed a Farm Bill that cuts nearly $40 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade, with cuts nine times deeper than the bipartisan version passed by the U.S. Senate.

MLPP President and CEO Gilda Z. Jacobs said of the cuts, “It’s bad for individuals. It’s bad for the economy.”

Michigan, Jacobs pointed out, hasn’t turned the corner yet when it comes to economic recovery, with many people having to choose between paying rent and feeding their children.

Don Gilmer, former state budget director under Gov. John Engler and an MLPP board member, said while he understands the difficulty of balancing budgets in Washington, D.C., and cutting spending, he disagreed with children, people of lower income, the elderly, the disabled and veterans being the target of spending cuts.

“This is the wealthiest country in the world,” Gilmer said, “and we don’t take funding away from those who don’t have adequate resources to obtain food.”

Smith said the $40 billion in SNAP cuts will affect the people most in need.

“It’s just a horrible move to cut these benefits needed in tough economic times,” Smith said.

Gilmer said, “Politically it just makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, said of the cuts, “This change in benefit is the result of a temporary provision in President Obama’s stimulus bill from 2009 expiring. Having lived in the U.P. all my life, I know how tough it can be for moms and dads up here to make ends meet and put food on the table.

“That’s why my top priority continues to be supporting policies that create jobs in northern Michigan and make it easier for families up here to get by.”

Jacobs said she hoped the league will impact the discussion on SNAP cuts. Many local communities, she pointed out, don’t have the resources through food pantries, churches and similar groups to feed hungry people in their areas.

Smith said abuse isn’t rampant in the SNAP program, so the cuts are being used to blame the poor.

“It’s bringing discussion to the wrong topic,” she said.

Smith said a family of three will lose about 15 meals a month through the cuts, averaging 10 cents a meal.

That might sound trivial, but Smith noted, “For an average person living in poverty, 10 cents a meal is a big deal.”

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.