SNAP benefit cuts worry food banks already low on supplies

It?ll impact 700,000 people nationwide and more than 14,000, by one estimate, in Massachusetts when major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, take effect in Spring.

The shelves are bare in part of the Merrimack Valley Food Bank as dozens of organizations and food pantries are picking up food to be able to supply people, but there are concerns that changes in the federal food stamp program are going to mean limits on the amount of food that's available in the near future.

It’ll impact 700,000 people nationwide and more than 14,000, by one estimate, in Massachusetts when major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP, take effect in Spring.

Box after box of food is loaded at the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, destined for a church in Lynn, where demand is rising.

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"Sometimes, 5-10 percent every week, every two weeks we get more people," Jean Moise, from the Tabernacle Evangeliquue De Louange, said.

Amy Pessia, the director of the Merrimack Valley Food Bank, is worried about the new rule affecting food assistance for thousands of people.

"The proposal is to eliminate or restrict the benefits for able bodied adults without children," Pessia said. "It would restrict the amount of funds to purchase food at supermarkets and convenience stores."

Pessia says this even affects people who work and get food stamps.

According to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the new rule is a move off "dependency” on federal food assistance for “able-bodied” people.

“We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand," Perdue said in a statement.

The Department of Agriculture says the change would save about $5 billion over five years.

“The Trump Administration’s new SNAP rule will increase hunger and hardship for thousands of Americans, including those who live in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where one in nine residents currently relies on SNAP to put food on the table. We know it’s extreme because Republicans rejected this proposal in the 2018 Farm Bill. This harmful rule is being enacted over the heads of the people’s representatives, and will hurt food insecure families and children across the country."
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Lowell)

"The result would be an increase in people seeking help from food pantries, meal programs and really reduce their independence and ability to purchase food on their own," Pessia said.

While lawsuits could follow, if nothing else changes, people would lose benefits July 1.

Even with the SNAP changes, food pantries would still get state and federal food donations, the concern is the demand would be incredibly high.

By April 1, states will have to screen individuals for their ability to work. Those participants, deemed by the state to be able to work, aged 18-49, will be newly subject to the statutory ABWAD time limit and only eligible to receive SNAP benefits for 3 months in a 36 month period unless working or preparing for work for 20 hours week, or volunteers through a workfare program for as little as 6 hours week. If an individual chooses to not work or prepare for work for three continuous months (April, May, and June), then on July 1 the individual will no longer be eligible for benefits until he or she begins to work or prepares for work for 20 hours a week, or volunteers through a workfare program for as little as 6 hours week. To clarify, this rule only applies to ABAWDs (able-bodied adults without dependents) and does not apply to children under 18, their parents, individuals over 49, persons with disabilities, or women who are pregnant.
United States Department of Agriculture statement