As federal stimulus money dries up, thousands of hungry Montgomery County residents are scrambling to make ends meet.
An expansion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program meant to cover individuals and families during the Great Recession expired Friday. In 2009, President Barack Obama’s stimulus package included a temporary increase in funding for food stamps. All households that receive federal food stamps will now see about a 5 percent cut this month.
The maximum amount of SNAP funding an individual could receive per month was $200. But as of Nov. 1, that maximum is $189. For a household of two people, the maximum funding level, $367, fell by $20. And for a family of eight, $65 is cut, leaving them with a maximum allowance of $1,137, according to Brian Schleter, spokesman for the state’s Department of Human Resources.
Jenna Umbriac, a nutrition educator at Manna Food Center, said the cuts in SNAP funding mean participants will have to make difficult decisions about their food budget. Since protein is often the most expensive food item on a shopping list, meats like chicken and beef are going to be the first items a cash-strapped resident will cut out of their diet.
“It just means a bigger pot of rice and beans on the stove, or something else that lasts longer,” Umbriac said.
Individuals and families tend to show up at Manna for food assistance toward the end of the month as their SNAP funding and other resources begin to run dry.
About 70,500 people are participating in the SNAP program in Montgomery County as of September, Schleter said. In 2007, that number was less than 25,000. SNAP participants must meet income and deduction requirements to be eligible for the program.
Across the state, 795,795 Maryland residents have enrolled in the food stamp program as of September, said Kate Sam, Maryland Food Bank spokeswoman.
“This is going to be devastating for people on SNAP,” Umbriac said.
For Silver Spring resident Byron Kelly, losing $11 in monthly food stamp benefits is more than a couple of meals.
“It’s probably three days’ worth of food,” he said. Kelly, who cares for his mother at home, lost his job in February. His mother held a part-time job but suffered a stroke over the summer, leaving both of them unable to work. The only source of income for their household of two comes from his mother’s Social Security payments, Kelly said.
“As soon as I get the [food stamp] benefits, I have to run to the store because we’ve usually used up what we have,” he said. Kelly visits Manna Food once a month to supplement what they can get with food stamps, but he said he’s not sure how long their smaller food stamp benefit will last.
Households of one or two people who receive the minimum SNAP benefit, which was $16 before Nov. 1, will now receive $15. Households may receive varying amounts of federal assistance based on their income and other factors.
Damascus resident Lynne Bowser supported herself and her husband with the $16 SNAP benefits for three years, but recently decided not to continue with the program.
“For the time, effort and gasoline, my $16 a month wasn’t worth it anymore,” she said. At $4 a week for a household of two, she still had to supplement her food with donations from Manna.
C. Marie Henderson, director of The Community Foundation for Montgomery County, said she and her staff took the “SNAP Challenge” last year when she headed Interfaith Works, a coalition of congregations that works to meet the needs of the county’s poor and homeless. For five weekdays, she and her staff members limited their food budget to a $25 allowance, similar to what an individual in the SNAP program would allocate for one week.
Henderson’s diet mostly consisted of beans, chicken, grits and frozen vegetables.
“I was hungry all week,” she said. “The staff was hungry.”
Local soup kitchens, help organizations and food banks may initially be able to help SNAP participants make up the difference, Henderson noted, but the organizations themselves are already strained.
“They’re tapped, almost to the max, right now,” Henderson said.
For now, local organizations are doing their part by educating SNAP participants and potential donors about the cuts to the program.
The Maryland Food Bank, which serves the state of Maryland except Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, directs SNAP outreach workers to needy communities. If the cuts to SNAP benefits are permanent, Sam said, she’s concerned that more people will rely on food banks, creating an influx of new clients.
“Neither source,” meaning SNAP benefits or food pantries, “is designed to meet all their needs,” she said.
Staff Writer Kate Alexander contributed to this report.