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Cuts to food stamps to hit more than 1M in Arizona

WASHINGTON — More than 1.1 million Arizonans who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, will see their benefits reduced Friday in a long-planned national cut.

The Nov. 1 cuts range from $11 a month for a single recipient to $65 or more for large families. Advocates said that poses a severe challenge for recipients on a tight budget.

“It does seem like a small amount of money, but it is significant to people who are counting on every penny,” said Angela Schultz, outlook and community development manager at Arizona Community Action Association.

The maximum SNAP benefit for one person is $200 a month, but the level is often lower because benefits are adjusted according to income and the number of people in a family. The average benefit for a single recipient in Arizona in September, for example, was just $124.49, said John Bowen, legislative specialist of Arizona Department of Economic Security.

The cut is “not a huge amount, but for those whose primary source of food is SNAP, it is a half-week budget,” said Brian Simpson, a spokesman for the Association of Arizona Food Banks.

The reduction in benefits was scheduled in 2009, when Congress passed a temporary increase in benefits as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the federal economic stimulus. The increase was set then to expire this Nov. 1.

House Democrats introduced a bill in September that would extend SNAP benefits at their current levels through 2016. But that bill has yet to get a hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, all but ensuring that the reductions will take effect as planned Nov. 1.

“This (cut) is immoral, it’s outrageous, and it cannot stand, it’s wrong,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., one of about a dozen lawmakers who rallied against the cuts on Capitol Hill this week.

“It doesn’t represent the values of this nation, and in a country where we have one out of four people who do not know where their next meal is coming from, we need stop this cut,” DeLauro said.

The pending cut has charity organizations in the state bracing for an increase in business, as food-stamp recipients try to stretch their food budgets.

“They are going to visit food bank more frequently,” which will put more pressure on food pantries to keep up with demand, Simpson said.

Pregnant women and infants can seek help from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program, and the elderly can turn to the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Simpson said. But people outside those groups have few other options.

State officials said that just under half of the 1.1 million Arizonans who get food stamps are children. Schultz said another 13 percent of the state’s recipients are seniors or the disabled.

Simpson said the five food banks in his association gave out 108,300 emergency food boxes last month, with each box having food enough for two to three days. Before the recession hit in 2007, by contrast, they gave out an average of 69,000 boxes per month, he said.

Last month, Arizona Community Action Association held a seven-day SNAP experience, during which participants limited their total food purchases to $29 a week, the food budget of a typical SNAP recipient.

Schultz, who was one of 150 participants, said she felt hungry constantly during that week and found it hard to focus at work.

“Most people run out of SNAP allotment before the end of month,” she said. “Now, it cuts you even more.”