Amid a trend of growing food insecurity, families and food banks across the nation are left wondering if a decision in Washington, D.C., will leave their shelves empty.
Kansas is no exception.
Much of the food assistance individuals and families receive is through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The program is funded through the national farm and nutrition bill, which is renewed every five years. About 80 percent of the funds spent annually on the Farm Bill go to SNAP. In 2011, that was $78 billion allocated to food assistance.
No consensus has been made between the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives on a new bill, however. The bill expired in Sept. 30, but no real effects will be seen until consensus is reached and a bill is passed.
Chances are slim, however, that funding for food assistance will remain steady. Both the U.S. Senate and the House's agriculture committee have proposed at least several billion dollars of cuts to SNAP.
If funding decreases, families will be forced to look elsewhere for their meals. Food banks and pantries are aware their requests for assistance likely will rise.
The Kansas Food Bank, which serves 86 counties, has seen food stamp participation increase by 59 percent within families and 61 percent within individuals during the past five years.
“Our jobs are hard enough, but if you make cuts to these programs, it’s only going to make our jobs harder,” Brian Walker, president, said. “We all understand the need for budget cuts. Our hope is it’s not done on the backs of the poor.”
More than 138,000 Kansas families receive SNAP aid, with an average benefit of $271 a month.
“Families that are struggling and on SNAP could really use the help,” he said. “These folks are going to have to rely more on a charitable response.”
Locally, that means places like the McPherson County Food Bank, churches and other small programs.
Elmer Hanson, 21-year volunteer McPherson County Food Bank, said he is expecting to see an increase in requests.
The number of families receiving items from the food bank has increased during the past five years, with a 31 percent jump from 2010 to 2011 alone. Last year, more than 2,500 families, including 9,054 individuals, were served. National cuts to nutritional aid likely will increase that demand.
Hanson said the food bank’s recent campaign to expand the facilities by over 1,000 square feet will accommodate this increase, and he expects the community to respond like they have in the past.
“We’ve been supported so well any time we’ve asked for help,” he said. The most recent American Legion Family Night, for example, raised more funds for the food bank than any other night in the Legion’s history. “This county comes through. I think when the community understands our need, they'll be there to help us.”
Page 2 of 2 - Individuals and families in need of food hope that is true.
“Lots are having difficulty right now finding food,” said Brenda Sales, director of STEPMC. “If the food stamp program is cut, it will very much affect their lifestyles.”
STEPMC members already are doing what they can to make ends meet. Some are working community service to receive food as part of a local program.
“We’re working hard to make them self-sufficient, but it’s a process,” Sales said. “It takes a while.”
In the meantime, it’s a waiting game.
“We’ll make sure people get fed,” Walker said. “Kansans always have been very good about supporting basic needs like food. We hope that would happen.”