January 10, 2016; WNCN-TV (Raleigh, NC)

We would like to hear from you about how you see the effects of the SNAP reductions rolling out in your community. Who is being hit hardest? What are states and nonprofits doing in the face of the new restrictions?

Reductions to the federal food stamp program, also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, are hitting at a tough time of year. Winter is often a seasonal strain for many food pantries, as the people they serve rely on them for food as they allocate more funds towards heating costs. Also, food banks and pantries typically don’t see as much community support after holiday food drives end, yet people are still in need of food. As NPQ reported earlier this week, that need is likely to increase, as many who rely on SNAP benefits, especially able-bodied adults without dependents, have already seen those benefits come to an end, and as many as 40 states will restrict benefits access by the end of 2016. However, are state governments making use of all the available federal resources to keep SNAP recipients from having to rely on food pantries in the first place?

Those in danger of losing SNAP benefits must be able to document that they are working, volunteering, or participating in job training classes for a minimum of 20 hours a week in order to keep receiving their benefits. In an interview, Kevin Concannon, USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Undersecretary, expressed his concerns that states aren’t doing enough to help people, for instance, without a lot of education who live in rural areas and who may be out of work if their employer went out of business during the recession.

“It’s not easy for people to just pick up and move to a place where there may be more opportunities,” he said. Some individuals may be caring for an older or sick loved one who lives nearby, or they may have a house that now serves as their only asset.

Concannon stated that only 12 states are utilizing adjunct grants that would provide education and training for current SNAP recipients. The education and training grants program piloted last year and is now available to all states. The goal of these grants is to not only provide ways for people to retain SNAP benefits, but for them to also learn the skills necessary to find employment.

In the meantime, some nonprofits that serve the hungry aren’t sure how they will handle the increased need for food by those losing SNAP benefits. Many organizations feel that they are already stretched trying to meet the demand. Additional food drive campaigns outside of the normal holiday season may be necessary, since most charities that help the hungry receive most of their support from the community. Requests for community volunteers may increase, too, as food banks and pantries need more human resources to help not only to serve food, but in some cases to pick up and deliver it.—Kelley Malcolm