Food stamp bill would cut deep in Richmond

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Mariecelle Lowery, 40, a Richmond resident, has been on and off food stamps since 2005. Lowery says times have been especially difficult since both her son and mother died two years ago.

Lowery’s is one of an estimated 4,522 Richmond households that might be affected if the federal food stamps program were to be dramatically cut back. “They do not care if we live or die down here,” Lowery says.

A bill passed by the Republican-dominated House of Representatives on Thursday aims to cut food stamps or the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) by $40 billion.  The bill is given little chance of passage by the US Senate. Nevertheless, many people have expressed their alarm.

“If these cuts continue,” says Lisa Sherrill, community relations manager for the county’s food bank, “there will be more people struggling with hunger.”

Under the proposed new legislation, if Lowery fails to find a job in the next three months, she will lose her food stamp eligibility. House Republicans have said that this will encourage people to find work. “This is crazy because most people want to work,” says Eric Manke, public policy and communications manager for the California association of food banks. “The jobs aren’t there for them. People who need help the most will be kicked off of SNAP.”

“Now the support we receive, we shouldn’t lifetime it,” Lowery says. Lowery is taking classes in business management and psychology at Contra Costa College, and says she hopes to start a business organizing community events. “I tell myself, yes your past was rocky, but your future is great.” But, she says the proposed new bill, if it becomes law, is going “to mess us up even more.”

Sherrill says food banks would not be able to meet the increased demand. “The meals lost from the $40 billion in cuts would be more than meals distributed by Feeding America food banks throughout the country; it would potentially double the work that we’re already seeing,” she says.

“Another thing this bill does—which is especially relevant in California, because of cost of things—it reinstates what’s called the asset test,” Manke says. “Right now, if you happen to have $2500 in the bank because you need it pay rent, you can still receive SNAP, assuming you qualify in other ways.” Under the proposed new law, if you have more than $2,000 in assets you are automatically disqualified. Given the cost of living in California, “That’s a joke,” says Manke.

The Senate passed its own version of this bill back in July. Next, the two versions of the bill go into conference committee. Legislators from both bodies of government will try to find a middle ground. The Senate bill included $4 billion in cuts to food stamps, roughly ten percent of the House’s proposed $40 billion, “It’s hard to see where you’d find a compromise between those two,” Manke says. “Anything that comes out of conference with cuts to SNAP is going to be a hardship for people in California.”

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