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Food stamp cuts cause increased demand to Richmond food banks

on November 8, 2013

Carolina Silva, a Richmond resident from Nicaragua, and her son Milton, 9, waited in line at Richmond’s Emergency Food Pantry on a recent Tuesday. They started going to the food bank months ago when the $200 worth of food stamps she received weren’t enough to feed her and her son. Now, because of cuts at the federal level, Silva and the 4,255 other Richmond families who use food stamp subsides may have to rely on food banks more heavily.

“There is nothing I can do,” Silva said as her bi-lingual son translated her Spanish. She is a middle-aged woman, with a bright smile and warm presence. Recently she has been on and off food stamps because of technical difficulties when re-applying. She says she is just trying to make it work.

Silva left the pantry with off-brand cereal, two bags of fresh fruits and vegetables, a box of canned foods, rice, eggs and milk. She and Milton arrived early to get a good spot in line; the people behind her may not be so lucky.

Milton rides around the church court yard on his scooter while his mother, Carolina (not pictured) waits in line.

Milton rides around the church courtyard on his scooter while his mother, Carolina (not pictured), waits in line. (photo by Brittany Johnson)

Richmond’s Emergency Food Pantry hands out food every Tuesday and Friday at Grace Lutheran Church off Barrett Avenue. Residents are only permitted one visit a month. Yesterday dozens of people gathered as early as 7:00 a.m. to wait for the food that may have to last them the next 30 days.

The pantry previously served more than 1,200 families a month, but things could change in the coming weeks.

“We know there will be more people coming out; it is going to be hard, because we have limited resources,” said John Stiles, member of the board of directors for the emergency food pantry.

Last Friday the enhancement to the federal food stamps program in the 2009 stimulus package expired, causing more than 47 million Americans to see a cutback to their monthly food stamps allowance. The $5 billion cut to the program will cause a $36 monthly reduction for a family of four that previously received $668 a month for groceries.

An increase in people turning to food banks is expected, especially around the third week of the month, when most food stamp participants run out of groceries, said Lisa Sherrill, community relations manager for the Food Bank of Contra Costa County. “Even if we try to meet the needs that CalFresh was meeting, it is just not possible,” Sherrill said.

In Congress, House Republicans have been fighting for an additional cut of $40 billion from the program in the next 10 years. It is unlikely to pass through the Democratic-led Senate, but many people are still wary of the possibility. Senator Thad Cohran (R-Miss), member of the committee in charge of negotiating the new farm bill, says that Congress hopes to come to an agreement “as soon as possible.

“Our concern is that there will still be more cuts to the program in the farm bill. If there is a $40 [billion] cut, we expect to see double the amount of people coming out to our food banks,” Sherrill said.


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