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December 28, 2013

SNAP cuts taking toll on food pantry supplies

The holiday season is always a busy time of year for food pantries, but this season has proven even more so than usual.

A Nov. 1 federal cut across the board made to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP benefits — also known as the food stamp program, has pulled the plug on food assistance for many, and food pantries like The Open Door based in Gloucester and Beverly Bootstraps are still trying to gauge the full impact on their supplies.

“We have already seen people coming in earlier in the month than they generally have come in the past,” said Julie LaFontaine, the executive director of The Open Door.

“We weren’t sure exactly how it would affect us, but benefits are loaded (onto recipients’ cards) at different times in the month, so we’re seeing more people face more dire needs sooner than in the past,” she added. “That program is largely elderly people, people on fixed income — and any cut to the food stamp program hits hardest at anyone living on the margins already.

“In some cases, whereas someone might have had come to us once a month, now they may have to come a second time,” LaFontaine continued. “It all adds up. The way these people make it is through a piece of this, a piece of that — now there’s another piece to that picture missing, and it’s making it harder and harder to make ends meet.”

“We’re beginning to track our clients’ response to this cut,” said Gus McDonald, food assistance supervisor at Beverly Bootstraps. “In the month of September we already had 18 new families, and in the month of October we had 36.”

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that Congress passed in 2009, funding for the SNAP program and others was terminated, according to the Department of Transitional Assistance. States are unable to change the law, and 497,000 Massachusetts SNAP households will see a decrease in their food stamp benefits, according to the DTA.

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