Food Assistance Recipients Brace For Cuts

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Gail Kirk (foreground) waits for her number to be called. Kirk is at the Lutheran Food Pantry on S. Champion Ave. Kirk is one of thousands of Ohioans who will see a cut in food assistance this fall.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)
Gail Kirk (foreground) waits for her number to be called. Kirk is at the Lutheran Food Pantry on S. Champion Ave. Kirk is one of thousands of Ohioans who will see a cut in food assistance this fall.(Photo: Mandie Trimble, WOSU News Reporter)

Ohioans who receive food stamps can expect fewer dollars this fall. The cuts are a result of the end of a federal program.

During the Great Recession, the federal government boosted nutrition assistance benefits by 13.6 percent. It was a one-time increase that took the place of smaller yearly adjustments which account for rising food costs.

But in November, the program ends. And people who receive food stamps will see a decrease in monthly benefits.

For the average family of three on food assistance, the cut amounts to about $30 a month.

But South Side resident Gail Kirk, 59, said losing any money – no matter how small – will hurt.

“Oh it would mean a lot because the prices of food goes up every year.”

Kirk sits on a folding chair inside the Lutheran Food Pantry on South Champion Avenue. It’s just opened. She listens to announcements and waits for her number to be called.

As she waits, she tells me about her diabetes and what she thinks is melanoma. Kirk receives Social Security and food stamp benefits. Times recently got tighter when her household expanded to seven. Her son and his children moved in with her. He was hurt at work.

“When you got kids and stuff in your household, you know, you have to go out and get soup, beans and potatoes and try to cook big meals for them,” Kirk said. “And if you are able to buy hamburger you try to make spaghetti or macaroni noodles with it or something to feed everybody in your household.”

David Newlen, 31, knows how to stretch a buck. His budget is about $2 a meal. Newlen, who lives on the North Side, sits behind Kirk. His ankle is wrapped in tattered bandages – the result he said of multiple surgeries. His food stamp benefits will be cut by $11, down to $189 a month.

“You cook three meals a day and everything,” he said. “$200 ain’t enough to do that every day of the month.”

Newlen said he’s making it thanks to the food pantry.

“I mean barely. I mean, I’m gonna have to get by. I have no other choice but to. I’m not getting by comfortably I guess is what I could say.”

Ashley Horton, 25, sometimes uses the food pantry to supplement her food stamps. Horton has three school-age children, and she’s had trouble getting a job.

“So losing $30 in food stamps, just imagine how many more times I will be at the pantry,” Horton said.

The Lutheran Food Pantry on South Champion Avenue saw a 2.5 percent increase in clients between June and July. And its director David Drumm expects the increases to continue, especially after the cuts this fall.

“Budget stays the same for a year but the clients keep coming up,” Drumm said. “So it’s a challenge to try to find the food we need for everybody.”

Money isn’t just tight for the food pantry’s clients; it’s tight at the food pantry. Drumm is planning additional fundraisers this year.

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