Food stamp cuts affect Crossroads families, economy (w/video)

JR Ortega By JR Ortega

Dec. 14, 2013 at 6:14 a.m.
Updated Dec. 16, 2013 at 6:16 a.m.

YOAKUM - Tiffany Goehring knows how to cut hamburger meat in a way that feeds her family for days.

But in November, after she learned how to fulfill her family's appetite with less, the federal government made a cut of its own - this one to her food stamp benefits.

The 34-year-old mother of two, who recently started caring for her disabled mother, is one of the 3.5 million Texans who endured an average of a 5 percent reduction in benefits.

And this probably won't be the last cut.

Congress is expected to vote in January on a new farm bill that would cut several more billions of dollars over the next decade.

"It's been pretty rough," Goehring said. "Even before they made the cuts."

What changed?

November's reduction of each Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program case in the nation was the federal government's back-pedal response to a stimulus bill in 2009, said Rachel Cooper, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin.

The bill increased each person's benefits by about $20, and the intention was to reduce the increase over time. Instead, the gradual reduction came as a straight cut Nov. 1.

A single person's monthly benefit was cut by $11, while a family of two received $20 less, a family of three got $29 less, and a family of four, like Goehring's, received $36 less.

Now, the latest fight is to stop Congress from cutting more benefits from a program that helps almost 50 million people in the U.S. The latest is a proposal from the Senate, which wants $4 billion in cuts, and the House, which is asking for $40 billion in cuts, both over 10 years, Cooper said.

"The images of the Depression did not happen again because of programs like SNAP (the food stamp program)," Cooper said.

A decision, which still has room for negotiation, has been pushed back to January because of the House's adjournment Friday.

But families such as Goehring's cannot risk losing the benefits - not now or later.

Life on food stamps

Life three years ago for Goehring was much different.

As a jailer at the Lavaca County Sheriff's Office, money was never the biggest issue.

Goehring quit her job and left Yoakum to be with the father of her now 21-month-old son.

The two were together for a while and eventually separated. Goehring moved back to Yoakum, her hometown, with her son and her 10-year-old daughter.

Then, Goehring's mother became disabled, and that is when life really changed.

For the past year, they've relied on her mother's Social Security insurance and now food stamps.

Though the food stamps have helped, it's frightening to know future cuts will only mean her family will eat less and less, she said.

"It's a slap in the face," she said about the November cuts and any future reductions.

Before November, Goehring received $411. Now, she receives $375 each month, and though it may sound like a lot, she said stretching the money out for four people is a challenge.

With and without the cuts, she has resorted to buying inexpensive, processed foods so they can manage to eat every day.

She's learned to adjust her recipes for lunch and dinner. If a meal calls for a pound of meat, she'll use only half a pound, and that is being generous, she said.

While she's thankful for food stamps helping her when she needed it most, she worries about what the future holds for them and many others in her situation.

"It's going to make a lot of kids malnourished. The food we have to buy is crap, and it's not good for growing kids," she said. "There is going to be a lot of sickly children."

But a cut to benefits is not the program's only problem, she said. Another hurdle is the perception others have of the program.

"The stigmas are what really get to me," Goehring said.

"You're lazy, and you don't want to work. ... If you can't feed them, don't breed them. ... Welcome to the real world."

These are just some of the perceptions Goehring has heard.

"Welcome to the real world?" Goehring questions. "I'm in the real world. Want to come join me? Come and see what you can come up with on a little, bitty budget."

What happens now?

Food donations tower up to near the top of the ceiling of the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.

The sight is a welcome one for Robin Cadle, the bank's director, and for Carol Ayala, the bank's outreach coordinator.

Still, they know the need is far more, and with more cuts on the way, that need will only grow.

"We're never getting enough (food)," Cadle said. "We could give out everything we get."

So far this year, the food bank has given out 3 million pounds of food.

If the cuts occur in January to the extent that's being discussed, Cadle worries that even millions of pounds of food won't be enough.

But it won't only be the families struggling, she said.

Cadle estimates that in a five-year period, grocery stores in the food bank's 11-county service area could see a $5 million loss because of the food stamp reduction.

"We have a story that's not being told here," she said.

Cadle wants to continue to encourage the communities to do their part and donate.

"Every dollar helps us generate eight meals," Cadle said. "It goes a long way."

Cooper agrees, adding that the cuts should be expected and planned for.

If the January vote is anywhere close to the $40 billion mark, as many as 6 million people could be kicked off the food stamp program; however, it is too soon to tell what the final ruling will be, she said.

A $40 billion cut would also mean more strict eligibility criteria, with many families seeing their current benefits reduced by about half.

"That's what this fight is about," Cooper said. "We think that with the House version (of the farm bill) it would totally undermine the whole point of the program teaching people to learn to stand on their feet."

Cooper wants to see those on the program voice their concerns while there is still a chance.

"This is not where we think money is being wasted," she said. "Feeding the elderly and the children is not wasting taxpayer's money."

As outreach coordinator, Ayala sees many different faces on the food stamp program.

It's not one race, age group or circumstance, she said.

There are the elderly who have worked their entire lives at minimum wage and were never able to save enough to retire or live life in old age. Then there are those, like Goehring, who encounter a rough patch.

While there is no denial that some abuse the system, Ayala said, the need outweighs the abuse.

And the need is alive in the Crossroads, she said.

"It's a hand up, not a handout," she said. "You never know when it will be your turn."



Powered By AffectDigitalMedia