$5 billion cut to food stamp benefits takes place Friday

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(Photo: MGN Online)

WASHINGTON — Starting Friday, Joyce Lewis and her family will lose $44 from their monthly food stamp benefits.

The food stamps buy a lot of economical rice-based meals for the family — four adults and a grandson who live with Lewis in Spring Hill, Florida.

Occasionally, when her grocery store is running a deal, Lewis indulges the family with spare ribs or chicken.

The benefit — totaling $800 for four adults — never lasts Lewis and her family a full month.

“When I get to the end, we always run out. I try to go to all the food pantries,” Lewis said.

Food stamp benefits will be trimmed by $5 billion starting Friday, when a temporary bump-up enacted during the recession expires. Millions of families will be affected.

Lewis, 55, is worried because the cuts are coming at a bad time. Among other things, a second grandchild is due in January.

She is also fighting the bank from foreclosing on her home.

And even though she doesn’t smoke, Lewis suffers from emphysema, which prevents her from working.

Lewis attributes the emphysema to a lifetime of bartending in smoke-filled nonprofit social clubs, such as Elks and Moose lodges.

Her adult daughters who live with her aren’t in a position to work — one is a new mom, and another is due to give birth soon.

The low point came this summer, when she didn’t have enough to pay the full electricity bill. Lewis needs power to run her breathing machine to treat her illness. So she pawned her wedding ring for $325.

A few weeks ago, she started getting disability payments for her disease. She promptly used it to get back her ring for $487 before it was sold.

“That was $162 I paid in interest to keep the lights on and put food on the table,” Lewis said.

Enrollment in food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has soared.

Some 47.6 million people, or nearly 15% of the population, get them, according to September federal data. That compares to 26.3 million, or 8.7% of the population, in 2007. The average benefit per person is $133.19 a month.

For families who rely on food stamps, it means a lot of planning and tough choices.

Hugh Sewell, 54, has been on food stamps for two years. He gets the maximum allowed for his family of three — $526 a month. The benefits will likely be cut by $29 to $497, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That would be tough, Sewell says. The first time the family got food stamps, after he lost his job in 2010, they blew through the allotment halfway through the month.

After that, the Sewells started making detailed budgets, meal plans and shopping lists.

“We buy a lot of beans, rice and potatoes,” said Sewell, who lives in Philadelphia. “Towards the end of the month, you’re eating all the box stuff, and a lot more pasta with sauce.”

Last month, Sewell landed a job as an audio technician.

The job paid $12 an hour, a lot less than the $25 he used to make before he was laid off.

Sewell asked his employer to lower his wages to $9 an hour instead.

Why? He did the math and found that $12 an hour was just enough to cause a reduction in his government benefits, and could cost him and his family its Medicaid coverage for health care.

At the same time, the income from $12 an hour would not be enough to pay his bills, including the $900 a month he would have to pay for health insurance for his family.

Sewell is hoping to find a job that pays enough to allow his family to get off government assistance.

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  • Tiredofwastingmoneyforothersfoodstamps

    She is now getting disability payments! I feed a family of four on less than $800 a month. She needs to get her financial situation cleaned up! We shouldn’t be giving her anymore money!

  • Keith

    This food stamp business is sooooo abused it isn’t funny. It is time the entitlements are cut, make people work for themselves and stop living off the taxes of the ones who are working. Not everyone needs to be carried all the time. There are lazy people abusing this system. Cuts are a good thing.

  • Eric Ernst

    …FOOD STAMP program was originally meant as a “stop gap measure” for people… NOT a sustainable source of income. THIS program highlights how the Federal Govrnment and its programs ENCOURAGE people to NOT be self reliant, rather encourage them to do NOTHING and EXPECT benefits to be given to them(lazy).

  • Tommy Michaels

    yet she’s going to have more grandchildren? that’s the most awesome family planning I’ve ever seen. lets have more kids so the people working and paying taxes can take care of them. Sad and pathetic!!

  • Doug

    I’m sure all she buys is rice-based products. What a load of garbage. Who benefits from this $5 billion dollar cut Obama? Answer me that. Oh wait, you won’t because you don’t care about anyone other than yourself.

  • Rickstar

    Wow when I worked at a store I saw so much abuse it made me sick they would buy lobster tail, king crab legs even the best steaks in the house and more oh and when they had too pay for something not covered by food stamps oh let me break that $100 for you and let me wheel out your over flowing carts to your $30,000 + SUV meanwhile I was working two part time jobs to take care of my family of three and was lucky to have a budget of $ 200 dollars for food for all of us. How about a one year max benefit for these people that can be re-earned once you pay an extra tax back for what you used. Bottom line get a job or two if that’s what it takes. Work hard and pull your own weight. I have a way better job now and a family of four and still if add up all the food we buy in a month it still wouldn’t be over flowing. The only thing I see over flowing is a country full of well you feel in the blanks.

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