The recently announced federal cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for low-income households will make matters worse for many families in the region, said Lori O’Brien, a supervising attorney with the Rochester office of Legal Assistance of Western New York, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals and families apply for programs and obtain nutrition-outreach services.
"Right now, people are struggling with the benefits they do have," she said.
Cuts to SNAP — formerly known as food stamps — that were implemented in the Farm Bill approved by Congress last month would have meant a $137 per month reduction in benefits for New York residents. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Feb. 25 that the state will restore $457 million in SNAP funds for 330,000 households.
Nationally, the SNAP cuts mean an average $90 per month decrease in benefits for 850,000 families across the country. According to information at Feeding America, 4 million to 6 million people are losing their assistance completely due to the farm bill cuts, which came on the heels of funding reductions approved in November; those cuts reduced families’ SNAP benefits by an average $436 a year.
The Rochester Area Community Foundation‘s December 2013 report on poverty in Monroe, Orleans, Genesee, Livingston, Ontario, Wayne, Wyoming, Seneca and Yates counties states that food-stamp eligibility currently is set at 130 percent of the poverty level. This means that a family of four with a gross monthly income of $2,552 would be eligible for assistance, according to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.
Prior to the governor’s announcement, O’Brien said the SNAP cuts also could have a tremendous effect on children throughout Monroe County, but especially in Rochester, where nearly 80 percent of the Rochester City School District’s students receive free or reduced lunches.
"(For) families, even working families who just are not making enough money to pay for basic needs, SNAP is the only way to get nutritious meals on the table for their children," she said. "Even with just talk of the cuts, we had more people at our door. People don’t come to us just because they have a legal issue. They have a variety of social issues — lack of food, lack of income, lack of opportunity."
Last year, Legal Assistance of Western New York helped 3,000 families, mainly ages 18 to 59, deal with a variety of issues by working in collaboration with community partners, O’Brien explained. She expects that number to grow .
"Nothing ever happens in a vacuum. Everything happens all together," she said. "We’re going to see individuals because their income is lower, they’re going to get behind in rent, come in our door this way. Or their utilities will get behind because they’re trying to supplement food with income typically used for (Rochester Gas & Electric). … This is not individuals who have disposable income, not people who have enough money to save for a rainy day or just in case government cut benefits. They are living month to month with (little) money left over, if any."