Traverse City Record-Eagle

November 3, 2013

Food assistance cuts loom for 21,000 area residents

BY ANNE STANTON
astanton@record-eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY— More than 21,000 people in the five-county Grand Traverse region will receive a little less money on their Bridge card this month to help buy groceries.

After four years, a federal stimulus program that pumped $45.2 billion into a food stamp program known as SNAP has expired. A family of four with no income that received $668 will receive $36 less, or about a 5 percent cut.

The cut affects about 21,300 people in the region who received an average of $121 for September. That equates to $1.34 per meal, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services.

Meanwhile, the Republican-dominated U.S. House approved a much more significant cut — $4 billion each year over the next decade. The measure, part of the omnibus farm bill, would remove 3.8 million people from food stamp rolls. The Democratic-led Senate proposed an alternative, $400,000 million yearly trim.

Reaction to the food card cut was mixed at the Garfield Shop N Go grocery store, where economy-minded people often shop to stretch their food dollar.

Sandra Day, a single mother of two teen girls, wondered why assistance is going down while the price of food is going up. Day used to receive food assistance, but was told she no longer qualified.

“They said I make too much money,” said Day, adding she doesn't receive child support. “I don’t think they consider all your bills, at least the food prices going up."

Day said she earns $11.60 an hour at an adult foster care home and expects to receive a small raise soon.

Gary Keene, a retired Traverse City accountant, was glad to hear of the cut.

“I think the government gives too much money as it is," he said. "People get so dependent on the money and that’s what the government wants. Then they can control everything.”

Jim Davis, 47, works as a handyman, but jobs dry up in the winter. He receives food stamps, about enough money to pay for a $3 or $4 meal each day. When money runs short, he can find a free meal at a church.

“I wish we could use it at a Burger King or McDonald’s, and then I could get something off the dollar menu,” he said.

Davis said he is homeless and sleeps in his van or stays at a friend's place, where he can cook a meal. He plans to hop on a bus to another city just as soon as he can sell his tools and chain saw.

“I’m not a drunk. I’ve had twenty-six years of sobriety and I’m trying to do the right thing, but I’m always falling short," he said. "They keep taking things away. I wish people would look at the reality of the situation. I’m breaking my back trying to get out of this situation.”

Carol Hockin estimates the cut will affect about 60 percent of those who come to the Acme Christian Thrift Store and Pantry where she works as director of operations.

“There was a gentleman here and he says, “They keep cutting and cutting. I don’t know how we can make a go of it. How can we buy food?’ My answers is, ‘That’s why we’re here to assist you,'" she said.

A big problem is that most jobs are in Traverse City, but they don't pay enough to cover the cost of travel into town and day care, she said.

“Housing is expensive in Traverse City. It’s like a vicious circle," she said.

Dave Akerly, acting spokesman for the Department of Human Services, said none of the 50 states intend to make up the difference of the federal cut.

Akerly said the state, which administers the federal program, aims to be a good steward of taxpayer money. At one time, college students from high income families could get food assistance, but that ended in 2011. The overall food stamp caseload in Michigan has declined 8 percent since 2010, he said.

About 1.75 million recipients in Michigan receive food assistance. Recipients should call 1-888-678-8914 to see how much their assistance has dropped, he said.

The state of Michigan has a 9 percent unemployment rate, the 48th worst in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.