Food stamp benefits decrease as cases at highest
by Chris Berendt Staff Writer
A temporary increase in food stamps officially expired Thursday, decreasing federal assistance to residents of Sampson and across the country, the result of a sunset clause when the increase was initiated four years ago.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps or FNS (Food and Nutrition Services), go to 47 million Americans a month, almost half of them children and teenagers.
In Sampson, there were 6,863 active FNS cases in August, involving 15,768 individuals. That decreased by more than 1,000 individuals in September, with 6,850 cases involving 14,697 individuals. However, that is great deal higher than numbers from several years ago.
According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Social Services, Sampson had 3,555 active cases involving 8,273 individuals in September 2007. That rose continually, to 4,014 active cases and 9,383 individuals in September 2008; to 4,888 cases and 11,299 individuals in September 2009; to 5,855 cases involving 13,373 individuals in September 2010.
By September 2011, active cases stood at 6,628 involving 14,778 individuals. Those numbers have stayed fairly steady in recent years, as indicated by the numbers from last month, which involve 200 more cases but about 100 less individuals.
Starting in 2009, the federal stimulus pumped $45.2 billion into SNAP, increasing what would have been a monthly benefit of $588 a month to $668 for an average household of four. In November, that same family will start getting $632 a month, about a 5 percent cut.
That effect will be seen in Sampson, just as it will in other counties across the state and nation. In the four years since the federal stimulus hiked benefits, the number of active food stamps cases in Sampson have doubled and the amount of people receiving those benefits have increased by close to 80 percent.
The state has requested DSS agencies post notices informing residents of the changes.
“We have notices enlarged and posted throughout our building and the staff have been informing visitors and recipients as much as possible,” said Sampson Department of Social Services director Sarah Bradshaw.
The monthly benefits, which go to one in seven Americans, fluctuate based on factors including food prices, income and inflation. Families and providers worry the expiration of the stimulus bump comes at a particularly bad time. The House voted to cut almost $4 billion a year from the roughly $80 billion-a-year program in an effort to find savings in the budget. A Senate bill would cut around $400 million a year.
Notices from the state have been posted at Sampson DSS in English and Spanish, giving a link to the state’s notification online and explaining the reason for the modification.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) kept maximum allotments at their current level until the regular Cost of Living Adjustments increased above the current levels or until the provision sunsets on Oct. 31, 2013.
“COLA increases have not surpassed the current maximum allotment levels and, as a result, the sunset clause takes effect and will decrease the maximum allotments effective Nov. 1, 2013,” the letter reads. “Because this is a statutory provision, it cannot be waived or consolidated into one effective date which requires states to adjust household allotments twice this year.”
While the COLA increase helped some in October, that extra assistance will be negated by the change taking effect today.
“This is a mandatory change that we have no control over locally,” Bradshaw said recently. “All we can do is inform recipients and make sure to connect them with other food resources available through food banks and pantries. This change will of course create some additional hardship for families as it relates to being able to acquire the amount of food they are accustomed to needing monthly for their household.”
The November change will also impact those households who receive Simplified Nutritional Assistance Program. Benefits for these households will be reduced by $11 bringing the new SNAP allotments to $92 if the rent, mortgage, and/or lot rent expense is $150 per month or higher and $44 if the rent, mortgage and/or lot rent expense is less than $150 per month.
The notice to FNS recipients of a possible change in benefits and their right to request a hearing is available for public view on the N.C. Division of Social Services website at www.ncdhhs.gov/dss/pubnotice/index.htm.
In the case of the ARRA sunset, a household is not entitled to a fair hearing due to the decrease in benefits because it is the result of a change in federal law. However, a household is entitled to a hearing if they believe the state improperly calculated their benefits. A fair hearing request can be denied to households that are merely disputing the fact that their benefits were reduced as a result of the ARRA sunset.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com
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