WILKES-BARRE — Feeding the hungry locally will get even more difficult if Congress includes billions of dollars in cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The U.S. House of Representatives defeated the Farm Bill Thursday, but it could be reintroduced. The current proposal called for cutting SNAP by $20.5 billion over the next 10 years — a loss of an estimated 8 billion meals.
“We cannot let this happen,” said Gretchen Hunt, director of nutritional programs at the Commission on Economic Opportunity’s Weinberg Food Bank. “We want Congress to know that these cuts are unacceptable.”
SNAP, the federal food stamp program, provides recipients benefits to buy food and help eligible low-income households achieve more nutritious diets by increasing their food purchasing power at grocery stores and supermarkets.
Hunt and Rich Kutz, the Weinberg Food Bank’s director, said cutting the SNAP program will increase demands on the bank’s services that already provide 5 million pounds of food to families in 190 programs in four counties — Luzerne, Lackawanna, Wyoming and Susquehanna.
“We’re already anticipating an increase in demand because of the economy,” Kutz said. “Unemployment in the region is still high and we are seeing more and more people coming to us for help.”
Hunt said that when a program such as SNAP is cut, local food programs are affected.
“Any kind of cut will have a significant impact,” she said. “We understand there is a federal deficit, but you can’t make it up by cutting programs that help families feed their children.”
Hunt said she was at a food program on Monday and she noticed the faces of hunger are changing.
“Hunger is far reaching,” she said. “It’s the family of four living next door.”
Hunt and Kutz said they provide nutrition education programs and attendance has increased in recent weeks. They teach people how to eat properly and shop for nutritional foods.
“The numbers are constantly going up,” Kutz said. “We’re struggling to keep up with the demand.”
At the St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen in Wilkes-Barre, Monsignor Joseph Kelly said the kitchen is serving record numbers of hungry people.
“In May we set an all-time high in meals served in our 30-year history,” Kelly said. “Already in June, we are ahead of May’s numbers, and I don’t expect it to get better anytime soon.”
Kelly said it doesn’t make sense to cut SNAP.
“Food stamps only last until the 17th or 18th of the month,” he said. “Then people are looking for food and they arrive at our doorstep at the kitchen.”
Kelly said the food stamp allocation has not increased in five years, while the price of food has risen significantly.
“You can’t buy as much today as you could five years ago,” he said.
He said cutting the SNAP program will make it more difficult for organizations like Catholic Social Services, where he serves as executive director, to secure the donations to purchase the food needed to provide the increased meals. The kitchen is serving nearly 400 meals per day — “an extraordinary change,” he said.
“Will we be able to make up the difference? I really don’t know,” Kelly said.