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Food Stamp Cuts Are Latest Problem For NC Families, Food Pantries

Loaves and Fishes

Almost 151,000 low-income people in Mecklenburg County will have less money for food this month.

That's because of federal cuts to the food stamp program that took effect this month. In North Carolina, those cuts follow state changes in the past year that already had food pantries scrambling to meet increasing demand.

The federal government temporarily increased food stamp benefits during the recession, and that increase expired November 1. An individual will lose at least $11 a month, and a family of four will lose at least $36 a month.

That may not sound like much. But here's some perspective from Beverly Howard, the executive director of Loaves and Fishes food pantries.

"We actually went to Food Lion and purchased food so we could see what that represented," she said. "We went and purchased $36 worth of food, and it was amazing how many meals it accounted for. I would say it was enough for four or five days, so it was 12, 15, 18 meals."

Howard expects a spike in demand at food pantries as the November food stamps run out. That spike may have already begun.  

At a Loaves and Fishes pantry in uptown, Marcene Carelock put a few boxes of pasta in a shopping cart this week. She said it was her first time at a food pantry, and she was there for help managing the cuts.

"This is such a blessing," she said to the volunteers helping her. "Thank you so much!" 

Carelock is a single mom working part time. She takes care of her 24-year-old son who has cerebral palsy and her 15-year-old daughter in high school.

She doesn't know what their cut will be yet because she gets their food stamps halfway through the month. But she knows they'll lose at least $29.

"It's the difference between buying a whole bunch of toiletries versus buying bread and milk and eggs," she said. "We're definitely going to have to cut back on a lot of stuff."

And the food pantries her family will rely on are already stretched thin.

"Our supplies are very low right now," said Howard, the executive director.

She said two state changes this year have had an impact – cuts to unemployment benefits, and the troubled rollout of NC FAST, the new system for food stamp applications.

"NC FAST put us back up to our numbers from the very worst part of the recession," she said. "It made about a 25 percent increase in clients for us for about six months."

Howard said those numbers started coming back down the last two months as Mecklenburg County fixed the problems it had with NC FAST. But now, the federal cuts are kicking in, and she said it feels like one thing after another.

The pantries haven't run out of food, but they are out of some of the other stuff they provide. Marcene Carelock couldn't get any toiletries, for example.

She said lawmakers aren't thinking about families like hers.

"This is people's livelihoods that they're playing with, and I just don't think that they planned enough or they're taking it serious enough," she said. "They're not giving people resources. We end up at food banks, and ain't but so many people that can come here."

"As you see today, they're out of stuff already," she said. "And it's just halfway through the month. What are they going to do for the rest of the weeks?"