Cuts in food stamps leave more people turning to pantries

| Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been in effect for just one month, but local food pantries already are seeing an increase in need.

The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired on Nov. 1 and cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, affecting 85,502 households in Allegheny County.

Staff at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank still is working to understand the extent of the impact of the cuts, but Lisa Scales, CEO of the food bank, said there is no doubt it is affecting local people directly.

“Anecdotally, I can tell you we've definitely seen an increase (in need),” Scales said.

The food bank serves more than 400 agencies in its 11-county service area, including 280 pantries in Allegheny County. In almost each of the pantries, which submit monthly statistics to the food bank, the number of clients in November increased over the numbers seen in November 2012.

Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank representatives will survey food pantry clients starting this week and continuing through January.

“We're concerned people who didn't need to use the pantry for additional food assistance would need to go to a pantry to receive food, and people who already receive food assistance at a food pantry and SNAP benefits, those families would be in greater need for food,” Scales said. “We want to talk to people who go to food pantries to better understand the impact on them.”

Food pantry coordinators in the North Hills said there usually is a higher volume of clients using the pantry services in November and December, but this November they started to notice more concern among their clients.

“People talk about it (the SNAP cuts) a lot,” said Brandi Ruckovena, food pantry coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach's food pantries in Hampton and Bellevue. “Families are noticing the loss. Whether or not it will affect our numbers, you can guess it will.”

The SNAP cuts equal a loss of $36 per month in benefits for a family of four.

About 40 percent of the Hampton food pantry clients also use SNAP benefits. That number jumps to 51 percent of food pantry clients at the outreach's Bellevue food pantry location.

At the Bread of Life Food Pantry in Etna, 97 percent of the 149 families — or 314 individuals — it served in November also receive SNAP benefits.

McCandless resident Marlene Stack, Bread of Life pantry manager, said in November the pantry saw 24 new families, or 56 individuals, come through the pantry doors and she is expecting more in December.

Linda Heery, who manages the Gleaners Food Bank in Cranberry Township, said while she normally receives one to three new applications per month, starting last month, more families are requesting assistance from the pantry.

“I did have six or seven (applications) last month and four or five so far (this month),” Heery said. “I do think we're picking up more clients.”

“I really think in the coming months we'll see more of the affect of that than last month.”

Local charity organization leaders also are watching the farm bills in the House and Senate, which could further cut SNAP benefits. With all of the need and uncertainty, food pantry coordinators hope the community continues to respond with monetary and food item donations to meet the increased need.

“Having those folks who can't keep food on the table as it is — get more cuts — there is no question it's causing real human suffering,” said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, which helps local families apply for SNAP benefits.

“People are showing up in higher numbers and with more desperation seeking charitable help.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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