D. C. Moody
CLEMSON — Continuous operating of budget deficits combined with a sluggish economy has forced federal agencies to tighten their belts and one of the first programs to see its budget slashed is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, leaving some wondering how to make ends meet.
Dr. Margaret A. Wetsel of Clemson University’s Nursing Department is in a unique position to address these issues.
Wetsel has been working for many years with local outreach agencies and counties through a group known as SNAPOCUP, a community/university program developed through S.C. Department of Social Services in 2000 whose purpose is to help those receiving or in need of benefits.
“People don’t realize how much there was to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act covered,” Wetsel said. “Most people believe that piece of legislation only covered the recovery from the financial collapse, but the truth is, when it expired in November of 2013 there were social programs whose funding were cut as well.”
The numbers themselves don’t seem so impending until put into perspective. The cuts implemented equate to a decrease of $11 per month for an individual while a family of four will see their benefit amount reduced by $36 per month.
“It may not seem like much, but those dollars could be the difference between one gallon of milk per month or three,” said Wetsel. “For most of these families this means there won’t be fresh vegetables or meat in the pantry that month.”
What will be the result of less buying power for those families?
“You are going to see a higher consumption of empty carbohydrates, more foods like breads,” Wetsel said. “With less money to buy healthy, nutritious foods, families will be forced to look for alternatives that are filling and not necessarily healthy. Adults will be skipping meals to ensure their children eat. More often than you know Mom and Dad will go hungry.”
The outlook for SNAP over the next two years isn’t optimistic with cuts to the program’s funding set to be reduced by $5 billion in 2014 and an estimated $6 billion in 2015-16. Combine the cuts in SNAP benefits for 2013 with the expiration of the extension of unemployment benefits midnight New Year’s Eve and the issue becomes even more pressing for some.
“With these events occurring so closely together the pressure will be up on our community outreach agencies,” Wetsel said when asked about the means to overcome the shortfall. “The churches with pantries, food banks, soup kitchens are all going to be forced to carry a bigger burden and it’s the community that has to help through donations of not just food, but financial help as well.”
Not only does a cut in SNAP benefits effect recipients, there is also an economic impact on the community.
“For every $1 in SNAP benefits, that translates into $1.74 in spending locally,” said Wetsel. “With these cuts local food retailers will see the pinch as well, just like all the other business in the community the funds won’t make it to either.”
There isn’t an easy short-term fix for the problem, but there are things the community can do to help ease the pain.
“Now more than ever help is needed from the community. We are seeing more and more people coming in for the first time,” Wetsel said. “These same people had never had to ask for assistance before and now they depend on it. The call for the community’s assistance is more critical now than ever, especially with the weather taking a turn.”