Jo-Ann, an unemployed single mother from New Haven, and her two teenage children have always tried to eat healthy. But eating nutritious foods has become more of a challenge since November 1, 2013. That’s when the family experienced a $36 a month cut to their monthly SNAP (food stamp) budget due to the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that passed four years ago. The ARRA had provided a temporary increase in SNAP benefits to help struggling low-income households provide enough food for their families during the recession.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are expensive, so I clip coupons and purchase what’s on sale to stretch my food budget,” said Jo-Ann. And while Americans ought to be adding more fruits and vegetables to their diets, it’s a bigger issue for Jo-Ann, who has high blood pressure. Even before her monthly food budget was cut, Jo-Ann was struggling at the end of each month to be able to afford enough of the kinds of foods that will help her keep her blood pressure in check.
And then there is Sheila, a single person who lives in housing for disabled senior citizens in New Haven. Her SNAP benefit was cut $20 a month, so she tries to attend at least one of Connecticut Food Bank’s Mobile Pantry distributions when she can to get fresh food, but her disability prevents her from standing for long periods of time. “Everybody is feeling this cut,” said Sheila. “And it’s not a good time during the cold winter weather.” While Sheila said she’s fortunate to have her medicines covered by insurance, she knows many families who are not as lucky. “They are making tough choices about whether to pay for food or medicine.”
Jo-Ann and Sheila are just two of the 424,000 Connecticut residents who are experiencing a reduction in their SNAP benefits – 149,000 of which are children. The cut represents 1.4 million meals that are missing from the tables of low income Connecticut families every month. These households are already facing barriers to accessing a nutritious diet, with many sacrificing the nutritional quality or variety of foods
Before the November 1 SNAP cut many low-income families reported their household incomes are inadequate to cover their basic household expenses. According to Feeding America, 46 percent of client households around the country have to choose between paying for utilities or heating fuel and food, and nearly 40 percent reported choosing between food and paying for rent or their mortgage.
According to Helen Donovan at the Wolcott Food Pantry, the number of families served by the pantry has doubled in the last year. “Each family is given about 15 meals per week,” she said. “We give extra food to families that are most impacted by the SNAP cut because we know what they are going through – having to choose between food and heating, or food and medicine.”