LUMBERTON — Robeson County recipients of food stamps shouldn’t be surprised when they find their benefits have been reduced, according to the director of Robeson County Department of Social Services.
Becky Morrow told The Robesonian on Friday that when benefits were temporarily increased in 2009 by the American Recovery and Investment Act — better known as the federal stimulus package — it was included in the legislation that the increase would expire and benefits rolled back on Nov. 1, 2013.
“It’s just a reduction,” Morrow said. “There are no changes in eligibility requirements to receive food and nutrition benefits.”
On Friday, the more than 47 million Americans across the country enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program began seeing their benefits cut. About one third of Robeson County’s 135,000 residents will be affected.
The program provides assistance for purchasing food for low and no-income individuals living in the United States. It is a program administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the individual states are responsible for distributing the benefits.
This is the first time, according to the website for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, that there has ever been a reduction in SNAP benefits that affects all participants. In North Carolina, 1.7 million people will be affected.
According to the North Carolina Justice Center, which is a liberal advocacy organization, it is estimated that $166 million over the next 11 months could be lost from the state’s economy because those receiving food stamps will not be able to make as many food purchases.
Morrow said that her department currently administers 21,443 food stamp cases, providing for about 44,000 children and adults. The cost of providing food assistance is about $6.2 million a month in Robeson County, Morrow said, about $77 million for 2012.
Morrow said that food stamp recipients in Robeson County can expect about a 4 percent reduction in their monthly allotments.
“The average family of four will see a decrease in their benefits of about $36 a month,” Morrow said.
According to the state Department of Health and Human Services, a family of four with no income will see their monthly benefits decrease from $668 to $632.
Food stamp benefits depend on several factors, including income, amount of expenses, and the number of individuals in the household. The state Department of Health and Human Services reports that decreases in benefits for households with no income could range from $11 an individual to $65 for a household with eight members.
Morrow said there may be more reductions depending on how much Congress cuts funding for food stamps in the federal farm bill.
“We’ll just have to see what happens,” Morrow said.
Morrow said the number of county residents seeking to be enrolled in the program continues to steadily increase, she said.
While food stamps increase the purchasing power of individuals and families in need, they also significantly boost the economy of local communities. The USDA has reportedly determined that for every food stamp dollar spent, $1.84 is created in the local economy.
The total amount of food stamps received by Robeson County residents in 2009 was $47.37 million; $58.10 million in $2010; and $65.18 million in 2011.
Morrow said she is unaware of any complaints to her department from recipients.
“I have not personally received any calls,” she said.
The cuts in food stamp benefits come at a bad time for Robeson County as local food banks have been scrambling lately for donations in anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas.