Curious About Food Stamp Benefits Being Cut

By David Wade, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) – Anyone who goes to the grocery store knows food prices are up. So why has the federal government cut food stamp benefits for thousands?

The reason made a lot of viewers curious, and angry. Like Dee from Billerica who went to our Declare Your Curiosity web page to say: “I received a letter that my food stamp allowance is being cut because the cost of living has gone down. How can that possibly be?” Well, we looked into it and found it’s all because of a complex equation that some say needs to change.

“They can’t be living on this planet,” says Robby Hathorne. She’s one of about 800,000 people in Massachusetts who rely on food stamps. Recently about a third of them got a letter saying their benefits are being cut $10 or $11 each month. “I got very angry to think that they’ve hit us once again,” says Hathorne.

WBZ-TV’s David Wade reports

Rep. Jim McGovern has worked a long time on hunger issues. “You can’t just say tough luck. Tough luck means no food. You go hungry,” he says.

He says the problem is the formula that sets food stamp benefits. “It makes no sense. The cost of food has gone up. The cost of fuel has gone up,” says Rep. McGovern. Then why is the government telling people like Robby that the cost of living has gone down, and that their food benefits are going down, too? It’s because they look backwards, at the last year or 2, when they figure food stamp rates. And they don’t include just food prices. They also look at other costs like electricity and oil. The last time those utility numbers were crunched, the costs were lower and that triggered the current cuts. Robby, who’s on a fixed income, lost $11 per month. She now gets $100. Though losing $11 doesn’t sound like much, for Robby, it’s critical. “It means a week’s worth of breakfasts or lunches,” she says.

Some advocates worry that congressional budget cutting could make it even worse. Pat Baker from Mass. Law Reform says one proposal would whack as much as 20% from the food program. “Massachusetts risks losing over $2-billion in a 10 year period of federal nutrition benefits. This will have devastating effects on the people of Massachusetts,” says Baker.

So as Congress looks at the country’s bottom line, expect a fight over the food stamp formula and the future of the program itself. “If government can’t be there for people who are hungry I don’t know what the hell good government is,” says Rep. McGovern.

Advocates we spoke to expect the benefits to go up a little in October after the next round of complicated calculations, though not enough to offset the recent cuts.

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