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.

More from David Wade
  • Ken

    Get rid of food stamps and open up food pantries

  • Quentin Lowell

    how can she be on food stamps, AND complain about it, yet she has the internet?
    If she can afford a computer and the monthly internet bill, than she should be able to afford food, without the help of the commonwealth.

    • KR

      EXACTLY, she’s not really that bad off. It’s not about being able to afford something, it’s about prioritizing to be able to afford it.

    • Lori

      They have FREE internet at most (if not all) local libraries as well as the ability to rent a movie, audio CD or video games from the local library. Maybe she has internet in her home, maybe not. Neither you or I live with her in order to know if she does or not.

    • Dave

      An internet connection (essential when looking for a job these days) is 35 bucks a month and computers are free, if you don’t mind an old one.
      I’d like to see you try to eat on 35 bucks a month.

  • Matt

    How about this. Instead of getting angry that your food stamps paid for by me are being cut. Take some pride in your self and use this energy and time and effort to get off of them.

  • Italo

    I don’t expect WBZ to get too detailed in its stories, as its Website’s articles are not known for their journalistic splendor — but using the term “food stamps” is outdated and doesn’t reflect that this program is now called Transitional Assistance. The article fails to describe that the service also assists elders who do not have enough money to pay for their groceries, as well. And to qualify, they and anyone else applying for them need to complete an application accurately, which provides (also accurately, unless they want to be denied or have their potentially awarded assistance cancelled in the future) proof and data on any and all their sources of income, or lack thereof, its sources, their assets and the amounts of these. Also, as usual, this kind of article subject for the most part brings out all the Jerry Springer audience turnaways with the research and educational level of shiny beach rocks.

  • Mark

    A rose by any other name is still a rose, or in this case a skunk. In this country whenever a word or phrase becomes politically incorrect they come up with a less politically incorrect substitiute. Handicapped becomes physically challenged, Shell shocked becomes battle fatigue which becomes post traumatic stress disorder, etc. Why are we so afraid of the truth?

  • response

    I’ve had to cut my food bill down as well…everyone I know has.
    Why not these folks as well. I do feel badly for them, but everyone needs to cut back on their spending. It’s only 10.00 per month, (10%) I’ve cut back more than that.
    It’s time for the program to be audited. Get rid of the fraud.
    People getting assistance should do community service hours.

    • Lori

      What some people do not realize is most of the people in the state would qualify for some form of state aid (SNAP [formerly known as Food Stamps], Mass Health, etc etc) yet do not apply for it. There is no shame in applying for or receiving it. It is the people who abuse it that set the shame level. You CAN work AND receive SNAP. I’ve received it in the past even while working. So to say do community service in order to receive SNAP benefits is a bit unrealistic for some.

      • response

        I disagree, there are so many that do get assistance and do not do anything in return. Even if you work, you can still volunteer.
        I work full time and I volunteer for four different organizations.
        It is frustrating to see everyday women that go to a food bank but have their nails done perfectly? I don’t have the time or want to waste the money.
        It is frustrating to see a young father who shows me a new tat, but brings a young son to a food bank when the money he spent could have been spent on food or clothing for his children.
        I have no problem with people who need assistnace but they should be giving back to the community.

  • Bill

    People don’t need as much in food stamps because even though food costs more, they can spend less on buying houses and large flat screen TV’s. Your government at work.

  • Twink34

    Thank Heaven for Pat Baker and her colleagues at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. It is reassuring that not only do they understand the immense difficulties so many low income individuals and families are facing just to be able to feed themselves and their families, but they are trying to help to improve the situation. Thank you MLRI and Pat Baker for your efforts and please keep up the good work!

  • KR

    Stop crying and stop asking for free stuff! We don’t have, just to be able to give away. Pick your head and your pride up and do something to help your situation!

    Everyone has to start paying something, no more free rides because this country doesn’t have the money to afford that!! If you can’t afford something, you can’t have it. Instead of everyone crying about how they “just don’t get enough from the government”, stop asking for handouts and figure something out! If we’d all get our “stuff” figured out, our whole country would do much better. If we’re the best country in the world as we think, we should be able to use our brains to get jobs, to get food, etc.

  • rebecca

    get our brains together! are u serious?? about stop helping other countries!!! and keep our money here for our people for once..then maybe we wouldn’t have such a problem helping those who really need’s called giving bk to our country esp. our senior citizens, disabled, veterans, and how about our young children who go with out diner???it’s very sad

  • CAJP

    Bravo Rebecca ;-) you are a breath of fresh air:-) thank you so much. I am disabled and cannot get any SSI due to not having enough quarters. How sad is that?? I am thankful for everyone that is helpful around me and no I do not pay for my own internet, LOL. I worry for my children.I worry for my husband who has to work so hard. I also have to remember I am still here, at least for now. So why oh why are we so quick to help other counties and leave our own starving, suffering, and our young and elderly to go without. Our country really thinks about others before US!!!, and for that I think we all should be sad about it. I say not to give to all, or help everyone; but what about the ones that really need it. I’ve said enough. Thanks for letting me vent :-)

  • Joanne

    well I dont have the internet nor a house phone, I work two part time jobs and volunteer seven days a week, and use the net at a church, and I have food stamps, I wish I didnt have to use them and they were cut 20 % starting in november, so I now have side jobs doing snow removel to feed my 17 year old, thank god he goes to college next year and hope I can get off them my self, I would’nt need them if the Goverment went after his father 17 years ago, a court order was just made for a lously 162 dollars a month, and I dont get any thing, cause his father doesnt work, if they went after all these dead beat dads alot off us would rely on help.

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