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Food Pantries Prepare For Increased Demand

By Jonathan Elias, WBZ-TV
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BOSTON (CBS) – The nearly 47-million Americans who rely on food stamps are now dealing with cuts. The 2009 stimulus program that boosted benefits is now over. One in seven people in Massachusetts receives food stamps, and until today, the maximum benefit for a family of four was $668 per month. Those benefits are being cut by about $36. Many people losing food money are expected to turn to food pantries for extra help. Those pantries are now gearing up for the increased demand, and hoping they can meet it.

At the Red Cross food pantry in Boston, volunteers fill grocery bags so they’re ready for hundreds of people to pick up tomorrow. “We’re the largest food pantry in New England,” says Jarrett Barrios, the CEO of the American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts. Barrios says business is too good, having increased by about 30% since the economic downturn began. “That’s tens of thousands of more people coming here each year,” says Barrios. And with so many people facing reductions in food stamp help; “More people means more pressure on pantries to meet the need. We’re worried about the thousand people we have come through here a week growing to 11, 12, 1300,” says Barrios.

But increasing the benefit was supposed to be temporary, until the economy improved. “This part of the recovery act was to help those most at risk of going hungry as the result of the economic downturn. For those people, times have not gotten better. Now isn’t the time to do this,” he adds.

But some on Capitol Hill argue the system is bloated, having doubled in cost over the last five years with a current price tag of $8-billion. And right now Congress is debating whether to cut even more from the program.

The state of Mass. has set up a special web page with information about the cuts and where people can go if they need extra food help: www.mass.gov/dta/arra

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