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North Texas Food Pantries Brace For Longer Lines With Food Stamp Cuts

BJ Austin
AW Browne Fellowship Leadership Academy students volunteered recently at the North Texas Food Bank.

Starting Friday, SNAP, or food stamp benefits, will be cut by 5 percent. That’s $36 a month for a family of four. Food bank operators in North Texas are bracing for more people lining up at local pantries. 

The decrease in SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, benefits is the end of stimulus money approved in 2009 to increase benefits and help low-income families weather the recession.

Jan Pruitt, director of the North Texas Food Bank, says demand at food pantries is pretty much the same as it was during the height of the recession. She says demand last summer nearly wiped the shelves clean. The food bank is racing to recover before the lines get longer.

“We are trying to get ahead of this curve, and with the SNAP cuts adding to the line at a time when we’re struggling to get ahead of the curve, it’s just nearly impossible,” Pruitt said.

She says 70 percent of food bank stock comes from donations, and donations are down.

But there is still work for volunteers at the food bank’s big warehouse. Sixth graders from the charter school AW Browne Fellowship Leadership Academy spent a morning sorting canned goods.  Teacher Lashannon Coleman says it’s work many of these kids really understand.

“You know, they talk about people they know, family members, and how they have benefited from the food bank," Coleman said, supervising her students as she boxed various canned goods. "So, it’s interesting to see how it touches a lot of them, and then coming here and doing it just makes them feel more invested.”

Providing enough for the increased demand is what worries Pruitt, the Food Bank director.  She says that SNAP cuts will affect 463,000 people in the food bank’s 13-county area. That equals to a loss of $16 million a month. And it’s likely to get worse as Congress wrangles over how much to cut SNAP in the new Farm Bill.

“This is one cut that’s happening, so families are losing $36," Pruitt said. "But the bigger cut is up there in Congress right now. That is potentially $39 billion worth of cuts. That will be catastrophic.”

Officials at the Tarrant Area Food Bank have the same concerns. They expect the deeper the cuts in food assistance, the longer the lines at local food pantries.    

Congressional proponents of the cuts say they’re necessary to close loopholes that have allowed people to abuse the system.

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.