Cuts in food benefits expected to hit hard in Sonoma County, across U.S.

  • The CalFresh Advantage Card, Thursday Aug. 8, 2013 in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Angel Flores knows exactly how much she receives from the government each month to buy food for her family of four: $386.

She has every dollar budgeted to make sure it stretches until the end of the month. Flores and her boyfriend eat a lot of sandwiches. She uses the CalFresh benefit — formerly called food stamps — to buy healthier food like salads for her two children, ages 4 and 2.

But the monthly benefit is being reduced for the Santa Rosa psychology student and the 48 million other Americans who rely on money from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Further cuts to the program are expected in the coming weeks as Washington lawmakers debate a key piece of legislation that funds food programs like SNAP.

"Honestly, it's scary," said Flores, 24. "It's going to be a big shift for us."

On Friday, a temporary boost in SNAP benefits expired. The supplement was part of the 2009 federal stimulus package. A family of four, like Flores', will now receive $36 less, about 21 meals, per month.

But larger cuts to the nutrition program are looming as Congress debates a new farm bill. The legislation has traditionally funded farming subsidies and U.S. Department of Agriculture food programs. Congress must renew the bill every five years or so. The current farm bill expired in September.

The Republican-led House and Democrat-controlled Senate have passed different versions of the bill, and House and Senate leaders began meeting last week to work out the differences.

The House proposal would slash nearly $40 billion over 10 years from the SNAP program, which funds state food stamp programs such as CalFresh. It would also require able-bodied adults without children to work or volunteer 20 hours a week to receive benefits.

The Senate version would cut SNAP funding by $4 billion, and it does not include the work provision.

Either way, Sonoma County food advocates and administrators expect the cuts to hit low-income families hard.

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