Last week, The New York Times ran a heartbreaking story about hunger in rural Tennessee. Dustin Rigsby, a mechanic and "true Southern man," hunts deer and squirrels to feed his family and eats only one meal a day. Tarnisha Adams, who left her job when she became ill with cancer, relies on $352 a month in food stamps to cover meals for her and three college-age sons. She too eats only one meal a day, "if I eat," she told the Times.
Stories like these are an important reminder that 49 million Americans a year suffer from hunger and food insecurity. And their lives are about to get harder.
The 2009 stimulus bill upped benefit allocations for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, across the country. Those increases are set to expire November 1. The average family will lose between $29 and $36 in benefits each month. And right now, it doesn't look like Congress plans to do much to stop that. If anything, House Republicans would like to see the program slashed even further.
Families aren't the only ones scrambling. Food pantries and anti-hunger organizations are trying to prepare for the influx of additional meals needy Americans will need come November. But a major obstacle to the planning effort is that many food banks don't have the resources to track which of their clients use SNAP benefits, so they just aren't sure how needs will change once benefits are cut.
Maura Daly, of anti-hunger group Feeding America, estimates that food banks across the country will need to provide millions of extra meals next year. And if Congress cuts the program by an additional $40 billion, as some Republicans want, that number could be as high as 15 billion meals over ten years.*
Feeding America oversees about 200 food banks across the country. Daly says the organization is working to meet the immediate increased need by partnering with major grocery chains, but that there's basically no way to be sure it will be enough in advance.
* An earlier version of this post misstated the number of meals food pantries will need to provide if Republican cuts to the SNAP benefits program are passed.
Top image: Jim Young/Reuters