$89 Million Reduction In FoodShare Benefits Will Hit 860,000

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$89 Million Reduction In FoodShare Benefits Will Hit 860,000

Premiere Date: 
November 1, 2013

WCCF's Tamarine Cornelius explains why the temporary boost in benefits went away Nov. 1.

 

Episode Transcript: 

Frederica Freyberg:

Today marks the start of reductions in the food stamp program, cuts expected to affect nearly 900,000 people in Wisconsin. Some counties in the state will be particularly hard-hit. In Menomonie County, 93% of children receive the food stamp or foodshare benefits. In Milwaukee County, it's 61%. Statewide, one in seven people receive this benefit. Here to further detail this issue, including additional proposed cuts coming from state and national policymakers, is Tamarine Cornelius from the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. Thanks very much for being here.

Tamarine Cornelius:

Sure thing.

Frederica Freyberg:

Well, first I just want to ask you the total dollar amount from foodshare being cut in Wisconsin.

Tamarine Cornelius:

In Wisconsin it will be $89 million over the rest of this fiscal year that people will see in reduced benefits to their foodshare.  

Frederica Freyberg:

And what is the average monthly amount in foodshare benefits that people in Wisconsin get?

Tamarine Cornelius:

It's about $115 per person per month. And that works out to about a $1.30 per person per meal.

Frederica Freyberg:

And so an individual would get that amount of money, but if you have children, then you get that by however many people in your family?

Tamarine Cornelius:

Right, right.

Frederica Freyberg:

And what's the income basis for that? Is it 100% of poverty you get that?

Tamarine Cornelius:

Well, it gets a little complicated with deductions. Roughly, it's after some-- if your income falls below poverty after certain deductions. So there's no one easy way to say a number.

Frederica Freyberg:

But these are not people who are otherwise able to actually afford the groceries and need this help.

Tamarine Cornelius:

Right, although many of these people are working and work at low-wage jobs, and this is a way of making sure that they can keep food on the table.

Frederica Freyberg:

Why is this program being cut as of today?

Tamarine Cornelius:

Well, the Recovery Act back in 2009 included a measure to boost food stamp benefits across the board, and there was two reasons to do that. One, it was to help families who were hit hard by the recession. But it was also a stimulus measure, because when you boost food stamps, what families do is they take that money and they go and spend it right away at the grocery store, and then that money circulates in the economy. So to help the families and then also to help the economy. That measure runs out right now. So we're back-- food stamps will essentially be back at pre-recession levels.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet has our economy and the ability of these families to afford their groceries improved to the extent that we can cut back?

Tamarine Cornelius:

Well, this is, I think, really a premature rollback of these benefits. The problem is while the foodshare benefits are going back to pre-recession levels, poverty hasn't gone back to pre-recession levels. Household income hasn’t gone back to pre-recession levels.  We still have a huge job deficit. I think this is too early to be cutting back on this.

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet there are potentially more cuts to come, both at the state and federal level.

Tamarine Cornelius:

The house-- There's a very concerning bill that's been passed by the US house of representatives at the federal level, and that bill would cut $40 billion out of the foodshare program nationally over the next ten years and would cut benefits -- or would deny benefits to about four million people.

Frederica Freyberg:

Now, the amount that people get, what did you say? $115 per person per month in these foodshare benefits doesn't seem like an awful lot of money, but to these families that's significant?

Tamarine Cornelius:

Right. These are families who may be working or may be looking for a job and need a little help to keep their heads above water, to help put food on the table for their families, and especially for their kids. So that a family of three with this reduction in benefits will have their benefits cut by about $29 a month every month. Which is going to make it that much harder for them to make ends meet.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is the notion on the part of some policy makers that, A, there's a lot of fraud in this program. And potentially some people who shouldn't be getting the benefit are. Or that people are buying food that's not nutritious.

Tamarine Cornelius:

In terms of fraud, we can always improve fraud detection efforts and enforcement. What we want to do is make sure that the program will continue to be there for the people who are eligible and make sure the people who are not eligible don't get the program. So to the extent that we do that, I think that's-- we can continue to move forward there. What we don't want to do is create hoops designed to turn people away from the program. But certainly additional fraud enforcement, making sure that people are really eligible, is worthy. In terms of determining what people can buy with their benefits, there were some efforts at the state level earlier this year, and the state assembly passed a bill that the senate has not gone on to pick up, that would restrict what people on foodshare benefits could buy with their benefit. It was pretty complicated. You run into some serious administration issues in terms of telling people what they can't buy. And overall we think that it would be better effort to create some good family-supporting jobs than telling people what they can-- micromanaging people's food choices with their foodshare benefit.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. We'll be watching this, Tamarine Cornelius. Thanks very much.

Tamarine Cornelius:

Thanks. 


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