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Food stamp benefit cut 5 percent
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Food stamp recipients are seeing their benefits reduced this month due to an end in federal stimulus funding.

As part of the 2009 Recovery Act, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as SNAP), received a temporary boost in funding to compensate for the shrinking economy.

In Newton County, 22,591 people, in 10,005 households, received food stamps in September, according to figures from the Georgia Department of Human Services. As of today, each of those households will receive about 5 percent less each month.

"This change will impact every household that receives food stamps, and the amount will vary depending on the household size and income,’’ said Erica Williams, communication coordinator for the state DHS. "For example, for a household of three, this change could mean a reduction in benefits of up to $29 per month.’’

The federally funded program provides monthly benefits to low-income households to help pay for food. Nationwide, the benefits go to 1 in 7 Americans and fluctuate based on factors that include food prices, inflation and income.

Recipients use Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which function similarly to debit cards, allowing them to purchase most food items, but excluding hot and previously prepared foods, alcohol and cigarettes.

Rosalee Thompson, director of the Community Food Bank in Newton County, said that over the past couple of weeks, as food-stamp recipients have been receiving letters outlining the benefit cuts, she’s been hearing from some of them who are concerned about how they can "make it through the month.’’

This is especially true of people who live on fixed incomes, such as disability or Social Security, she said.

Thompson said the cuts might force some food-stamp recipients to adjust their spending habits. Some of them are "kinda careless,’’she said. "Maybe this will be a wake-up call.’’

The Community Food Bank, she said, is only able to help people once every four months. If the food-stamp cut sends more people to the food bank in the coming weeks, she said, "we’ll pray to the man upstairs and try to find a way’’ to help more people.

Due to the struggling economy, SNAP has more than doubled in cost since 2008, now almost $80 billion a year, and has become a target for Republicans looking to cut federal spending.

Negotiations are under way in Congress to further cut food-stamp funding as part of the wide-ranging farm bill.

Legislation in the Republican-controlled house would cut funding by an additional $4 billion, 10 times more than the Senate farm bill, as well as tighten eligibility requirements for recipients.

Democrats and President Barack Obama oppose major cuts to the program.

The difference in reduction amounts between the two parties is the biggest obstacle to a final bill.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said at a conference meeting that he was hoping to find common ground on the issue, but Republican leaders, such as Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., want larger cuts, insisting the program should be only for the neediest people.

Andrew Akers of the Gainesville Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.