Georgia food banks brace for 54,000 people to lose food stamps

By: and - December 10, 2019 8:30 am

President Donald Trump’s administration announced new rules this month that threaten to take away food stamp benefits from 54,000 Georgians and people are likely to turn to the the state’s community food banks for relief.

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is pursuing a series of policies that could knock 54,000 Georgians off food stamp benefits and send them to Georgia’s community food banks for relief. 

The administration last week finalized one of three controversial policies that aim to limit nationwide eligibility for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, commonly called food stamps. Trump’s administration has portrayed the effort as a push to boost self-sufficiency, but critics label it a cruel attack on an important anti-hunger program. 

And when many Georgians no longer get food stamps, that will likely put more stress on food banks networks like west Georgia’s Feeding the Valley.

Food banks are usually the first place people turn to when they can’t rely on food stamps for meals, said Frank Sheppard, president and CEO of Feeding the Valley Food Bank.

The food bank headquartered in Columbus services six of the state’s top 10 worst counties for high levels of food insecurity. Those counties are Clay, Calhoun, Stewart, Randolph, Dougherty, and Terrell.

“We have some (more) capacity that we didn’t have before so that will bode well if and when these cuts take effect,” Sheppard said. “But there is a challenge, especially serving the rural areas, because they are far reaching and require a lot more labor expense and fleet expenses to get significant food commodities in those areas.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s final rule would tighten food stamp eligibility requirements by limiting states’ ability to grant waivers that extend benefits in areas with high unemployment. In Georgia, the new rule could impact about 54,000 “abled-bodied” adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who don’t have dependents or a disability, according to the state Division of Family and Children Services.

The division offers to help people find jobs so they’ll be able to meet any new requirements, a spokeswoman wrote in an email.

“Because of these supports, we believe those individuals who qualify and receive SNAP benefits will continue to receive these benefits,” the spokeswoman Denise Wells said.  “Those who do lose benefits will be the result of a failure to utilize the services and resources of the division.” 

However, a 2017 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story reported some people can’t work while they rely on SNAP benefits due to health problems or other temporary life setbacks.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called the regulation finalized last week an effort to “move more able-bodied” people into employment.

 “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand,” Perdue said in a statement. 

Kyle Waide, president of the Atlanta Community Food Bank, said not only are food stamps a cost-effective federal program, but the benefits also increase the likelihood of someone finding successful long-term employment.

“Those (rule) changes are going to take food away from people in need and that will increase hunger and hardship and increase the burden on food banks,” Waide said.

Democrats in Georgia’s Congressional delegation assailed Trump’s SNAP policies. 

“This rule only serves to punish our most vulnerable citizens & during the holiday season adds insult to injury,” U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) wrote on Twitter. “Instead of helping these Americans, the Administration has decided to disparage them as lazy & undeserving.”

Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) warned on Twitter that the rule finalized this month would harm Georgians “who rely on SNAP benefits to bring food to their tables while looking for work.”

Congress, Scott said, “must act now to protect SNAP so that all Americans are fed and able to reach new economic heights.” 

 

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender is the D.C. Bureau Chief for States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit news publications, including the Georgia Recorder. Previously, Robin was a reporter for Politico, E&E News and Thomson Reuters.

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