Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration made changes in food stamp eligibility this month that could leave 20,000 unemployed Kansans without the benefit.
On Oct. 1, the state let a federal waiver expire, which allowed states with high unemployment to issue food stamps to unemployed adults without children. Those adults now have three months to find a job or enroll in a job training program in order to keep their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, also known as food stamps.
It is too early to say how this change will affect unemployed Kansans now receiving the benefit. But even without people getting kicked off the program, local food pantry volunteers said it is difficult to keep up with the already increasing need in the community.
“We don’t want to see anybody go hungry, but when it involves children, it tugs at your heartstrings,” said Clara Evans, director of the Lord’s Pantry at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church.
The Lord’s Pantry is open from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. every Thursday. Evans estimates that 20 families come through per week, which might run to 70 people. There are also a lot of single people using the pantry as well. Several of them are homeless or came from the homeless shelter, she said.
Volunteers give sacks of foods like ramen noodles, hamburger helper, frozen meet, cheese and canned vegetables, as well as toilet paper, soap and toothpaste. A person can use the pantry once every three months, Evans said.
The First Christian Church runs a food pantry from 8:30 to 10 a.m. on the third Saturday of the month. The pantry will be open this Saturday. People in need can use the pantry once a month, said Andrew Pineda, director of the church’s food ministry.
Monthly, around 220 to 230 people and around 55 to 65 families use the church’s panty, Pineda said. Close to half the people who come in are single or come with one other person, Pineda said.
Proponents of the Kansas Department for Children and Families plan to cut SNAP benefits for unemployed people might see the new policy as an incentive for people to find work.
“People aren’t getting a job due to a lack of inentive,” Pineda said. “They’re not getting a job due to a lack of jobs.”
Pineda said he has seen people with too much pride to ask for help, but he emphasized that they have nothing to be embarrassed about.
“We’re trying to let them know this isn’t a stigma,” he said. “We don’t blame you for needing our help. We try to help in a non-judgemental way.”
Pineda says the food his church gives out will last a week or two. He and Evans said they do not have enough to replace SNAP benefits. Pineda criticized Brownback’s cutbacks to the program.
“I think it’s absolutely deplorable,” Pineda said. “Gov. Brownback is doing that because he wants to score points with the conservatives and tea party members instead of the people who elected him. For him, it’s a political strategy. For them, it’s an issue of quality of life.”