BALTIMORE COUNTY—Almost 50 million Americans and 800,000 Marylanders participating in the Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, will have more trouble making ends meet as a federal benefits program comes to an end today, Friday, Nov. 1.
Nearly 783,000 people in Maryland are receiving supplemental food assistance—a number that went up 9 percent this past year—the third-highest increase of any state, according to the Food Research and Action Center, a nonprofit research organization.
"This is going to be devastating," said Ed Hartman, executive director of the Community Crisis Center in Reisterstown.
"Well over 65 percent of folks on food stamps are children, people with significant disabilities or retirees and well over 70 percent of the remainder of those folk are individuals who work 30, 40, 50 hours a week in our community -- the working poor," Hartman told Patch.
The reduction is about 5.5 percent of the maximum allotment, with the amount of the decrease depending on the household size, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
For example, a one-person household will see an $11 dollar per month decrease in benefits, a two-person household will see a $20 decrease, a three-person household will see a $29 decrease and a four-person household will see a $36 per month decrease in funding.
People getting the minimum benefit will see a decrease of $1, from $16 to $15.
Michael J. Wilson, director of Maryland Hunger Solutions, said now is not the right time to take food off of families' tables, with a USDA study showing little to no change in food insecurity and recently released U.S. Census data showing a near-generation high poverty rate of 15 percent.
“The struggles people are going through are real and are documented by the Census and USDA,” he said.
To make matters worse, Congress is discussing further cuts to the program — by as much as $40 billion over 10 years if the House of Representatives has its way, according to the Baltimore Sun. The House plan would essentially remove 3.8 million people from the program next year and millions more the year after.
Hartman said several food pantries in the area will be hit hard as people scramble to make up for the lost support.
"I think it's a community-wide problem," Hartman said. "The way it looks, the community is going to have to come together because right after these cuts, both parties are proposing further cuts to food stamps."
Maryland had the third highest increase in food stamp participation from June 2012 to June 2013, following Illinois with 15 percent and Wyoming with 11 percent.
The most significant rise in enrollment in Maryland occurred in Prince George’s County, where an additional 16,000 people received assistance, or an 18 percent increase. The second highest growth in participation was in Charles County and Anne Arundel County, each at 14 percent.
Although food stamp use in Maryland has risen to 14 percent, it is still lower than the national average of 16 percent, according to the Food Research and Action Center.
Cindy Parr, executive director of Human Service Programs in Carroll County, told Patch she anticipates trickle down effects on the services offered by her organization.
"When one thing gets cut, you can't say it's only going to affect that one thing; people have to compensate and when they do they have to cut from other areas -- in our case fuel, electric, transportation and certainly their housing," Parr said. "It's a concern. People have to make modifications and typically those modifications are pulling money from a pot that's meant to pay for something else, if they even have it."
Parr said that HSP in Carroll County does not work with food stamps but the organization does work to prevent homelessness, which includes energy assistance. Parr said her organization has more than 2,000 applications already for people seeking energy assistance (help paying for electric and heat for the home) and that number goes up every week.
"We typically help about 4,000 households with energy assistance and [the SNAP cuts] are obviously going to impact folks, which I expect to trickle down to us," Parr said.
Rep. Andy Harris, R-Cockeysville, voted to cut SNAP funding.
“We want to get food stamps into the hands of those people who deserve it. … If we're going to help you with food stamps, and we are, then we need you to either work, look for employment, if you're able-bodied, not disabled and able to work,” Harris told CNN.
“There are people who are getting it who probably shouldn't be. ... We know there's waste, fraud and abuse,” he said.
Hartman of the Community Crisis Center in Reisterstown said he thinks it's sad that hunger has become so political.
"I can remember when hunger and feeding children was universally agreed upon by everyone -- that no one should be hungry in a country as great as the United States," Hartman said. "To me, food really should not be political or even brought into the political arena."
Natalie Kornicks and Zainab Mudallal of Capital News Service contributed to this report.