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Miss. Organizations Worry About Impact of Possible Cuts to Food Stamp Program

By Evelina Burnett | Published 24 Sep 2013 09:24am | comments

Congress is considering cutting $40 billion from the nation’s food stamps program over the next decade.

In Mississippi, about one of every five people receives food stamps, and for many, it makes all the difference.

 Volunteers serve lunch at Loaves and Fishes in Biloxi. Joe Gautier is director of program development for the soup kitchen.

"We served approximately 8,000 meals last month, I think if the exact figure, if you go back a year, we're up 35% ," says Gautier.

 This kind of increase is being felt at many groups that serve the poor in Mississippi. It’s also reflected in the food stamp statistics here. Mississippi is the state with the highest percentage of food stamp recipients in the nation. Kathy Sykes is with the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

"In the last several years, we're seeing people that we've never seen before, a lot of time we have cases on people on what they call "turn," we have them, they go off the program and then come back, but we're seeing people that have never been on the program before because of the economy, and layoffs and everything," says Sykes.

 The number of Mississippians receiving food stamps has grown almost 50 percent since 2008.

 Sheree Terrell is a volunteer at the Loaves and Fishes. She’s seen these statistics at the soup kitchen, she says during her time volunteering she's seen the numbers increase daily.

 Terrell began volunteering here about three months ago, while she looks for work.She's had three job interviews lately, sent out dozens of applications, but no luck yet.  She says she wanted to volunteer at the soup kitchen since she’s eaten here at times too. Until she finds a job, she relies on food stamps to feed her three children.

"It means making sure my kids eat because I'm not able to feed them right now, and I've been looking for a job but it's kind of hard to find one, basically it means feeding my family," explains Terrell.

 Half of Mississippi households receiving food stamps have children. A third are elderly or disabled. The average received last year was $123 per person per month.

 In another part of Biloxi, Laurie Green picks up food from the Back Bay Mission food pantry. She receives food stamps but says her concern about cuts to the program is broader.

"I just think it will be devastating to the nation, it will be horrible, I think it will probably put more people out there panhandling and probably into more drug addiction and alcoholism, you times are hard enough, I just feel like they could cut somewhere else other than food because we really need food," says Green.

 Caseworker Jill Cartledge says the food pantry now serves well over 200 people a month.

"We've always had consistent people coming in here to access the pantry but it's not been like this, we're seeing an increase of people who perhaps may have donated food to our pantry in the past and are now having to come in and get it," says Cartledge.

 Back Bay Mission also serves many of the area’s homeless, including Gary, who asked to be identified by his first name. Gary says he can’t work due to health problems and hasn’t been able to get disability benefits. He says food stamps keep him alive, and he's not alone.

"I was a successful businessman for 25 years for most of my life, but after I had my health problems, the world changed dramatically, and I've been working in the homeless shelter as a volunteer for some time now and I'm telling you, the food stamps keeps these people alive, that's all most of them really get," explains Gary.

 The food stamp reform bill passed the U.S. House last week largely along party lines, but the Senate seems unlikely to pass it.

Mississipi's three Republican Congressmen voted for it, while Democrat Bennie Thompson was against. The bill's supporters say families who need benefits will still get them, but the reforms would cut waste and fraud and encourage self-sufficiency.

South Mississippi Congressman Steven Palazzo said in a statement the bill’s reforms would restore integrity to what he called a troubled program. 







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