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Return to pre-stimulus food benefits will affect 1 in 5 in W.Va.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About one in five West Virginians will see a reduction in their food assistance when a temporary boost to federal benefits expires this fall.

About 350,000 state residents get benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. Those benefits will be reduced when a boost to SNAP benefits included in the federal stimulus bill expires Oct. 31.

"This small increase in SNAP benefits has helped thousands of struggling families in West Virginia stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said in a prepared statement. "For many of these families, this modest assistance is providing a lifeline to those who are struggling to find work, or are working at jobs that do not pay them enough to put food on the table."

For a family of three, the reduction will mean a $29-per-month lowering of benefits.

"That doesn't seem like a huge amount but, if that's the main source of food income, that's a serious loss," Sean O'Leary, policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy, said. "SNAP benefits aren't very generous anyway."

The benefits will average less than $1.40 a meal per person, according to the Center on Budget and Policy.

The temporary boost, included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, raised SNAP benefits by 13 percent instead of the smaller amount it's usually raised each year to match inflation, O'Leary said. Policymakers' idea was to allow the economy to recover enough so that the inflation level would match the increase in SNAP benefits. Instead, O'Leary said, lawmakers decided to end the increase before the economy has fully recovered.

"Now that the economy hasn't recovered, we're cutting back," he said, "which is going to create more problems."

Policy analysts at the Center on Budget and Policy said SNAP is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy. Each $1 increase to SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity, center analysts said.

Nationwide, SNAP benefits help more than 47 million people, including 22 million children.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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