Jay says cut in food aid hurts W.Va.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said thousands of West Virginians celebrating Thanksgiving will be plagued by "devastating" reductions in federal food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Department of Agriculture's Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP).
In his weekly Wednesday column, Rockefeller wrote, "It's a time of gratitude and love shining through in busy kitchens and around crowded dining room tables. It is a time for recipes to be handed down and leftovers shared.
"But for many, it can be a time of worry and stress over how to provide a meal, not only on Thanksgiving, but the next day and the next."
During the Depression in the 1930s, the government created the safety net, now known as SNAP, to provide food for the poorest Americans. SNAP is also called the food stamp program.
"Here in West Virginia, SNAP benefits represent a lifeline for one in five of our friends and neighbors, including thousands of children," Rockefeller wrote.
But on Nov. 1, SNAP financial assistance was cut by about $36 a month for a family of four and $29 a month for a family of three.
Rockefeller is pushing Congress to restore SNAP benefits and strengthen the TEFAP program that provides food to many local food banks for the poor around the Mountain State.
West Virginia's median income ranks 48th in the nation today, which is lower than all states but Arkansas and Mississippi.
In 2012, 17.8 percent of all West Virginians were living in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The federal poverty income threshold for a family of four is $23,550 each year.
Rockefeller said it is "important to remember our most vulnerable families -- not just during the holidays, but every day -- and do all we can to support them, including making sure critical food assistance programs like SNAP and the Emergency Food Assistance Program are fully funded.
"While many of us are enjoying a meal with friends and family in the warmth of our homes this holiday, there are far too many West Virginians trying to figure out how to feed the kids, keep the lights and heat on, and make it to the next payday."
Rockefeller also pointed out that every dollar spent on SNAP food benefits generates $1.79 in economic activity.
"This is a win-win for West Virginia families as well as our state's economy."
Rockefeller is a co-sponsor of the Extend Not Cut SNAP Benefits Act, introduced in late October to restore food stamp benefits to previous levels.
Rockefeller also co-signed two letters to Senate colleagues working on the farm bill, urging them to restore food stamp funding and oppose any changes to eligibility requirements. He also urged them to strengthen the Emergency Food Assistance Program.
SNAP benefits go to children, senior citizens, disabled people and working families with low incomes. Food banks supported by the Emergency Food Assistance Program include West Virginia's Huntington Area Food Bank and the Mountaineer Food Bank.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said, "At a time when our state is still struggling from a slow economic recovery, the last thing we should be doing is cutting nutrition benefits for kids."
About 35,000 low-income West Virginians saw their food stamps cut earlier this month, Boettner pointed out, when a temporary boost to the SNAP program expired. That cut affected nearly 47 million Americans, including 22 million children.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.