NEW YORK, NY – SEPTEMBER 18: A woman and her daughter count out Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) coupons, more commonly known as Food Stamps, while shoping for groceries in the GrowNYC Greenmarket in Union Square on September 18, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Bracing for the steep cuts in food stamp benefits, and their effects on Latino families

Billions of dollars in cuts in food stamp assistance that begin today are certain to drive up the numbers of families who visit  Feeding South Florida food banks to help keep their cupboards stocked, said  CEO Paco Velez.

The cuts  to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), most commonly known as food stamps, have Velez and others managing the nation’s food banks bracing  for an increase in families frequenting their centers, many of them Latinos.

“I don’t think people truly see the impact on the community when they make cuts,” says Velez.

Needy Americans who receive food stamps through SNAP are expected to suffer an average loss of $36 a month from a $275.13 per household benefit. There are a near-record 47.6 million Americans, representing 23.1 million households, on the program.  The cost of the program will hit $63.4 billion in 2013.

Latinos make up 17 percent of the one in six Americans who use food stamps.  According to the National Council of La Raza, Latino families experience food insecurity at a higher rate than non-Hispanic white households (23 percent versus 11 percent). SNAP is often a significant buffer from hunger for children, helping to ensure proper growth and development, the group said. Nearly one in three Latino children in the U.S. lives in a household receiving SNAP, according to NCLR.

Increased funding to SNAP built into President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill are coming to an end, which is leading to the cuts.

Negotiations on a farm bill including additional cuts to SNAP began Wednesday. Farm bills passed by both the House and the Senate would cut food stamps even more than the cuts in effect Friday. The Republican-led House proposed much steeper cuts, an additional $4 billion annually and tightening of eligibility requirements. The Senate proposes a tenth of that amount.

On Friday, White House spokeswoman Katherine Vargas said “These cuts come at a time when many hardworking American families are still struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the worst recession in decades. That includes Hispanic households, 23 percent of whom suffer from food insecurity and/or hunger.”

Vargas also added  “it is also imperative that Congress pass a long-term, comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill—legislation that will support a strong agricultural economy while ensuring healthy, affordable food for those who need it.”

According to Lisa Pino, president and CEO of the United Food Bank of Arizona and a former deputy administrator of the SNAP program under the Obama administration, said the benefits provide a critical safety net.   ” More than half of SNAP clients already work, but putting healthy food on the table requires a livable wage,” Pino said.

Rubén Hinojosa, chairman of the Congressional HIspanic Caucus, said in a statement that “when Republicans refused to extend funding for the SNAP program, they knew that this would drastically affect millions of poor families.”

“I don’t understand the kind of thinking that supports taking the food out of the mouths of our children and our most vulnerable adults. It seems Republicans are more interested in cutting taxes for billionaires than feeding our nation’s poor children,” Hinojosa added.

But Texas Republican congressman Bill Flores said recently to the Waco Tribune:  “There have been some people who say we’re starving children, taking food out of babies’ mouths, but the numbers don’t support that.”

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