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Food benefits decreasing 

In Monroe County, food stamp cuts come at a time of growing need.

In January 2011, 108,078 people in 55,220 Monroe County households received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, according to the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. In August 2013, the number had risen to 120,332 recipients in 63,973 households.

The current decrease, which took effect this month, is related to the 2009 federal stimulus. The legislation included a boost in SNAP funding, more commonly known as food stamps. But that funding expired at the end of October.

After the cut, SNAP benefits average less than $1.40 per person, per meal, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a national think-tank that focuses on issues affecting low- and moderate-income people.

"For most of the families we talk to, SNAP doesn't meet all of their food needs," says Sue Segelman, nutrition education and outreach coordinator for Legal Assistance of Western New York.

Many SNAP recipients rely on local food pantries and soup kitchens for additional assistance, she says, particularly toward the end of the month. And those organizations may see an increase in clients as a result of the cuts.

Foodlink has already seen increases in the number of people it serves through its organizations, says Foodlink's SNAP outreach and assistance coordinator, Jerome Nathaniel. In 2010, Foodlink served 125,000 people — a number that rose to 150,000 in 2012, he says. The organization distributes food to pantries and soup kitchens in 10 counties surrounding Rochester.

Foodlink has also seen growing interest in a program that helps first-time SNAP recipients apply for benefits. It served 45 people in March, Nathaniel says. But in September it assisted 92 people, he says.

Local low-income nutrition program coordinators are worried about the next set of likely cuts, which are contained in House and Senate farm bills. In the House, the Republican majority drafted and passed legislation that would cut SNAP funding by $40 billion over 10 years. The Senate's proposal, drafted by the Democratic majority, would cut $4 billion from the program over a decade.

Senate and House negotiators are currently trying to reconcile the bills.

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