Members of the U.S. House have passed a measure that will cut almost $4 billion a year from the nation's food stamp program, which is also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Early estimates are that this would reduce Mississippi's case load by roughly 40%. Officials at one Meridian charity are concerned that if the cuts are made the demand for their services will more than double.
"If they do cut the food stamp program, the SNAP program, we're going to see our food pantry double or triple," says Rick Burton, who is the Director for Mustard Tree Missions.
"I've already gotten phone calls about when is the next registration."
Founded about 2 1/2 years ago, Burton says the number of people that the charity provides food has swelled from almost 50 to 600 a month.
"In Lauderdale County one-out-of-four, or over 16,000 people in Lauderdale County do not have enough food each month."
Because of growing demand, Mustard Tree Missions moved its food distribution site from near downtown to an area right off the interstate at Life Church. Although monthly food distribution does not actually start until 9 in the morning, organizers say some people arrive as early as 4 AM.
"We spend over $2,000 a month to acquire the food to give out, and that's for the 200 something families," says Burton. "If we start getting 400 or 600 families, we're either going to have to raise more funds or give out less food, and that's a giant concern for us!"
Burton says around 80% of the food that's distributed once a month by his agency goes to feed children who are 15 and under or senior citizens. Overall, he says more than 60-percent of the people served are senior citizens.
"People don't understand that there are senior citizens on a fixed income who get very, very little in food stamps; sometimes it's only $16 or $20 in food stamps, and that doesn't go very far at the grocery store. These food pantries fill a major, major need that really, really shouldn't be in this country," says Burton.
The proposed cut in funding for food stamps is still not a done deal. The measure must also be approved by the U.S. Senate and presented to the president for consideration.