September 26, 2023

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How 2 Gen X moms are grappling with food stamp cuts, surviving off $23 in monthly benefits and struggling to pay bills

How 2 Gen X moms are grappling with food stamp cuts, surviving off  in monthly benefits and struggling to pay bills

Venus Barnes (left) and Khiana (right) are both moms who receive just $23 a month in SNAP benefitsVenus Barnes/Khiana

  • SNAP reduced food stamp benefits for millions in March as the pandemic-era expansion ended.

  • Cuts have made it difficult for these Gen X moms to put food on the table or pay their bills.

  • The minimum SNAP benefit, for example, fell from $281 to $23 in March.

Venus Barnes, 58, works weekends at Collins Aerospace in North Carolina.

With a daughter in college and a son with autism, she gets food stamp benefits from the federal government to help feed her family. In mid-May, her Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits check dropped from $516 to just $23.

She’s currently looking for another part-time job to put food on the table for herself, and her daughter also works, but she’s had to reduce spending at the grocery store, buying mainly meats. She said recently she ran out of food about halfway through June.

“It is making us bump heads in here, everybody’s getting a little stressed out,” Barnes said. “We can’t take any trips, can’t do anything. It’s just a struggle.”

Starting in March, millions of Americans receiving SNAP benefits lost hundreds of dollars from their grocery budgets as the pandemic-era food stamps expansion ended.

Months later, many are hurting.

Those who only qualified for the minimum SNAP benefit, such as older Americans who get Social Security payments, had their monthly allotment slashed from $281 to $23. Around 16 million households had their per-person benefit drop by an average of around $82, according to advocacy group Food Research and Action Center.

Another nearly 750,000 adults may lose their SNAP benefits following new work-reporting requirements included in the new debt-ceiling deal passed in early June after an agreement between President Joe Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.

A mom in North Carolina is struggling to pay her bills, leading her to skip medical appointments

Barnes says she makes too much money working part-time to qualify for more benefits.

To supplement her sudden drop in benefits, she’s gotten food from local food pantries, though they rarely had meats, gave out expired breads, and mostly had canned foods. One time, the pantry gave her two bags of kitty litter — she doesn’t have cats.

Her son receives a couple hundred dollars a month in Supplemental Security Income for adults with disabilities, which helps the family pay rent and other expenses.

“I’m just kind of stuck right now,” she said, adding she’s considered moving out of the country for better opportunities. “I don’t know what else to do.”

With unpredictable utility bills — one bill amounted to $600 — Barnes cancelled her internet to save money. She recently borrowed money from a friend to pay for gas, is pulling money from her health savings account, and is considering cutting her contributions to her 401k. She also skipped an appointment to check her pacemaker as she couldn’t afford the co-pay.

“I’m just counting down one more day to go and just kind of get by that way,” Barnes said. “Other than that, I can’t really buy the stuff that we were used to getting when we were receiving more in food stamps.”

Barnes said more should be done to assist older recipients while encouraging younger recipients who have the capacity to work to seek employment. She said many elderly people she knows can no longer work and struggle to pay rent.

She thinks the government should target more young people to either make them find employment or get some type of education.

“I have to work and pretty much have been ever since I’ve been old enough to work, and I’m still trying to get ahead and just can’t get there,” Barnes said.

A Maryland mom is borrowing money from friends to put food on the table but feels she’s not being heard

Khiana, a 50-year-old mother from Maryland, also receives just $23 a month after her SNAP benefits were cut in March from $281.

“I can’t buy what I need,” Khiana said. “One time, the only thing I could buy was coffee and cream, because I try to buy at least a month’s supply because I’m on a limited income.” That’s all she could buy in April with her SNAP benefits, she said.

Khiana, who asked to use only her first name for privacy concerns, had spinal damage in 2012 that made her unable to maintain a job. She had three major surgeries last year, making it difficult to work 20 hours a week. She receives some Social Security Disability Insurance benefits that she uses to pay off some monthly bills.

“I can’t sit in a chair for hours, I can’t stand up for hours, I can’t lift, all these things I can’t do and other people can’t do,” she said.

In May, her daughter sent over groceries, and this month, three of her friends helped her pay for food. Khiana supplemented this with 40-minute drives to her nearest food bank so she could eat healthier, as she has kidney disease. However, she said food quality has declined, noting one time her family fell ill after eating rotten chicken.

“I want to know where the money’s going and want to know what the government is going to do about this,” Khiana said. “I didn’t ask to be disabled, I just am.”

Khiana echoed Barnes by noting that many younger Americans who are capable of working “walk around getting free benefits while we’re struggling.” She said the new work-reporting requirements may put people across the country in significantly more difficult economic situations, including those who may not be able to get exemptions.

“I want to be heard,” she said. “I can’t do anything because I’m just a little person in the world trying to survive, but I want them to pay attention to what we’re dealing with here.”

Do you rely on SNAP benefits and are affected by these changes? Tell your story to this reporter at [email protected].

Read the original article on Business Insider