Despite an increased demand for food assistance in Oakland and other cities across the US, food stamp benefits have been cut as the federal economic stimulus came to an end this month, marking the end of a four-year period that brought additional funding to social welfare programs.
Marcshea White, an East Oakland resident who became permanently disabled with two herniated discs in her back, and her family are just one of the 30,000 households in Oakland that receive benefits from CalFresh, the state’s food stamp program, each month. White said she and her three sons would starve without the $420 a month they currently receive through CalFresh.
“They (my sons) just eat so much – and they play sports, too, so they’re burning up calories,” White said. “I’ll fix a nice dinner and then they’ll come and eat a bowl of cereal right after.”
The cuts mean a nearly $6 million annual loss for Oakland, where close to $120 million in food stamp benefits were distributed this year. More than half of all food stamps in Alameda County go to Oakland households.
The average drop in food allowances in the city is $14 a month per household. But for the 2,300 4-person families like White’s, the cut will be closer to $36 a month.
White said the reduction would mean buying fewer groceries – and sometimes going hungry.
“I have to make sure the kids eat, so sometimes I just don’t eat,” White said.
Allison Pratt is the policy director at the Alameda County Community Food Bank. She says the monthly reductions will only increase demand on the food bank, which already sees an increasing number of people coming to the food bank when their CalFresh benefits run out in the 3rd or 4th week of the month.
“The cuts may not sound like a lot but it’s the difference between putting breakfast on the table, and breakfast being negotiable, and it shouldn’t be,” Pratt said.
According to experts at the Food Research and Action Center, a DC-based food policy nonprofit, the temporary stimulus that boosted food stamps back in 2009 was originally supposed to phase out over time by fixing benefits and allowing inflation to catch up to them. But the plan changed when Congress passed legislation reinstating various child nutrition programs, like healthy school lunch initiatives and subsidized after school meals. Food stamps received a direct cut instead of a slow phase-out in order to reallocate money toward the nutrition programs.
The shift in funding has puzzled some food policy experts, who note that a large proportion of food stamps already go to feeding children. “You’re basically taking someone’s dinner to pay for their lunch,” Pratt said.