NORTH ADAMS -- City residents who receive federal food assistance are bracing for looming cuts to food stamp benefits.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Pro gram (SNAP) will scale back benefits for recipients nationwide on Nov. 1 as a recession-era law expires.
"We're just trying to survive on the amount of money we get every month, and that's not even enough," Barbara LaVigne, of North Adams, said Friday.
LaVigne, one of more than 100 people who attended the Berkshire Food Project's daily lunch at the First Congregational Church on Main Street, said the daily free lunch, along with her SNAP and Social Security benefits, help her survive.
"The best thing about [the lunch] is that some people can't eat nutritious food at their house, because they can't afford it," LaVigne said. "I come here all the time because I have no food at my house."
Her SNAP benefits were already reduced from $200 to $140, she said, and are scheduled to decrease more next month.
"If they do this cut, how am I going to eat every month?" she said.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, commonly known as the stimulus package, raised SNAP benefits in April 2009 in response to the economic recession. Information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) show the program grew to serving roughly 37 million people in October 2009, and to 47 million in July 2013.
A family of four receiving the maximum amount of $668 will likely see a $36 decrease, while a family of three receiving $526 will see a $29 decrease.
Evelyn Ostrander, another attendee at Friday's lunch, said she found out about the reduction on Thursday. Her family -- daughter, Harmony, age 7, and husband Ramsese -- has no other income than the federal benefits it receives -- Social Security benefits and a Section 8 housing voucher.
"I was in shock," she said. "We really rely on our food stamps to get us through the month."
Ostrander estimated her family's benefits will decrease between $30 and $35 a month.
"I'm just going to just try to stretch it as long as I can," she said.
Berkshire Food Project Executive Director Valerie Schwarz said she's worried the reductions will lead to more health problems, including malnourishment. She's also worried the reduction will lead to increased crime and shoplifting in the area.
"My neighbor's house was broken into, and all that was stolen was a jar of change and food from the refrigerator," she said.
The daily lunch runs from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday and served about 27,000 meals last year, Schwarz said. The organization has been using vegetables from local farms, including Many Forks of Clarksburg and Square Roots of Lanesborough.
Mark Rondeau of the Northern Berkshire Interfaith Action Council, which operates the Friendship Center Food Pantry on Eagle Street, said his organization is concerned it will see a greater need this winter. The council has operated the food pantry since 2011.
Rondeau added that Michael Morelli, a legal aid with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, will attend the council's monthly meeting on Nov. 15.
"He's going to be talking about the reduction and people's rights, procedures and other issues connected to the program," he said. "We're hoping to get our member families to know about it."
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