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August 8, 2013

What’s for Dinner? Less, Starting This November.

About 941,000 low-income Virginians will have less help putting food on the table this fall when a temporary boost to the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) expires, hurting one out of every four children in the commonwealth, according to a recent analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, helps families that simply don’t have enough income to make ends meet. Statewide, over 900,000 people – about 11 percent of the population – receive help from SNAP. But in some areas, the share is much higher. Recently, the Northern Neck News reported that 23 percent of the population of rural Essex County is enrolled in SNAP – about 2,576 people.

As part of the effort to ease hardship caused by the Great Recession and to stimulate the economy, Congress included a modest increase to SNAP in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Although hundreds of thousands of Virginians continue to struggle and are unable to find work, this enhanced benefit will expire on November 1.

In addition to leaving families with very difficult choices, like whether to buy food or other necessities like medications, the cut to these benefits will hit local economies as well. Since SNAP can’t be used for anything other than food, every month SNAP benefits are spent at local grocery stores and, increasingly, at farmers markets. The upcoming SNAP reduction will cause Virginia to lose about $99 million, money that won’t be spent at these local businesses throughout the state.

In light of these and other looming federal cuts, Virginia lawmakers should work to strengthen the state’s safety net to help keep the state’s sputtering recovery alive and to help stabilize the families and communities that are facing hard times.

–Jeffrey Connor-Naylor, Program Director

The Commonwealth Institute

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