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Cuts To Food Stamp Program To Hit 2 Million Illinois Residents

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Approximately 2 million Illinois residents who rely on food stamps must get by with a little less money for groceries, with federal stimulus funding approved four years ago set to run out on Friday.

CBS 2’s Courtney Gousman reports, for many families, that will mean benefits will be cut to less than $2 per meal.

In 2009, the federal government pumped an extra $45 billion into the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), popularly known as food stamps, to offset higher demand during the recession. However, the end of that funding means a $5 billion drop in federal food stamp benefits effective Friday.

Instead, that money will now go to fighting childhood obesity.

Though SNAP benefits for each family vary – based on the family’s size – users see a reduction of $11 to $36 per month in food stamp benefits.

Nationwide, the cuts to food stamps are estimated to affect 47 million families, with a 5 percent cut in benefits.

“The average benefit per person, per meal will be $1.40,” said Stacy Dean, vice president of food assistance policy at the Center of Budget And Policy Priorities.

Valencia Adams-Kellum, executive director of the St. Joseph Center, a charity that works with poor families, said taking on that added expense might mean deciding between paying the rent, or paying the electric bill. She said many could end up facing homelessness.

Lisa Otis, a single mother, asked “what’s going to happen?”

“Do I have to tell my 13-year-old ‘hold off on making that peanut butter and jelly sandwich, we’ve got to make that loaf of bread last.’ You don’t want to tell these kids that,” she said.

Paul Morello, spokesman for the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said the cuts to food stamps will mean more people needing to rely on food pantries and soup kitchens.

“The face of hunger is changing. We’re seeing people who have jobs, who maybe own their home, who maybe own a car, but who simply have lost their job, who’ve seen their hours cut back,” he said. “I’ve talked to a number of people who have said, ‘You know, I have to jobs.’ I’ve talked to some people who say they have three jobs, and they still can’t make ends meet.”

Morello said, even with the increased food stamp benefits since 2009, visits to Cook County food pantries had been up 70 percent over the past five years.

“Just last year, Food Depository pantries served 5.5 million individuals in Cook County,” Morello said.

State officials who oversee Illinois’ food stamp program said they have made every effort to notify those who rely on the program before Friday.

If that weren’t bad enough for families living on food stamps, some House Republicans have introduced proposals to further reduce funding for SNAP by up to $4 billion.