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SNAP benefits being cut

SPRINGFIELD -- Almost 50-million people in the country rely on federal help to feed their families.
SPRINGFIELD -- Almost 50-million people in the country rely on federal help to feed their families. Starting Friday, their food checks will be smaller. WCIA-3's Ashley Michels has an in-depth look at what changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program will mean for struggling families.

In 2009, Congress passed a temporary increase to the SNAP program as part of the federal stimulus package. It bumped up the amount families got each month, but the increase expires Thursday.

It means every family will get a little less from now on. And the cuts might not stop there.

"How much do you spend on groceries each month?"

"$200 for the two of us."

"I'd say about $300 a month."

"$450."

"I get $162 a month."

That's all the money Leah Hughes has to feed herself and her two kids. She works full-time at a local hotel and brings home $1,000 a month. That's why she says her SNAP benefits are so important.

"What if you didn't have SNAP?"

"It'd be really hard."

She says, even with the help, keeping the fridge well-stocked is tough.

"You can barely get anything. Usually, we just keep the basics around. Milk, butter, eggs. All that stuff. We buy the big packages of meat and then we break it down into pounds and put it into bags to save. It lasts about two weeks and then the last two weeks of the month is just really hard trying to get by with it."

A lot of families are in the same boat. In Illinois alone, more than two million people use SNAP to buy groceries. But, starting November 1, all of them will have a little less to work with.

How much your benefit changes depends on your family size, how much you make and your other expenses. A family of three, like the Hughes, could lose anywhere from $1 - $29 every month.

"$29 probably isn't a lot to some people, but to me, it's a lot. That's at least four meals right there."

"What's going to be the first thing you cut?"

"They love fruit and any fresh items, but when it's like 59-cents a pound, 60-cents a pound, you have to choose over getting a meal or getting bananas."

Some critics are calling on Congress to keep funding levels the same so families won't have to make those tough choices. But, Congressman Rodney Davis (R) says the country can't afford it. \

"The expiration of the stimulus bill, everybody in America knew that those were temporary. That was a trillion-dollar program. They borrowed a trillion-dollars to do this and a trillion-dollars is going towards our debt."

That's why Davis says he's working to slim down SNAP instead. A bill which has already passed through the house would cut $40-billion from the program over the next ten years by changing eligibility rules.

"We need to do what we can to attack waste and fraud. What it does is save taxpayers $8-billion and it also ensures that those who need SNAP benefits the most, actually get them."

But, Hughes worries the cuts could target the wrong people.

"There's people taking advantage of the system and all that stuff, and then when it comes down to me, a single mom of two, I'm getting cut, all because I'm actually working?"

"What do you have to say to people like that who have come to depend on this program and are now going to be losing money out of their own pockets?"

"This is why I asked to be a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee so I can help shape the policies to make sure that individuals like her are the ones that are actually receiving the benefits."

"So, bottom line, should they be panicking about being able to feed their kids?"

"You know, I don't think so. We can make some good reforms to make sure that that single mom is the one who gets the focus when we talk about reforming SNAP in the future."

Decreases in SNAP benefits for those getting maximum amount:
1 person - $11
2 people - $20
3 people - $29
4 people - $36
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