U.S. food banks struggle to meet new demand caused by food stamp cuts

Across the country, food banks that were already struggling to feed the millions of U.S. citizens who need nutritional assistance are now bracing for a surge in demand for help as deep cuts in the food stamp program take effect. According to NBC News, one in seven Americans will be affected as Congress allowed $5 billion in funding to be stripped from food assistance programs by declining to renew emergency programs started by President Barack Obama in 2009. The reductions kicked in on Friday, Nov. 1.

USA Today reported that 37 million Americans were reliant on food banks to meet their nutritional needs in 2010, up from 25 million in 2006. The numbers have only grown through the recession brought on the deregulation of the financial markets and cuts to social programs.

In 2009, President Obama added stimulus funding to the budget for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Republicans in the House have stymied the effort to get that funding renewed.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, spokesperson for the nonprofit Feeding America, an umbrella group that coordinates more than 200 food banks nationwide, told USA Today, "This is taking food off the plate and out of the mouths of our most vulnerable friends and neighbors."

Children, seniors, disabled veterans and other groups will be hardest hit because of their reliance on the SNAP program to feed themselves and their families. It is a double-edged sword, she said, that the holidays are approaching.

Food banks received more than half their donations for the year during the holidays, she said. However, the holidays are also when most people apply for help.

"Our members are panicking," said Food Bank of New York City director Margaret Purvis to NBC. "We're telling everyone to make sure that you are prepared for longer lines."

"This isn't just a New York issue," Purvis said. "In the world of hunger relief, food stamps are supposed to be the first line of defense."

[image of homeless person begging via Shutterstock.com]