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450,000 Virginia families affected by food stamp cuts

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snapbenefitsWASHINGTON (CNNMoney) — Starting Friday, Joyce Lewis and her family will lose $44 from their monthly food stamp benefits.

The food stamps buy a lot of economical rice-based meals for the family — four adults and a grandson who live with Lewis in Spring Hill, Florida.

Occasionally, when her grocery store is running a deal, Lewis indulges the family with spare ribs or chicken.

The benefit — totaling $800 for four adults — never lasts Lewis and her family a full month.

“When I get to the end, we always run out. I try to go to all the food pantries,” Lewis said.

Food stamp benefits will be trimmed by $5 billion starting Friday, when a temporary bump-up enacted during the recession expires. Millions of families will be affected.

Lewis, 55, is worried because the cuts are coming at a bad time. Among other things, a second grandchild is due in January.

She is also fighting the bank from foreclosing on her home.

And even though she doesn’t smoke, Lewis suffers from emphysema, which prevents her from working.

Lewis attributes the emphysema to a lifetime of bartending in smoke-filled nonprofit social clubs, such as Elks and Moose lodges.

Her adult daughters who live with her aren’t in a position to work — one is a new mom, and another is due to give birth soon.

The low point came this summer, when she didn’t have enough to pay the full electricity bill. Lewis needs power to run her breathing machine to treat her illness. So she pawned her wedding ring for $325.

A few weeks ago, she started getting disability payments for her disease. She promptly used it to get back her ring for $487 before it was sold.

“That was $162 I paid in interest to keep the lights on and put food on the table,” Lewis said.

Enrollment in food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has soared.

Some 47.6 million people, or nearly 15% of the population, get them, according to September federal data. That compares to 26.3 million, or 8.7% of the population, in 2007. The average benefit per person is $133.19 a month.

For families who rely on food stamps, it means a lot of planning and tough choices.

Hugh Sewell, 54, has been on food stamps for two years. He gets the maximum allowed for his family of three — $526 a month. The benefits will likely be cut by $29 to $497, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That would be tough, Sewell says. The first time the family got food stamps, after he lost his job in 2010, they blew through the allotment halfway through the month.

After that, the Sewells started making detailed budgets, meal plans and shopping lists.

“We buy a lot of beans, rice and potatoes,” said Sewell, who lives in Philadelphia. “Towards the end of the month, you’re eating all the box stuff, and a lot more pasta with sauce.”

Last month, Sewell landed a job as an audio technician.

The job paid $12 an hour, a lot less than the $25 he used to make before he was laid off.

Sewell asked his employer to lower his wages to $9 an hour instead.

Why? He did the math and found that $12 an hour was just enough to cause a reduction in his government benefits, and could cost him and his family its Medicaid coverage for health care.

At the same time, the income from $12 an hour would not be enough to pay his bills, including the $900 a month he would have to pay for health insurance for his family.

Sewell is hoping to find a job that pays enough to allow his family to get off government assistance.

6 comments

  • sharon

    They need better examples here if they want people to have sympathy for them. I’m sorry but your daughters need to stop having babies they can’t afford and I don’t want to hear because you have a new baby you can’t go back to work. I raised 5 children and went back to work with all of mine by 6 weeks. These families get way more money than I spend for our family of four that are still living here and we eat just fine all month. I don’t get it.

  • jen

    $800 for 4 people is a LOT of money for food, especially if they are eating rice and beans! And why are they having babies it they cannot even pay for their bills??

  • Frank Smith

    This is pretty sad. An entire family who are “hooked” on their Government benefits. Why did this collection come together? Think about who lives there: A disabled worker, two child-bearing women and an elderly man. Where are the Fathers that go with the two “Baby-Mamas”?


    Jen is right, why more babies? Why? Culture is the answer. A culture of dependency. A culture of procreation without any consequences…


    So Sad.

  • Kurt

    its all about greed…why work when the government will pay me, more babies more money….more time to sit on their butts and find ways to bet the system. too good to work @ McDonalds unless thry r making 20.00 hr. The people running for office know.. get those votes with promises for free stuff…there needs to be some serious changes to the system….number of children, home visits, drug tests etc etc….we are killing ourselves from the inside out !!

  • richard williams

    the comments made about these people struggling are typical of non caring people who only cares for themselves.be thankful you dont have to get them.as far as having babies ,some of you probably got knocked up in some car.youre a selfish bunch of bitches who thinks the world revolves around you .learn to show some apathy.it could be you one day

  • KJ -

    I have sympathy for the disabled mother. She cannot help being ill.

    The daughters, however, should be VERY ashamed of themselves…especially having more children when they are already struggling. Unless they too are disabled, they have no excuse for not working or looking for work. Where are the babies’ fathers? Have they taken any, at minimum, financial responsibility for these children?

    I, too, at one time was a single mother who worked up until the day I delivered and returned to work after 6 weeks. I made up my mind early on that I would not rely on government help. I did not have more children until I was in a position to be able to support them, emotionally AND financially.

    I also have sympathy for the babies/children in this household. Obviously, they have no choice as to what type of parent they have. I am afraid that, without a proper and responsible upbringing, as adults, they too may become dependent on the government to provide for them. …and the cycle of dependence will continue. I truly pray that I am wrong about this.

    AND To Richard Williams: Shame on you for using that type of language to try to get your point across. Perhaps their comments hit a little too close to home??

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