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5,500-plus in Kandiyohi County to feel even more of a financial pinch

WILLMAR — Starting today, 5,533 Kandiyohi County residents will be getting less money to buy food than they did last month.

The change in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — often still referred to as food stamps — is because a temporary increase in program funds, implemented in the 2009 federal stimulus package, has expired.

About 556,000 Minnesotans will be affected, resulting in a total statewide decrease of an estimated $55 million in funds from now through the end of the fiscal year in September of 2014.

Kandiyohi County handles 2,500 cases involving 5,533 individuals, said Sue Leal, financial assistance supervisor with the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

Every household and every individual who currently receives financial assistance for food will feel the pinch.

Even those who receive the minimum monthly benefit of $16 will get one dollar less each month.

A family of four will get $36 less each month, going from $668 to $632, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“If you’re taking $36 away from a family, that could make three to four days of meals for a family,” said Christie Kurth, director of the Willmar Area Food Shelf. “That’s a lot of meals for a family.”

Kurth said there are currently people who receive assistance but still need the additional food provided by the once-a-month visit to the food shelf.

With even less money to buy food, those families might need additional help from the food shelf and more families might be visiting the food shelf in the future.

“Right now it’s a big question mark on how it’s going to affect us,” said Kurth.

“We need to anticipate the worst: that we are going to see increases and we’ll need to find additional resources to meet those demands,” she said.

Because the program reductions are happening close to the holidays, the initial impact to clients may be eased a bit.

“We give a little extra during the holiday season,” said Kurth, with many area organizations and churches providing Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas food baskets.

Kurth said the underlying effects of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program cuts could be “masked by the holiday season” and the true impact won’t be known until the first of the year when holiday extras dry up.

If that results in more people coming to the food shelf for additional help, Kurth said they will do their best to be ready.

“We’re very fortunate to be in this community,” said Kurth. “The support has continued to meet the demand as it’s grown.”

From 2009 through 2012, the Willmar Area Food Shelf saw “dramatic increases” of 20 to 40 percent each year in the number of people served, reaching the current rate of serving 860 families each month, said Kurth.

While that number has not decreased, Kurth said it has “stabilized.”

That could change, however, as people start to feel the impacts of reduced assistance dollars.

Leal said the county’s call center has fielded a few phone calls, but not an extraordinary amount, from individuals after they received notification of the benefit reductions. They were assured that the cut was made at the federal level and was not the result of anything the client did wrong, she said.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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