More than 6,000 recipients in Butte-Silver Bow County and Granite County combined and 1,455 in Anaconda are affected by food stamp cuts that went into effect Nov. 1.
That means $36 per month less for a family of four that receives a full benefit amount of $668 per month in food stamps, and about $10 less per individual who qualifies.
The cuts don’t cut anyone from the program, they just reduce the benefit, said Jon Ebelt with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.
As for the figures above:
“That’s at the extreme end because a lot of people have income and benefits,” said Jon Ebelt, with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Still, the pain is palpable at the Butte Emergency Food Bank, 1019 E. Second St.
Director Kathy Griffith can attest to it.
Griffith said she’s seen a definite increase in requests for food so far in November. She’s not quite sure how it will unfold.
“It’s hard to tell; it’s early,” said Griffith. “I certainly seem to see an increase, and $36 seems minimal, but for some families that’s the cost of milk and bread.”
A gallon of whole milk can cost up to $4, a loaf of non-fortified bread starts at $2 and a dozen eggs can run around $2.
As the holidays approach and cold weather settles in, more recipients may struggle to put food basics on the table.
A supplemental food box is available to food bank clients every 30 days if they qualify for food stamps.
“So without the food stamp supplement coming in,” added Griffith, “They’re going to be short on food, and who can make that up for them? How are they going to get by for the month?”
She processed eight new signups on Thursday, but she remains in wait-and-see mode until the food bank’s annual food drive on Dec. 7, when about 60,000 to 70,000 pounds of food are collected to bolster its shelves.
“I don’t know where the numbers are coming from — the layoffs or the reduction in staff,” she added, referring to recently publicized closures of Denny’s and 4-B’s restaurants in the past month, plus 26 layoffs at Renewable Energy Corp. on Wednesday.
In October, Griffith said the food bank served 2,700 individuals from the county and Whitehall, including 800 households, 550 of which include children. In addition, the food bank serves free community meals, such as the regular Knights of Columbus dinner.
As for eligible, “chronically hungry” students in the Butte school district, the food bank distributes an average of 300 bags a week in the Backpack Program in the schools, said Griffith.
Mark Harrison, Central Services director for the district, discreetly delivers the backpacks on a regular basis. In September and October he dropped off 1,600 backpack meals for students.
They’re typically the same children who qualify for free or reduced lunches, Griffith said.
However, Harrison said that not all students who qualify for free or reduced lunch with the district are necessarily food stamp recipients.
All told, 45.7 percent of students in Butte school district schools qualify for free and reduced lunches, Harrison added.
“These numbers don’t tell me if these students are on food stamps,” said Harrison, although he regularly receives lists of eligible students from the state. “That list tells us that they get free lunch, but not all the students who qualify for free lunch get food stamps.”
Five Butte public schools have over 50 percent of the students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, statistics show: Kennedy Elementary 64.4 percent; West Elementary 60.2 percent; Butte High Career Center 58.7 percent; Emerson Elementary 57.1 percent; and East Middle School 53 percent. The other schools range from 32 to over 49 percent.
Three-hundred fewer students receive free and reduced lunches this time of year because many parents forget they must reapply annually due to federal law, said Harrison, who can be reached at 533-2590. Front-office school secretaries provide applications, too.
A direct correlation exists between those eligible students and families who qualify for food stamps, said Ebelt and Barb Andreozzi, Anaconda-Deer Lodge county extension agent.
Andreozzi and new Butte-Silver Bow County extension agent Kellee Anderson teach educational classes on how to best stretch a dollar when grocery shopping.
“Food stamps are just so important for those families,” said Andreozzi.
— Reporter Renata Birkenbuel may be reached at Renata.firstname.lastname@example.org and (406) 496-5512.