Anti-Hunger Advocates Worry About Planned Food Stamp Cuts

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(Host) The U.S. House has approved a new federal stimulus bill that will help states pay for their education and Medicaid health-care programs.

Vermont is set to receive almost 60 million dollars.

But anti-hunger advocates in Vermont are upset. They say the bill is paid for, in part, by scheduling cuts to the federal Food Stamp program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The major goal of the bill is to ensure that states won’t have to make draconian cuts in their Medicaid and education programs during tough economic times.

Vermont will receive nearly $40 million in Medicaid money and $19 million in education funds.

Congressman Peter Welch says the legislation will help Vermont leaders avert sizeable cuts to local school budgets and give the state extra time to implement reform.

(Welch) "This will be $19 million to give them some breathing room and they’ll have a little flexibility about what fiscal year they want to use this in. So that will be, I think, some help for the Legislature and whoever our new governor is to try to make some progress on the transition plan that Vermont’s undertaking."

(Kinzel) The bill is paid for by eliminating some corporate tax exemptions and by making future cuts in the Food Stamp program. The cuts would go into place in 2014.

Marissa Parisi is the executive director of the Vermont Campaign to End Childhood Hunger.

She says the cuts will amount to roughly $50 a month for families enrolled in Vermont’s "3 Squares" food program.

(Parisi) "Right now in Vermont we have record participation in 3 Squares Vermont. We’re just over 86,000 Vermonters participating in the program. And Vermont is, according to the U.S. Census, the sixth hungriest state in the nation. And we have some of the most severe hunger in the country. So these cuts are going to impact those families."

(Kinzel) Congressman Welch says the anti-hunger advocates have a valid point and he’s vowing to restore the cuts before they go into effect.

(Welch) "The Food Stamp cuts are really tough and it’s an indication what new fiscal terrain we’re in. There was a commitment to pay for this. These cuts will go into effect by 2014. So folks like me who would never have chosen that as the preferred method are going to have the opportunity in the next few years to restore that Food Stamp money."

(Kinzel) But Parisi is concerned that it will be very difficult to restore the money in the years ahead.

(Parisi) "This is just the beginning of the erosion of benefits and we just don’t want to see a continual draw of those funded benefits from those families."

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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