Local volunteers and human service workers say the decrease in federal food assistance dollars, which began Friday, is on theirs and their clients' minds.
Benefit levels through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, fell after the temporary federal stimulus package increase of 2009 expired. That means more than 22,000 Ottawa County recipients will see their Bridge card amounts fall when they reload them this month, according to David Akerly, acting director of communications for the Michigan Department of Human Services.
Courtney Strauss, a volunteer at Love INC's food pantry at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, said she expects many of their clients will be affected.
“I have a feeling we will get really busy in here,” she said. “I have a feeling many people come in here even before using their Bridge card. Many of them are embarrassed about having to use a food pantry. We have people come in who you would never expect.”
Love INC President/CEO Eric Morgan said his organization serves an average 30 families a day, six days a week, at local food pantries. With the decline in federal Bridge card funding, Morgan said there will be a gap between need and availability.
“We're going to have to turn to the community,” he said. “Luckily, we're going into Thanksgiving and typically people are more generous. What worries me is what's going to happen in January and February when donations drop off.”
Morgan said he received an e-mail from the county earlier this week about the benefit level change. The Nov. 1 end date of the additional stimulus package food assistance funds was pre-determined when it took effect in 2009.
“We're going to need to step it up,” Morgan said. “We're going to have to rely on our donors to help fill the gap.”
Last month, Ottawa County recipients received nearly $2.7 million in federal food assistance, according to Akerly.
To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.