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San Diego’s Military, Civilian Families Face Food Stamp Cut

Jennifer Tracy, the executive director of San Diego Hunger Coalition, talks to KPBS about military families' use of food stamps.

Guests: Beth Ford Roth, Home Post, KPBS News

Jennifer Gilmore, Interim CEO, Feeding America San Diego

Jennifer Tracy, Executive Director, San Diego Hunger Coalition


Congressional Republicans, joined by some Democrats, are looking for a way to to reduce cuts in defense spending and have set their sights on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps.

SNAP is authorized as part of the omnibus Farm Bill, currently under consideration in congress.

This move to cut funds for food stamps would affect the growing number of San Diego families that rely on Cal Fresh, California's moniker for the food stamp program, and may produce some ironic and disturbing consequences for San Diego's military families as well.

Food stamp use has increased significantly among active military and veterans, as well as among civilian families nationwide since 2008.

The military estimates that $101 million worth of food stamps were issued to military families and veterans in the last 12 months. This is up from $88 million in 2011 and a 70 percent increase from the $31 million disbursed in 2008.

Jennifer Gilmore, the interim CEO of Feeding America San Diego, told KPBS that if food stamp assistance is cut, military families will have few other options.

"One of the things that not only breaks my heart but really chaps my hide is that these enlisted military members are not eligible for any form of benefits because their housing allowance is counted as part of their income," she said. "So instead of being able to get food stamps and go to a grocery store with their kids and pick out the food that's appropriate for their family, we are forcing them to seek out a charitable response and that looks like food lines."

Gilmore said the amount of food Feeding America San Diego gives out to San Diegans has skyrocketed in the last two years.

"Forty-eight months ago, we were distributing 3 million pounds of food in this community, this year we'll distribute 20 million pounds," she said. "That's more than a 500 percent increase in our growth."

One in seven Americans are now receiving food stamps, a figure which alarms some members of Congress. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama questioned whether the assistance is going to the right people.

But Jennifer Tracy, the executive director of San Diego Hunger Coalition, said there is less than a 2 percent rate of fraud in the food stamp program, so "the vast majority of people who get those benefits are indeed eligible and do indeed have a high need for help with food."

In 2007, before the recession, an estimated 26 million Americans received food stamps. In 2011, 45 million received the assistance.

The bi-partisan Farm Bill under consideration in Congress would trim food stamp assistance by about $90 per month for some 500,000 households.

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