Hunger programs feel sequester pinch

As a result of the nationwide sequester that began on March 1, Connecticut will face substantial cuts to both elderly nutrition programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, or WIC.

According to data from Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that works to alleviate hunger through a nationwide network of food banks, the sequester will decrease Connecticut’s elderly nutrition program funding by approximately $201,000, and around 3,900 Connecticut women and children will be dropped from WIC. The decline in funding comes on the heels of a Food Research and Action Center report in February, which found that statewide, 14.6 percent of Connecticut residents are affected by hunger.

The nationwide survey, conducted by Gallup over the course of a year, asked 1,000 individuals per day, “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” At 18.2 percent, the national average was higher than that of Connecticut, which ranks 45th among states in “food hardship,” according to the report.

David Dearborn, a communications officer at the Connecticut Department of Social Services, said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the department’s “principal anti-hunger program,” is not affected by the sequester, but the department will see a reduction in its elderly nutrition funding budget. Kathleen Kabara, another communications officer at the Connecticut Department of Social Services, said total elderly nutrition funding in Connecticut in the 2012 fiscal year amounted to $9.2 million.

The New Haven-Milford area, with a food hardship rate that is ranked 68th out of “100 Large Metropolitan Statistical Areas” at 15.7 percent, will be the hardest hit by the nutrition funding cuts, according to the report. The Hartford area comes in at 82nd, with a food hardship rate of 13.7 percent.

According to William Gerrish, director of the office of communications at the Connecticut Department of Public Health, the state’s WIC budget for food vouchers is approximately $35 million, and the WIC administration budget, which funds vendors, is approximately $12.7 million. WIC currently serves around 57,000 Connecticut women and children, he added.

While both Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and SNAP, a federal food stamp program, are exempt from sequestration, WIC is listed as a discretionary expense, and thus is not exempt from the federal budget cuts.

“Any time you have cuts to funding for nutrition assistance, there’s a domino effect on food banks and the support network for the most vulnerable,” said Mary Ingarra, communications director of the Connecticut Food Bank, noting that the cuts’ increased burden on food banks will prevent food banks from “keeping up with demand.”

The Connecticut Food Bank, which works through 600 food assistance programs in six counties, currently provides food and grocery products for 300,000 people and “continues to see unprecedented need because of the recession,” Ingarra said. From 2008 to the present, some programs within the Connecticut Food Bank have reported anywhere from 30 to 100 percent increases in demand, she added.

The Gallup survey on food hardship rates was conducted as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index and began in January 2008.

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