Food banks need extra help this year

South Sound food banks need more help than usual this December.

Thanks to the U.S. Congress, there will be considerably less joy during the holiday season this year for about 200,000 families in the state of Washington. They, like million others nationwide, will receive reduced benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) – formerly known as food stamps – and be forced to rely on food banks.

U.S. House Republicans exacted an $8.6 billion cut in farm bill spending by raising the threshold for eligibility in the federal “heat and eat” program to which the SNAP program is linked.

An earlier, more compassionate Congress decided years ago that low-income families shouldn’t have to decide between eating and heating their homes. It allowed any household receiving aid from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – even $1 per year – to qualify for the highest income offset used in determining food stamp eligibility.

The new farm bill raises the threshold for eligibility to $20 in LIHEAP assistance, thus reducing food stamp benefits for millions of people.

To mitigate the impact on Washingtonians, Gov. Jay Inslee directed state agencies to increase the minimum LIHEAP assistance to $20.01, thus maintaining their full SNAP benefits. But that measure doesn’t go into effect until January.

The holiday season is the busiest time of year for the Thurston County Food Bank, as it is for other nonprofits that collect and distribute food. While donations from food drives also increase in December, it won’t be enough to meet the demand caused by the federal cutback in SNAP benefits.

If you have never donated to a food bank, this would be a good year to start. If you normally support a food bank, think about doubling or tripling your donation this month.