Farm Bill Cuts Food Stamps

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When Deb Johnson started volunteering at the Lansing City Rescue Mission a decade ago, it was normal to have 35 people making their way through the food line for dinner.

Now, she can't remember the last time there were only 35 people.

"It seems like we have upper 40s into the 70s pretty consistently," she said. "I've seen people who are younger who are physically strong who talk about having been at work that day. That's not something I've ever seen before."

And the Rescue Mission's executive director says he expects more of what he calls the "working poor" to be coming through the doors -- especially after President Obama signed the Farm Bill at Michigan State University, cutting $800 million a year for the next decade.

"Since the demand is already increasing, this is only going to increase the demand even more for food, for availability of food," said Executive Director Mark Criss. "A lot of people are kind of on the verge of being homeless. They're the working poor so maybe they're only a couple paychecks away from being homeless so we see a lot of newly homeless coming for assistance."

Johnson says more people are asking for bigger portions when they come through the line, doing their best to support their families.

"I believe there's more need at home," Johnson said. "They're taking for others. I see more people asking if they can take something with them. Not just have the dinner here, but more people are asking for an extra piece of fruit, an extra hard-boiled egg, something that can transport."

Timothy Howard stashed some extra cookies in a napkin and put it in his pocket to bring to his four children at home. After losing his unemployment benefits, he says another cut to food stamps will take a toll.

"It's just going to be even harder," he said. "As far as providing meals for my kids and everything, it's just going to make it even harder because I don't have a job or anything."

Food stamps were slashed by more than 5 percent at the beginning of November, restoring them to pre-recession levels.

The Rescue Mission says cold weather is also adding to the traffic at the center. Director Mark Criss says he's sheltering 160 people every night, up 145 from last year.

There could be some relief in sight though. The Rescue Mission just received funding for community dorm to go along with its emergency shelter. Criss says he expects that dorm to increase capacity by 50 percent.

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