Rosenblum: Small changes can mean big struggles for the hungry

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 7, 2013 - 6:22 PM

A family’s food assistance gets cut by $36 a month. A Sara Lee/Taystee bread outlet closes in New Brighton. A hairstylist’s client comes every six weeks instead of every four.

No big deal, right? For most of us, blessedly right.

But in this season of goodwill, let’s remember that seemingly small changes often translate into big struggles for many of our fellow Minnesotans. And those struggles don’t end when holiday giving does.

On Friday, a handful of faith leaders — who understand this reality all too well — delivered a letter to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s Minnesota office. The letter was signed by more than 160 Minnesota religious leaders, urging Klobuchar to oppose what they term “draconian cuts” to the Supplemental Nutrition Food Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

Klobuchar is a member of the Farm Bill conference committee, which must find a compromise between two vastly different proposals to keep SNAP afloat. The Senate bill would cut SNAP by $4.5 billion over 10 years. The House version cuts a petrifying $40 billion over the same time frame.

$1.40 a meal

As you read this, 48 million Americans using SNAP are reeling from recent cuts, which left them scrambling to put food on the table with an average of $1.40 a meal.

Also as you read this, one in five Minnesota families with children say there are times they don’t have enough money to buy food.

It’s a big deal.

Faith leaders and others who work with low-income populations say the cuts, due to expiration of the 2009 federal Recovery Act, already are placing greater demands on emergency food providers.

And the shrinking financial assistance demands even more creativity from recipients, most of whom are low-income working families, people with disabilities and the elderly.

That’s why the recent closing of yet another bread outlet is, in fact, a big deal, too.

Janice Wagar of St. Paul drove to the New Brighton Sara Lee/Taystee outlet Friday as she has for three years. She knew the store was closing soon and hoped to fill up her freezer with high-quality, low-cost bread.

But she found nearly empty shelves “and a gal mopping up the floor.” It’s the fourth Sara Lee/Taystee outlet to close in recent months.

Last year, seven Hostess/Wonder Bread locations closed, including outlet stores in the Twin Cities.

Buying bread at $2 a loaf, instead of $4, “was well worth” the drive from St. Paul, she said. “Bread can make up a big part of your meals when you don’t have much money. It’s breakfast toast or French toast. It’s a sandwich for lunch. It can extend a pound of hamburger to feed more hungry mouths.”

Wagar, who is on Social Security, doesn’t consider herself poor, just thrifty.

“I don’t drink or smoke or gamble,” said Wagar, 73. “I don’t waste a lot of money. I’m sure there are thousands of other women like me who live this way.

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