KUNR Focuses on SNAP Program in Nevada

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KUNR Focuses on SNAP Program in Nevada

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Kate McGee

KUNR's Kate McGee is participating in the SNAP Experience, a five day challenge to eat as healthy as possible on the average food stamp allotment, $20.30.

Click here to read Kate's blog on the SNAP Experience

Part 1 -- SNAP: Educating People to make Healthy Choices

The goal of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is to supplement a person or household's food budget, so people can make healthier options choices when shopping for food.

The program currently serves one in seven Nevadans, totalling 355,349 people as of July 2012.

To qualify, a household of one must make less than $1,862 per month before taxes and other deductions.
Participants can receive anywhere from $16 to $526 a month, depending on the number of people in a household and a person's income.

But for some, shopping healthy can be difficult -- especially when there aren't a lot of grocery stores nearby. Those areas are known as "food deserts," or places where there is little to no access to a supermarket or grocery store.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies the neighborhood around the University of Nevada from Sierra Street to Sutro Street and parts of Northtowne and Sun Valley as food deserts. The problem is worse in Nevada's many rural areas.

"When you're scraping together your money to make ends meet, transportation is also an issue," Jocelyn Lantrip, with the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, said. "So you'll see people spending that money in a convenience store when they don't have something else available. That's hard, there's not the same fresh fruits and vegetables [there]."

The Food Bank is sponsoring the SNAP Experience, a five-day challenge to eat as healthy as possible on the average food stamp allotment: $20.30, or $4.06 per day.

SNAP offers a variety of education programs to help people buy healthy foods on a limited budget. The University of Nevada's Cooperative Extension runs 13 such programs across the state.

But some of those SNAP-Education programs could be in jeopardy.

Last month, the Nevada Board of Regents chose not to include $2 million for the Cooperative Extension in the 2014 budget, which could mean layoffs and elimination of programs.

Mary Wilson with the Cooperative Extension says some of the SNAP-Ed Faculty's salaries could be paid with grants.

"It definitely changes how we can conduct those programs, certainly if we're putting more time in some programs because we're generating a portion of our salaries from them, others are going to suffer from that," Wilson said.

Part 2 -- SNAP and the Farm Bill

Congress contines to remain deadlocked on the Farm Bill, which guides much of the nation's agriculture policy, and is set to expire Sept. 30.

A main reason for the inability to renew the bill or pass a new one is because of food stamps, which make up about two-thirds of spending in the Farm Bill, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Both the Senate and the House want to make large cuts to the food stamp program, known as SNAP(Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)

In June, the Senate passed a bill that would cut $4.5 billion from the food stamp program over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, the House wants to cut $16 billion dollars over the next decade, but the bill has yet to come to the floor for a vote. Lawmakers say the House is waiting until after the election.

Advocates for cuts say it will help control government spending, while others oppose cutting food stamp programs at a time when more Americans are applying to food assistance programs than ever.

The Nevada Department of Welfare and Supportive Services has seen a 165 percent increase in Nevadans applying for food stamps since 2008

"We've seen people that never, ever imagined they'd seen the inside of a welfare office, said Miki Allard, with the Welfare department. "So many com sturggling theyve cut hours theyve cut wages theyre laying people off."

SNAP is supposed to supplement a person's monthly food budget, and the idea is that places like the Food Bank of Northern Nevada step in to provide extra food assistance. But the large cuts proposed by Congress have the Food Bank worried.

"We've ramped up what we are providing because the need is so high, and its really hard for us to imagine filling in that gap," Lantrip said.

Under the Senate's plan, it's estimated 500,00 people nationwide would lose SNAP benefits, and more than 2 million people would lose benefits under the House plan.

The Nevada Department of Welfare estimates 14,625 households of one to eight people in the state would be eliminated.

That's because the proposed law would decrease the maximum income required to be eligible for SNAP benefits.