Arkansas Food Pantries Brace For Larger Numbers As State Reduces Food Stamp Benefits

| by Nicholas Roberts

Anti-hunger advocates in Arkansas are bracing for a rise in the number of people being served by the state's food pantries as the state begins the process of reducing food stamp (SNAP) benefits for about 30,000 people.

The Department of Health Services has begun sending out letters to SNAP recipients without dependents and whom the state considers to be able-bodied, Arkansas Matters reports. The letters inform recipients that starting on Jan. 1, 2016, benefits will only continue if they meet certain work requirements, without which they will be eligible for benefits for only three months every three years.

Tomiko Townley, a member of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, said that while she has no problem with having able-bodied people work, she is worried about the state's ability to correctly identify and notify the 31,000 people who will have to meet work requirements in time.

"That is a huge concern," she told Arkansas Matters.

"So far, we've been able to identify [food stamp beneficiaries] and send out notices without issue," DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said.

Townley warned that if the changes are not administered well, food pantries could be overwhelmed by the response.

Food stamp benefits have been a contentious issue at the national and state levels for years, with many states opting to tighten requirements on the program.  

A study released by the White House looked at state-specific figures for food stamps, and found that the program has been beneficial in many respects.

The Arkansas Times compiled highlights from the study in a short report: 57 percent of adults receiving SNAP benefits are either employed or actively seeking work, while 22 percent do not work due to a disability. Many recipients are primary caregivers of children or family members with disabilities.

Among the positive effects of food stamps for economically disadvantaged households are reductions in the instances of metabolic syndrome and low-birth weight in infants, and increased self-sufficiency among disadvantaged women.

However, the study found that while SNAP has had a positive effect for low-income households in Arkansas and around the nation, nearly one in seven people still experienced food insecurity in 2014.

Sources: Arkansas Matters, Arkansas Times / Photo Credit: rick/Flickr