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10:25 AM Wed, Dec. 12th

Cuts in food assistance could ripple through Mohave County

Don Martin, who volunteers at Kingman Area Food Bank, sorts through items on Friday brought to the food bank by 4-H clubs the Wranglers, Thundering Hooves, Fancy Feathers and Furs.

SHAWN BYRNE/Miner<BR> Don Martin, who volunteers at Kingman Area Food Bank, sorts through items on Friday brought to the food bank by 4-H clubs the Wranglers, Thundering Hooves, Fancy Feathers and Furs.

KINGMAN - Jerry Marsh cruised the aisles at the Kingman Area Food Bank picking up items like juices and fresh vegetables that would help him meet his food budget on Friday. Marsh, 68, is retired and, like more than 44,000 other Mohave County residents, saw his Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits decrease on Friday.

"Obviously it hurts," Marsh said. "I went from $165 a month down to $122. I'm a diabetic and I need certain foods. And I only get $564 from Social Security."

The cuts to food assistance come because a temporary boost from President Obama's 2009 stimulus package ended. Congress' continuing fight over the federal budget plays a role as well. As a result, Arizona recipients will see a decrease of $109 million and Mohave County faces about a $5.2 million hit. Add in the USDA's calculation that for every dollar of SNAP spending, $1.73 is generated in local economic activity, and that could mean nearly $9 million will not be spent throughout the county.

Deborah Conter, Nutrition and Health Promotion Manager/WIC Director for Mohave County, is worried about those who will feel the pinch.

"I think everyone who works in nutrition programs is concerned about the impact the SNAP cuts will have on families who rely on this assistance," Conter said. "The projection is $36 for a family of 4, and while that might not sound like a lot, it can make a huge difference in a tight budget."

For families with children 5 years old and younger and pregnant women, Mohave County can offer the WIC program with a value of $40 per month.

"This could make up for the loss from SNAP and would actually give the family more food dollars if there is more than one eligible person in the family," Conter said. For more information about WIC, call (928) 753-0794.

The typical loss for a household of one has been projected to be $11, a family of two faces a $20 decrease, a family of three, $29, and a family of four, $36, according to Tasya Peterson, director of communications at the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

The hit to Marsh's budget is three times that and with the constant increase of food prices at the grocery stores, he's really feeling it.

"Food costs go up about every three months," the Kingman resident said. "Especially the meat prices."

Marsh is on to something when he spoke of food prices rising. Both the American Farm Bureau and the Department of Agriculture report a 3 percent increase over the past year.

"The food bank is a godsend for me," Marsh said. "I've got to do what I've got to do."

Betty Kahlor, executive director of Kingman Area Food Bank, and her 32-strong volunteer force give out almost 15,000 food boxes a year to a daily count of 75 to 100 customers per day. She doesn't expect the cuts to SNAP to impact the food bank greatly, but she does see a continuing increase of customers.

"We don't really know why the numbers keep increasing," Kahlor said. "It could be people moving in or losing jobs."

What she has noticed is that the size of households is growing.

"Extended families are starting to live together," she said. "Rather than having three and four each in two households, we're seeing seven or eight in one. It's cheaper to live that way."

Should the food stamp cuts force either more people to the food bank or an increase in the amount of food required by those who already visit, Kahlor is confident the needs will be met.

"I haven't worried about the cuts because the people of Kingman are so generous with donations," she said. "They're awesome."

Kahlor mentioned the postal drive that brought in 28,000 pounds of food in May.

Walmart donates about 4,000 pounds per week, and many local organizations compile donations for the food bank.

Marsh's attitude toward these cuts is to remain easygoing and look for the silver lining in it all.

"Thank God I weigh 280 (pounds)," Marsh said. "I can afford to lose 80."

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