Tampa Bay food bank leader says proposed cuts to food stamps could be "devastating"

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  • Feeding America Tampa Bay CEO Thomas Mantz, Bonnie James, Congresswoman Kathy Castor, Chris Smith, chair of Feeding America Tampa Bay Board of Directors, and Joe Gray a Feeding America Tampa Bay member of their Board of Directors

According to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), negotiations with the Senate on passing a farm bill by the end of this year have taken a bleak turn. There now appears to be a good chance that for the second straight year, Congress will fail to reauthorize the bill.

Both houses of Congress have agreed to make cuts to the food stamp portion of the bill (known as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but the gap between the two sides' proposed cuts is Grand Canyon-sized. The GOP-led House wants to cut $39 billion from the program over the next 10 years, the Senate $4 billion.

"The simplest word I can use would be devastating," says Thomas Mantz, executive director of Feeding America Tampa Bay, the leading food bank for the Tampa Bay area. He believes that such severe cuts to the food stamp program could create new demand on his food bank of up to 30-40 percent.

He made those remarks at a brief press conference held today inside the organization's East Tampa warehouse as he greeted Congresswoman Kathy Castor, making an appearance just days before Americans will celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

Feeding America Tampa Bay feeds 700,000 people in 10 counties annually from Citrus to Polk to Manatee. It’s one of 202 U.S. branches of Feeding America, which until a name change in 2008 was known as America’s Second Harvest.

SNAP benefits have already been cut by $5 billion as of November 1, due to the expiration of a part of the 2009 stimulus plan. Republicans have complained about the increase in SNAP participants since President Obama took office in 2009, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank, said this week that SNAP enrollment rose because of the 2008-09 recession and high jobless rates.

Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor said the argument from GOP colleagues that people simply need to go out and get a job ignores the fact that many SNAP recipients are children and the elderly.

"We were hoping that the more moderate Senate position would prevail," Castor said, "but it appears that the Congressional Republicans, the same folks responsible for shutting down the government, taking us to the brink of default, are continuing to insist that the supplemental nutrient be slashed to the bone. It’s going to cause misery here across our area if we stick to that."

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