Jobless and battling breast cancer, Sally Nowland of Ashland says the cut in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) set to begin today will hurt her ability to buy the immune-boosting groceries she needs to survive.
A registered nurse laid off from Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center and living off retirement, Nowland, 61, says, "Congress should walk a mile in my shoes, then cut me off. This all happened out of the blue. I was doing pretty well.
"(The cut) isn't going to make that much difference, and I'm happy to have the assistance, but I never thought I'd be in this position."
To fight cancer, Nowland says she has to do a lot of juicing of vegetables and fruits, which is expensive — and some has to be covered out of pocket.
"It's not a luxury," says Nowland. "Dog food is a luxury."
As with all individual recipients of the program, the reduction starting today — which marks the expiration date of a four-year stimulus package — will drop people from $200 a month to $189. A family of four will lose $36 from SNAP.
Further cuts could come. The U.S. House has voted to cut $40 billion from SNAP over the next decade, while the Senate proposes $4 billion in that period.
The cut will average about $10 a person, says Dave Toler, director of Senior and Disability Services in Medford.
"We have about 12,000 seniors and disabled people in Jackson Country who we help get on SNAP, so it's obviously going to have an impact," Toler said.
The cuts will have significant impact on children using the Family Nurturing Center, says Executive Director Mary-Curtis Gramley.
"They need it for their survival," she says. "Nutrition is absolutely essential for children under age 6. Our families are already struggling with addiction, rent, finding work and child care. This will have a significant impact. These families need to function. It's so disappointing."
While shopping at Shop'n Kart in Ashland this week, an elderly woman named Terry, who asked that her last name not be used, said, "I've got a very minimal amount of food stamps, and I can't lose any of it. Every little bit helps. It's really important. My husband and I are on disability."
Congressional farm bills call for tightening eligibility, but Terry says if she falls below the eligibility level for SNAP, they no longer will qualify for Ashland's city utility discount, about $90 a month in winter.
Shop'n Kart clerk Rebecca Perper says many SNAP recipients come budgeted to the penny and often have to put back vegetables after they reach the checkout.
"They can't afford to feed their families, and it's shameful for them to have to put food back in front of their children," she says.
Clint Leffler, 78, was getting $200 a month, but it was all cut when he was given a VA disability.
"I'm sad about it and can't understand them doing that," he said. "It's not really harder for me, because I don't look at things that way. I refuse to feel I'm a victim."
Most clients of Ashland Emergency Food Bank are on SNAP, says AEFB Director Pam Marsh. "This cut is going to bring more people into this and other food programs. We've seen a significant increase from a year ago. We depend on food stamps to get these people through the month. Any cut will be devastating."
The cutbacks at the end of October will mean fewer people will be eligible, says Toler, adding that the final bill will be a compromise between the House and Senate.
"It's going to bounce people out," he notes. "Food is such a basic. No doubt there will be more people that our communities will have to address that issue for. This will put them on the street to food banks and ACCESS programs. It's going to continue to stress limited resources for these folks as the safety net disappears."
In Jackson County, says Toler, 12,000 people will have $10 a month cut from SNAP, resulting in $120,000 per month less for area grocery stores.
"This has a multiplier effect when we are struggling economically to recover," says Toler. "We're doing all we can to meet an ideological set of goals instead of an economic set of goals. ... I understand the deficit stuff and the need for a balanced budget, but are we smart in trying to create more depression in an economy that's trying to recover?"
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.