Visitors gather at CAPSLO’s overflow shelter, which provides relief to struggling women, children and families.
A tri-tip sandwich and small soda from Firestone Grill costs $11 — and judging by the restaurant’s popularity among students, most people on campus have no problem spending that amount on a delicious meal.
But many living in San Luis Obispo County cannot afford to part with that sum so casually.
On Nov. 1, the 9,248 people in the county who receive food stamps — called CalFresh benefits in California saw their monthly aid cut by approximately $11 each. The 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act had increased CalFresh benefits in an attempt to help those struggling and stimulate the local economy. But the raise expired this month, bringing benefits back to pre-recession levels.
“It was structured to phase out incrementally, as the price of food rose and caught up with the boosted benefits,” San Luis Obispo Country CalFresh coordinator Aracely Aceves Lozano said. “But Congress passed two bills which prematurely cut the increase, so it just dropped completely.”
That means those on the program will have to quickly adjust to a smaller budget. According to the CalFresh website, the average individual received $200 per month before the cuts, making the $11 cut a sizable chunk of their monthly food money.
Looking at national food prices, $11 translates roughly to a loaf of white bread, a dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, a pound of beans and six bananas.
Lozano has observed disappointment and frustration among those affected, she said.
“I think people that apply for the program are people that are already struggling to make ends meet,” Lozano said. “The amount of money that they got on their cards each month previously wasn’t even enough. I don’t think it’s fair to hurt these people.”
With less to spend, CalFresh recipients usually turn to food banks and other distribution agencies.
The San Luis Obispo County Food Bank will see the impact of the cuts toward the ends of the coming months, said Wendy Lewis, chief operations officer of the food bank.
“People receive their benefits on the 1st, so I think we will definitely see it more in the next weeks,” she said. “People will run out of money sooner than they would have before and will then be forced to find other sources for food.”
Lewis said the food bank is hopeful more donations will allow them to accommodate for the increased demand.
The organization has eight direct distribution programs and more than 225 partnerships with homeless shelters, food pantries and other non-profit agencies. It serves more than 44,000 people in San Luis Obispo County. One of its partners is the Prado Day Center, which provides hot meals to those in need.
Speaking about the number of people coming in who have housing, Sheri Moen, shelter manager of the center, said, “The numbers are definitely increasing (for) seniors, the disabled, families — people who just can’t afford to buy their food.”
Megan Chicoine, community outreach manager of the food bank, was opposed to the cuts, saying they would have a huge impact.
“I was on food stamps before, so I know what it’s like to live off that budget,” she said. “It’s not a lot of money. You rely more on distributions, or eat less food, or just make ends meet. Some people have to choose between paying their electricity and eating food.”