Without missing a beat, the cashier swiftly scanned a customer’s items at the counter: eggs, milk, apples, bananas, pasta and sauce. Then, instead of reaching for a $20 bill, the man purchasing these products gently pulls from his wallet a bright green card with the word “Access” scrawled across it. He is one of many in the Temple area who wields one of these cards, the Pennsylvania equivalent of food stamps. He is also one of the many in the area now threatened with losing much of these benefits due to a bill repassed by the Senate two weeks ago.
On Feb. 4, the U.S. Agricultural Act of 2014 was passed in a vote of 68-32. The legislation cuts $8.6 billion from the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program over the next 10 years. The bill is particularly detrimental to Pennsylvania and New Jersey residents who will, on average, take a hit of $65 less in food assistance per month.
But what does this mean for the residents in the immediate area?
Moné H., a freshman in the Tyler School of Art and cashier at the Fresh Grocer, witnesses the way in which our community relies upon the Access card program.
“I come from Lansdale, Pa., in the suburbs where I knew there were definitely some people who relied upon food stamps to buy the necessary items, but now that I work here in the city, I am shocked by the amount of people I see relying on federal assistance,” she said. “Apart from the student population here, it must be almost 90 percent of people I encounter who have Access cards.”
Surprised at such a high estimate, I was compelled to ask what types of people utilize the assistance.
“I see everything – families, the elderly, even people you wouldn’t expect,” she said.
I understand that in the state of the economy, certain changes must be made to achieve some level of fiscal responsibility, but I wondered about the responsibility the government also has to properly aiding struggling individuals, such as an apparently significant portion of North Philadelphia’s population.
It seems that, as in any working society, there exist people who abuse the system.
“There are some things I just don’t understand, like how people can walk in here with designer clothes and still need to use an Access card,” Moné said. “Or when people don’t even use the card to get food, but use the ‘cash back’ feature. But what really gets me is when people have crazy bills of a couple hundred dollars, and when using their Access card, the bill gets knocked down to them paying something like $1.”
It seems as though this bill will succeed in its goal to cut some unnecessary funding. However, it would do so at the expense of those who need the assistance. Due to some holes in the federal program, our community is left with a catch-22.
Ultimately, with the Farm Bill’s inevitable passing, there is only so much to be done. For those individuals and families who are affected by these spending cuts, agencies such as the food bank Philabundance are preparing for a growing demand.
“Cuts which disproportionately affect our service area … will further strain our resources,” said George Matysik, director of government affairs and public policy for Philabundance. “We will need even more community support in order to respond to the newest barrage of SNAP cuts.”
It seems as though participation in the occasional food drive will be more important than ever.
Victoria Szafara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.