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State heads for benefit cuts

Nearly 900,000 Wisconsin residents will have a harder time putting food on the table starting this month as a temporary boost to FoodShare, Wisconsin's food stamp program, has expired. The temporary boost had been part of the 2009 federal stimulu...

Nearly 900,000 Wisconsin residents will have a harder time putting food on the table starting this month as a temporary boost to FoodShare, Wisconsin's food stamp program, has expired. The temporary boost had been part of the 2009 federal stimulus law.

There are 7,400 FoodShare recipients in Douglas County, according to Dave Longsdorf, deputy director of the county's department of health and human services. That's about 17 percent of the population. For many of them, Longsdorf said, FoodShare is their primary source of nutrition. While all food stamp recipients will be impacted by the reduction, he said, it is not clear how everyone will be affected.

SNAP benefits average about $115 per person, or roughly $1.30 per meal, according to the Wisconsin Budget Project, an initiative of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. The new cuts to the FoodShare program will total $89 million in Wisconsin between Nov. 1 and Sept. 30, the Wisconsin State Journal reported. The left-leaning think tank Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said an average household of four will see a $36 cut per month, from $668 to $632. A family of three would see a cut of about $29 per month.

"For a large segment of Wisconsinites who are living paycheck to paycheck and still reeling from the recession, these cuts will be a harsh blow," said Jon Peacock, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Most of those affected will be young people, including about 452,000 children -- about one in three Wisconsin children, according to a report from the Wisconsin Budget Project.

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The hardest-hit areas are expected to be Milwaukee County and rural northern counties -- including Menominee, Adams, Sawyer, Burnett and Washburn -- where a majority of kids received food stamps last year, the report said. The cuts are happening because a temporary boost in benefits for all food-stamp recipients, included in the 2009 stimulus, expired Thursday.

President Barack Obama and some members of Congress have proposed enacting legislation to address the situation, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said such action seemed unlikely. Deeper cuts also could be on the way as Congress debates the future of the Farm Bill.

The food stamp cuts are coming just as nearly 92,000 Wisconsin residents are preparing to lose their BadgerCare coverage Jan. 1. Gov. Scott Walker told Wisconsin Public Radio's Chuck Quirmbach that he doesn't want to delay that deadline for moving people off BadgerCare.

About 6,300 Douglas County residents -- almost 15 percent -- receive medical benefits through the BadgerCare and BadgerCare Plus program, Longsdorf said. Those slated to lose their benefits Jan. 1 will need to apply for coverage through the Affordable Health Act exchange. Although the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services does not assist people in the process, a computer terminal and phone are available on the third floor of the Government Center, 1316 N. 14th St., for people to sign up on.

"We've had a few people get through," Longsdorf said.

For more information, people should look up the Douglas County website, www.douglascountywi.org and go to the Department of Health and Human Services tab.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has requested a three-month delay for the deadline to move people off BadgerCare until the federal system was running smoothly.

Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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