Raleigh, N.C. — A difficult year for low-income families in North Carolina is about to get harder.
As part of the economic stimulus package passed in 2009, Congress temporarily boosted food stamp benefits to help needy families get through the recession. That temporary increase expires Friday, when federal food vouchers will be cut by about 5 percent.
The reduction means the average family of four receiving partial help will get $10 less a month. For a family of four with no income, it's a bigger hit at $36 less a month.
"Anybody who has no income or very little income who was relying on those dollars is going to need to visit an emergency food pantry or somewhere they can get emergency food assistance," said Jennifer Caslin, a spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
Caslin noted those facilities are already strained, following cuts to unemployment benefits in North Carolina and federal cutbacks during the recent government shutdown and because of the sequestration.
Demand at the Caslin's food bank, for example, was up 12 percent in both July and August and shows no signs of leveling off. The food bank helps stock more than 850 partner agencies, such as soup kitchens and food pantries, in 34 counties.
"There's more people who are in need. There's more people visiting our partner agencies," she said. "The food is going out the door just as fast as it's coming in."
About one in seven people in North Carolina, or nearly 1.6 million people, received some type of food assistance from the federal government last month, and the lower benefits could come as a nasty surprise to some families.
The state Department of Health and Human Services didn't notify clients about the change, asking instead that county officials post signs about it in their offices.
DHHS officials declined to comment Wednesday.
"The need is great, and it's not looking like it's going to end anytime soon," Caslin said.