One of every five Louisiana households receiving food stamps – mostly the elderly, disabled and veterans – will see their benefits decline starting Monday.
The reduction will be small and will be offset by a cost-of-living increase in other federal benefits, said Sammy Guillory, who as deputy assistant secretary at the state Department of Children and Family Services runs the state’s side of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is the food stamps program.
Guillory calculates the average SNAP benefit of $270.22 monthly will go down $6.50 to $263.72.
“But at the same time the client will be receiving about $20 more per month from their other program benefits,” Guillory said. “Overall they’re better off. Their income has to go up for their SNAP benefits to go down.”
Exactly what a household receives in the way food stamps is determined by a complex formula that takes into account income, number of dependents, monthly expenses and other variables, Guillory said. “It’s an individual calculation in every case.”
SNAP cost the federal government $71 billion in 2016. Of that amount about $1.4 billion was spent in Louisiana. About a quarter of all Louisiana households receive food stamps.
Generally, a household with four members making $2,665 per month, or $2,050 after eligible expenses are deducted, can receive up to $640 in SNAP benefits. For most recipients, SNAP is available for a year, but the client has to give government updates about the household’s financial condition every six months.
Recipients can use the benefits to buy bread, vegetables, meats and other foodstuffs. The Louisiana Purchase card has a long list of forbidden items, such as beer, cigarettes, cleaning supplies and hot foods.
The federal government annually uses the Consumer Price Index, which weighs the costs of various necessities, to determine whether benefits among its various programs need to be increased. Often no cost-of-living adjustment is made, but for 2018, the government calculated a 2 percent increase each month for recipients of Social Security Retirement, Survivors and Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income and Veterans Administration benefits.
Mostly, but not exclusively, those federal programs help the elderly, the disable and military veterans. So, those are the populations that will be most affected by the decrease in food stamps benefits.
The const-of-living increase for those programs impact about 21 percent or 86,250 out of the 410,116 Louisiana households that received food stamps in November. Guillory is unsure exactly where the effected population lives, but suspects that about a third live in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Lafayette and Jefferson Parish.
The federal government informed the state in October of the cost of living adjustment. But it took several weeks to change the computers and filter out the names of those who receive benefits through SNAP, Guillory said.
The state is not individually informing those whose food stamp benefits have been reduced. To do so would require mailing all those effected, which would be too costly, Guillory said. But clients can check their accounts online or phone the service desk.
The new amount a person receives in benefits will be automatically uploaded on individual Louisiana Purchase cards. For the elderly, disabled and veterans that generally occurs on the first four days of the month. For others, depending on social security numbers, the cards are loaded between fifth and 14th days of the month.
Recipients of Supplemental Security Income should see their cost-of-living increases Friday, for veterans it’ll be on Sunday and for Survivors and Disability Insurance the increases will be include in January checks.