A federal bill passed by the House Thursday would cut nearly $40 billion from the nation’s food stamp program, also known as the SNAP program.
The goal is to keep people from cheating the system, but it could have unintended consequences on people in need.
Assistance for food is a growing need in the La Crosse community.
“It's a very scary thought,” said Shelly Krause, executive director of the Hunger Task Force.
Krause said things could get even scarier if a bill proposing cuts to the SNAP program keeps moving forward.
“The SNAP program can be somewhat of a safety net for some of our most vulnerable people,” said Krause.
In addition to cutting nearly $40 billion from the SNAP program in the next decade, the benefits would only last for three months, as an effort to keep people from cheating the system.
Food pantries could then see a higher demand for help.
“There certainly is not enough food in our warehouse currently to serve the pantries and the meal sites that we're serving right now,” said Krause. “If this bill passes and continues to go the way it's going, we're going to see a huge increase and we're going to need to be prepared for that.”
“I think it's going to obviously make a big difference in who's eligible,” said Lorie Graff, manager of the Western Consortium.
Right now there are more than 13,600 people in La Crosse County on food stamps, or food Share as it’s known in Wisconsin.
The bill would also require able-bodied adults to work or enroll in a work-training program to be eligible for benefits.
Graff said this requirement would impact the county's child care program too.
“I know that at least in the wording that I've read, it says if they have a child under 1 (year old), they have to work if they have child care available,” said Graff. “By us providing child care assistance, a lot of these folks will be eligible for that program, so you'll see the expenditures under that program go up.”
Wisconsin is already starting to move back to work requirements.
Starting in 2015, it will be a state requirement for able-bodied adults to either work or enroll in work-training program to be eligible for the benefits unless they qualify for another exemption.
The bill is now headed to the Senate where its chances of passing are slim.