Pahrump resident Yolanda Briehof finds herself in quite a dilemma.
The mother of nine children learned recently that her SNAP benefits were reduced this month.
SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is funded by the federal government and Briehof is one of roughly 30,000 adults and children in Nevada who receive assistance for essentials such as food.
The program provides benefits to low-income individuals and families. SNAP recipients spend their benefits, usually distributed on an electronic card that is used like a debit card, to buy eligible food products in authorized retail stores.
She said this week the cuts will change the way she purchases food from here on out.
“They cut $90 from my monthly benefits and it could not have happened at a worse time because the Thanksgiving holiday is coming up. They sent me a letter and it’s going to be a big hit to our finances. It was tough enough trying to make ends meet before all this. I’m going to have to calculate things differently,” she said.
Briehof, who is employed full time, said even though the cuts were a big setback, she said she will do her best to continue providing for her children, the youngest only 3 years old.
“We will still make it. We always do. You have to just work with what you have. I’m grateful that they didn’t cut more. If I wasn’t working, it would be a whole lot tougher,” she said.
Those who are not fortunate enough to have steady employment will feel the cuts more profoundly.
Fortunately, there are a few “safety nets” that could help to offset the reductions.
Sandi Tucker organizes the Path of Hope food bank on West Street.
Tucker said this week that days after the cuts went into effect, her organization saw a dramatic increase in the number of families seeking assistance.
Each Wednesday, several hundred people line the streets on foot and in vehicles just for the chance to receive food products provided by Path of Hope.
“A lot of people have received significant changes and it’s based on household size and income. I had people in tears today because they are down to just $40 a month in food assistance. It’s hard for a family to live on that each month. Today was probably our busiest day since the government shutdown. People are kind of panicking and wanted to have some food in their homes,” she said.
One plan of action to help the valley’s less fortunate is education.
Tucker said she is in the process of holding classes for individuals and families trying to maintain or even better their standard of living.
“We are going to start offering some nutrition and finance classes in the community. We need to encourage many families to enroll because you have to change your lifestyle when you have these kinds of changes. Our seniors are also in the same place when they have a death in the family because they go down to one income and those are the two main challenges that we are now seeing,” she said.
To the uninitiated, the cuts may seem insignificant, but Tucker noted that the reduction is making a big difference in how families shop for groceries.
According to the SNAP benefit formula, an individual receiving $200 in assistance is taking an $11 reduction, while a family of four will suffer a $36 loss.
She said that at the start of November she has seen a few faces that have reappeared from the past as well as new ones.
“The new people are embarrassed and they will look at me and start crying. I know that many of us are one paycheck from where these folks are. People live from paycheck to paycheck and there are very few jobs out here. Every day I have people asking me where they can get a job and I have to direct them to NyE Communities Coalition (NCC) for their Workforce Development program,” she said.
NCC’s Stacy Smith said even though her agency experienced cuts prior to this month, they can still continue to provide services to local residents.
“Our funding isn’t used like SNAP funds because we are not a social service agency as much as a workforce training program. Our money goes to training for our clients. I personally feel that we are kind of rebounding in terms of the economy within the community,” she said.
Pahrump’s No To Abuse also offers various services to local residents.
Program Manager Robin Shope said the SNAP cuts may appear to be minor but they are a big deal to those receiving assistance.
“Eleven dollars will buy milk, eggs and bread. It really does affect families because the cuts get deeper according to the size of the household. Many of the recipients are still grateful to have the assistance because we do have a lot of low income families here in Pahrump,” she said.
Nationally more than 47 million Americans saw their SNAP benefits reduced as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
It was signed into law February of that year.