CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - About 350,000 West Virginians will see a reduction in federal food assistance benefits when a temporary boost expires this fall, according to a nonprofit policy research group.
The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy said the increase to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits expires on Oct. 31.
"This small increase in SNAP benefits has helped thousands of struggling families in West Virginia stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression," said Ted Boettner, the center's executive director. "For many of these families, this modest assistance is providing a lifeline to those who are struggling to find work, or are working at jobs that do not pay them enough to put food on the table."
For a family of three, the increase had amounted to about $29 per month, according to published reports.
"That doesn't seem like a huge amount but, if that's the main source of food income, that's a serious loss," said Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy. "SNAP benefits aren't very generous anyway."
The center's policy analysts believe SNAP is one of the most effective ways to stimulate the economy. Each $1 increase to SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity, center analysts said.
O'Leary said the temporary increase was allowed to end before the economy had fully recovered, "which is going to create more problems."
Nationwide, SNAP benefits assist more than 47 million people, including 22 million children.
The number of West Virginians receiving such benefits has risen from about 262,442 in 2005. Part of the increase to the current 350,000 figure can be attributed to 2008 changes in the federal program that loosened restrictions on real estate and personal property assets.
In West Virginia, about one-quarter of children live in families with income below the federal poverty level. According to the center, about half of kids live in families with income below double the poverty level, generally estimated to be the level at which a family can get by with no outside or government assistance.