As Congress debates food stamp cuts, working poor worry

By:  Martha C. White

For one in seven Americans, the federal government's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps, is all that stands between them and too little food.

But the complicated calculus of financial survival for the working poor also means any cuts to the roughly $80 billion SNAP, as it's known, being considered by Congress would be felt well beyond the grocery checkout line. Buying new school clothes, family outings, even getting a toehold in the financial mainstream could be thrown into limbo.

For many of the working poor, their wages just don't go far enough. The National Employment Law project says nearly 60 percent of jobs created in the post-recession recovery pay $13.83 or less an hour, and hourly wages for some low-wage occupations fell by more than 5 percent in just three years.

Food service and temporary employment make up 43 percent of the post-recession job growth, according to NELP policy analyst Jack Temple. "They overwhelmingly pay low wages," Temple said. "For that lower segment, you're going to see increased use of safety net programs to make up the difference."

Sharonton Taylor of Marietta, Ga., is a single mom of three, even working full-time and earning $9.50 an hour as a certified nurse's aide qualifies her for $500 a month in food stamps. (Like Medicaid, SNAP is federally funded but administered at the state level.) That's still about $150 less than the U.S.D.A.'s average monthly estimate of what a "low-cost food plan" should cost for Taylor's family.

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