RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A program to keep 300,000 students from going hungry while on summer break launched right as the state considers cutting food benefits for thousands more.
First lady Kristin Cooper kicked off the “Stop Summer Hunger” program Thursday morning at the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
“A lot of kids depend on the two meals a day that they get at their school in the free and reduced breakfast and lunch programs. When school is out, they’re no longer getting those meals,” Cooper said.”
“This summer it’s particularly hard because we still have a lot of people in the state that are suffering from the after effects of Hurricane Matthew and still not only have don’t have food but don’t have housing.”
Cooper’s comments come as her husband’s opponents in the state Senate seek to make changes to the distribution of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in North Carolina.
Ralph Hise, a Republican state senator from Mitchell County, made a provision in the Senate’s proposed state budget to change the requirements for receiving food stamps.
Hise provided the following statement to CBS North Carolina:
This provision closes a loophole that ballooned under the Obama administration allowing people to qualify for food stamps even if they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible because they have valuable assets or savings in the bank.
The purpose of the change is to ensure benefits are delivered to those who are truly in need of them.
Some SNAP recipients exceed the maximum income as a result of receiving other government benefits, and remain eligible for food assistance. Statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services show more than 130,000 people will lose SNAP benefits under Hise’s proposed change, including more than 50,000 children.
“It really affects people who are already down, already in dire straits,” FBCENC spokeswoman Jessica Whichard said.
“Especially in the summer time, we’re already worried about the children who are not receiving those two lunches a day. This takes that away even further, more food off the table, more meals that need to be provided on really stretched budgets.”
Whichard said if the regulations change, FBCENC’s outreach office will look for people who may lose benefits but are still eligible for assistance. She said the food bank will likely see an increase of people looking for help.
“We’ve seen that with other changes to SNAP benefits regulations, so we’re anticipating that that could be the case again if this passes,” Whichard said.
Volunteers from Food Lion, NetApp, and Ravenscroft School joined the first lady at the food bank Thursday morning to pack sweet potatoes and cucumbers for distribution as part of the Stop Summer Hunger launch.
The food bank covers 34 counties which include about 600,000 people who face what staff call “food insecurity.” Half of them are children.
“It’s a hard thing to think about when you’re not really affected by that, but when you see it with other kids, it really affects you,” Ravenscroft senior Maddy Morin said.
She joined classmate Madeline Musaus and Cooper at a sweet potato bagging station.
“Most of us, we don’t even think about hunger because we just go to our refrigerator and there’s food in it, but so many people actually need help with food,” Musaus said.
More than 50,000 Wake County Public School System students–nearly one-third of the total enrollment–qualify for free or reduced lunches.
WCPSS does its part to provide during the summer, offering breakfast and lunch at dozens of sites from June through August. The Summer Food Service program served about 52,000 breakfasts, 97,000 lunches, and 21,000 evening snacks in 2016.
Gov. Roy Cooper is opposed to the proposal to change SNAP requirements in North Carolina. SNAP funding comes from the federal government, so a change would not lower state spending.