St. Vincent DePaul Society Family Kitchen

Employee Frank Lewis cleans and sorts equipment on Dec. 6, 2019, after the daily meal at St. Vincent DePaul Society Family Kitchen, 231 Bedford St., Johnstown.

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – With five children and no steady source of income, Lisa Cooper doesn't know how she would handle another cut to her federal food stamps program benefits.

"There is not enough for the month as it is," the 34-year-old mother said. "If it is going to be cut, it's going to cause ... I don't want to say 'depression.' but that's what I'm thinking. It's going to make it a lot harder."

Cooper will not be affected by new rule finalized this week for the Department of Agriculture's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The change will knock hundreds of thousands of people out of the food stamps program. The rule tightens work requirements for "income-eligible" adults ages 18-49. Previously, those living in areas with high unemployment rates were exempt from the rule.

The change, which takes effect on April 1, 2020, does not apply to parents with children, those with disabilities or pregnant women.

A proposed change for another rule could cut food benefits for Cooper and many others, however.

The Trump Administration has proposed altering the way heating costs are factored into the formula that determines SNAP benefits. Individuals' food stamp allotments are based on a formula that considers things such as family size, citizenship status, household income and certain expenses – including average energy expenses in the community.

Cooper said the heating bill can be $250 a month at her home in the Old Conemaugh Borough section of Johnstown. She questions if the food stamp formula gives enough credit for that expense as it is.

To help stretch her food budget, Cooper visits St. Vincent de Paul Society Family Kitchen, 231 Bedford St., Johnstown. If the benefits are cut, the Family Kitchen meals may not be enough help.

"I'm going to have to find more," she said, "not just Family Kitchen, but maybe a food pantry to supplement the loss."

'More people in need'

Family Kitchen manager Greg Karcher said he and the St. Vincent de Paul Society staff are watching the changes and can adjust for more demand.

"It definitely will affect us," Karcher said after Friday's midday meal. "You are going to have more people in need."

Leaders at food pantry suppliers Food For Families in Johnstown and the Somerset County Mobile Food Bank will also be tracking demand as the changes go into effect.

"It's a big unknown," said David Greene, board secretary for the Somerset program. "We certainly expect we'll get some increase in utilization. A great number of people use the food pantries already."

"We'll have to see what goes on," Director Tom Lehman said from Food for Families, which is another program of St. Vincent de Paul Society.

"You don't want to jump the gun. You have to let it play out."

If the demand grows, both programs have the ability to increase supplies. Both purchase food through the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, which is affiliated with Feeding America.

In addition, the individual food pantries also buy food from other sources, he noted.

"If we have to reach out and get more products, we will," Lehman said.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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