FoodShare benefits cut; pantries gear up to help - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

FoodShare benefits cut; pantries gear up to help

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According to officials with Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nearly 900,000 Wisconsin residents are losing some help in buying food. State officials say 42 percent of the people getting FoodShare benefits in Wisconsin are children.

In 2009, a federal stimulus law temporarily boosted the amount of aid FoodShare recipients got. But that law has expired, and local food pantries say they are stepping in to help so no one goes hungry this winter.

The FoodShare program has been helping Anthony Zastrow put dinner on the table for his family of five. But he recently found out the family's monthly benefit is being cut. He worries it might be as much as $100. On Monday, he visited a food pantry in Wausau.

"I needed more groceries for my kids," said Zastrow.

The Neighbors' place says it has received about 24,000 visits so far this year. Leaders expect the FoodShare cuts will bring in more people.

"Especially as you're coming into the holiday season, it's not something you want to see happen to your family's budget so ya, it is kind of a bad time," said Tom Rau, executive director of The Neighbors' Place.

The pantry started preparing about two months ago, knowing that the federal stimulus law would expire.

"We started talking about what we needed to do which was make sure we gathered up enough food so that no people would have to go hungry during this time of year," said Rau.

An official with Marathon County Social Service says more than 17,000 people in Marathon County receive FoodShare benefits each month and she says every single one of them will be affected by these cuts.

"For someone that can go out and buy groceries, it wouldn't seem like a significant amount. But for anyone that's on the FoodShare program, they're low income to begin with and the income level isn't really that high so yes, any kind of change is a significant change for them," said Jane Huebsch, support programs manager with Marathon County Social Services.

Added Zastrow, "This time of year is not a good time to have it cut. We got Christmas. I got birthdays right before Christmas. I just got laid off from my job."

Winter means even more bills for already tight budgets.

"As we get colder, once again families are having to pay for the energies to heat their homes," said Rau.

Rau says the Neighbors' Place has seen a 30 percent increase in visitors since this time last year. He expects the FoodShare cutbacks to increase that number even more.

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