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Price check: IL reduces EBT payments, but it doesn’t have to hurt

By   /   October 31, 2013  /   No Comments

By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog

SPRINGFIELD, Ill.  — Illinois is reducing EBT payments for two million families in Illinois who get the assistance, but the smaller benefits are neither a surprise nor a problem.

BEST PRICE? Families can save a lot by bargain shopping for the essentials

BEST PRICE? Families can save a lot by bargain shopping for the essentials

The 2009 federal expansion of the SNAP program, what most people call food stamps, has expired, forcing reductions across the country, Illinois Department of Human Service’s spokeswoman Januari Smith said.

Benefits for family of four in Illinois could decrease by $36 a month, she said.

But the family won’t go hungry, still getting more than $600 each month to spend on groceries. The maximum food stamp benefit for a family of four is set to slide from $668 to $632, each month.

McKenzie Riley, a nutritionist with the University of Illinois Extension office, said that’s well above an average monthly allowance for food.

“A lot of places, (the average) is $100 per person, per month,” Riley said. “Depending of course … on what your household is made up of.”

Riley says it will cost a little more to feed two teenagers than to feed two children younger than 5.

Illinois’ average food stamp family — a parent and a child — gets $367 a month for groceries, but that falls to $347 Friday.

Cook your own food and do a little bargain shopping, and that should be plenty, Riley says.

“A lot of convenience foods are more expensive in the long run, per serving, than something that takes a little time to prepare,” Riley said.

A competent cook can transform one rotisserie chicken into two, even three meals.

Frozen dinners, Riley said, comprise a single meal.

HAND UP, NOT HANDOUT: Illinois' Davis says Congress needs to reform food stamp spending.

HAND UP, NOT HANDOUT: Illinois’ Davis says Congress needs to reform food stamp spending.

“When you’re buying foods that are components of meals; as opposed to huge, full meals already prepared for you, you’re going to get not only more product but price per unit will be lower,” Riley said.

Families have known for a while these reductions were coming, said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, a Republican from the 13th District who sits on the congressional committee responsible for food stamp spending.

“We have to put a long-term strategy together that is going to reform our (food-stamp) program,” Davis told Illinois Watchdog. “Making sure that able-bodied adults with no dependent children who are not in school get a job … That they may have to actually work, or do volunteer service, or community service to get those benefits.”

Davis said adding a work component to food stamps would lower costs and ensure help for people who truly need it.

Illinois has seen a huge increase in the number of people receiving food stamps.

The Illinois Policy Institute says 200,000 new people signed up for benefits in 2012, and more than a million Illinoisans have joined the food-stamp rolls over the past decade.

Contact Benjamin Yount at BYount@Watchdog.org and find him on Twitter @BenYount.

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