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Food shelves fear shortages after SNAP funding drop

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Roughly 47 million Americans saw their federal food assistance cut at the start of the month, and less than a month later, food shelves across the nation say they're feeling the pinch.

When it comes to the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps, a small cut comes with a big impact.

"The breakfast crowds are huge. The lunch crowds are huge. I just don't believe it," admitted Mary Jo Copeland. "I really don't."

The meals are served three times a day at Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis, but in recent weeks, they've had more mouths to feed even though the beginning of the month is usually when the crowds shrink.

"I have never seen lines that big," Copeland told Fox 9 News. "Usually at the beginning of the month, they get their food stamps -- its fine."

According to Copeland, it's not happening that way now. In fact, Copeland said the demand in her food shelf is up too, and she fully believes the food stamp cut is to blame.

"Usually, the first of the month, about the first 10 days, you have a little slack," she explained. "Now, I've never seen anything like it. In fact, people are commenting -- the church people that come in and say, 'Mary Jo, what's happening?' I say, 'I don't know. It's got to be this food stamp cut.'"

On Nov. 1, a 5 percent cut in the federal food stamp program, known as SNAP, went into effect after an increase that was originally part of a stimulus package expired. Since then, already-strained food programs across the country -- from Utah to Bemidji to Vermont -- are in the headlines as fears of shortages grow while the holiday season approaches.

"I used to give all kinds of food," Copeland said. "I have to look at how long is this going to last."

The cut amounts to less than $40 for a family of four each month, but when you have little, that's enough to make a big difference.

The need for food assistance has grown dramatically since the recession. In Minnesota, less than 300,000 people used SNAP benefits in 2008. In five years, that number has grown to more than half a million.

More food assistance cuts could loom if the farm bill passes, meaning there's little light at the end of a hungry tunnel.

"I think we, as a world, have to address it," Copeland pleaded. "Maybe have food collections in churches and things. I mean, people have to help."

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