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What Trump food stamp cuts mean for California

A bulging bag of dark red cherries cost Sandy Nemec four coupons from her state-provided monthly grocery budget Wednesday at the downtown Sacramento farmers market. With the help of that food aid, Nemec stretches her budget to feed herself and her 4-year-old daughter as healthily as she can.

The 40-year-old is among the 4.4 million Californians who rely on CalFresh, the state’s version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to purchase food and beverages. Those families are now bracing for deep cuts to the decades-old federal program, popularly known as “food stamps,” as it faces a $193 billion – or 25 percent – chop over 10 years under President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget.

Republicans have called the SNAP program a recession-era safety net and argue that maintaining it in a stable economy only encourages the 44 million people who depend on it nationally to stay impoverished. Nemec said she uses it to simply get by day to day.

“It really helps us out,” Nemec said of the $349 in CalFresh aid she receives each month. “I just do what I can. I try to make sure I have all the staples, get plenty of proteins, fruits and vegetables.”

In 2015, Californians received $7.5 billion in SNAP benefits – about 11 percent of total national spending for the program, according to the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Enrollees receive an average of $142 per month, although stipends vary based on family size, income level, disability status and other factors. All of California’s SNAP dollars come from the federal government, but the state spends roughly $80 million annually on a corresponding program that provides food benefits to non-U.S. citizens.

Millions of people do rely on the federal grocery money, distributed via pocket-size electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards, to keep them afloat while they search for work, supplement a low-paying or low-hours job, or provide for others who can’t work, said Jessica Bartholow, policy advocate with the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“If we’re going to tell people they can’t get food help unless they’re employed, let’s help get them employed,” Bartholow said. “At the end of the day, making someone hungry doesn’t help get them a job. … People eat cheaper food, eat less food and eat less frequently. While they may be saving food money by not eating, the science shows that we pay for it in the long run.”