Food benefits for millions at center of latest Washington spending fight

At a food pantry in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, the line starts more than an hour before the doors open on some days and has been steadily growing — from around 50 to 60 people earlier this year to more than 75 in recent months.

Francheska Serrano, who heads up the pantry operations there for Community Center at Visitation, said those showing up in line are struggling with the continuing rise in the price of food and a decrease in pandemic-era benefits for everything from groceries to rent.

“I’m definitely seeing a lot of new faces and an increase in the number of people who come to our food pantry,” Serrano said. “I can only assume that it’s just going to continue, especially with a cutback in the food benefits.”

Despite historically low unemployment and rising wages, the need for food assistance has been on the rise this year, according to government dataconsumer surveys and interviews with nonprofit organizations. But on Capitol Hill, curbing food benefits has become front and center in the latest budget battle that could come to a head by the end of the month, when key pieces of funding legislation are set to expire.

Congressional Republicans pushed through new restrictions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, in negotiations earlier this year over raising the government’s debt limit. But some are looking to add further restrictions to the program and roll back benefit increases as they negotiate a new farm bill before the current legislation expires Sept. 30.

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