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President Trump tours hurricane-ravaged parts of Florida. Also on the Tuesday rundown: We examine whether the U.S. spending too much to guard confederate cemeteries; and the spotlight is on mental health during National Children’s Health Month.

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Hurricane Florence SNAPs NC to Attention on Importance of Food Benefits

The community group Jesus House of Prayer takes a load of Florence Disaster Relief supplies to Johnston County. (Whichard/Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina)
The community group Jesus House of Prayer takes a load of Florence Disaster Relief supplies to Johnston County. (Whichard/Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina)
September 25, 2018

WILMINGTON, N.C. — This week, members of Congress are expected to release a compromise version of the Farm Bill that could impact the future of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for people in North Carolina and the rest of the country.

It comes at a time when the food assistance program is sustaining residents of eastern North Carolina still confronting the devastation of Hurricane Florence. Jessica Whichard, director of communications with the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, said her organization serves 600,000 people, and the uncertainty around the SNAP program isn't helping.

"When people have already been struggling with food, and then after a storm hits, to be concerned about losing those benefits at the same time, it just kind of magnifies the devastation that exists for them,” Whichard said.

In advance of the storm, the state's Department of Health and Human Services temporarily modified food assistance rules to make food more accessible to people as they confront loss of power, water and shelter. On Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper called for a special State Assembly session to discuss relief efforts.

While it's unclear what Congress will propose in the new version of the Farm Bill, the House version included significant cuts to the program that Whichard and others said could be devastating.

Among the temporary modifications, NCDHHS extended the time period people can claim food losses from power outages and other reasons, and also changed what could be purchased with an EBT card. North Carolina Budget and Tax Center policy analyst Brian Kennedy explained.

"Generally that's not allowed, purchasing hot or prepared foods,” Kennedy said. “But considering the fact that folks are out of their homes, may not have the ability to fix and prepare food themselves, we know that folks who are already food insecure are more likely to be impacted by the negative impacts of a natural disaster."

Disaster SNAP benefits begin Friday. They include people in the effected counties that might not otherwise be eligible for SNAP, but now have a need as the result of the storm. Whichard said it's needed.

"Those benefits are incredibly important,” she said. “There is no way, based on what we know from the data coming in, that a food bank could make up the number of meals that those programs help folks with who are facing hunger."

Whichard said the flexibility put in place by the state's DHHS in advance of the storm helped prevent hunger for thousands.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC