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Jan 27, 2014 8:18 PM

The new faces of food stamps: working-age Americans

TUCSON-You could say Tucsonan Charleen Gossett is the new face of food stamps.

The soon to be mother of two doesn't have a job, but the father of her children does and yet still they wouldn't be able to get by without food stamps.

For the first time ever the majority of people using food stamps aren't the elderly or children, rather they're working age people, like Gossett's family.

"We don't have enough money after his paycheck is spent on the rent to be able to have any for food," Gossett says.

Some of the change is due to demographics. Americans are having fewer children.

But the economy is also playing a role, with high unemployment, stagnant wages and an increasing gap between low-wage and high-skill jobs. "I think we have to be understanding of the fact that people are trying to make ends meet on their own, but when they do find work, they still need help," says Marco Liu of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

One in seven Americans are now using food stamps. Every month the food bank serves about 225,000 of those people. Liu says maintaining the funds for the food stamp program is critical. "The program raises people from poverty level to non-poverty level, upwards of 13% according to the USDA," Liu says.

But others say the government needs to find a way to cut spending. "This is just not the right way of doing things," says Tyler Mott of the Pima County Republican Party. "We need to control our spending and we need to do something to get people back to work."

Late Monday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers announced a measure that preserves food stamp benefits for most Americans who receive them and continues generous subsidies for farmers. The House could vote on the massive farm bill as soon as Wednesday.

The compromise was expected to cut food stamps by about $800 million a year, or around 1 percent. The House in September passed legislation cutting 5 percent from the $80 billion-a-year program.

The Democratic-controlled Senate had passed a bill with $400 million in annual food stamp cuts.


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