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Changes in food stamp rules mean 800 lose benefits in Erie County

Eight hundred people in Erie County now face a tougher task getting food on their plates.

That’s how many in recent weeks lost their benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what used to be called food stamps.

Those who lost their benefits live in Erie County’s suburbs and rural areas – none in Buffalo – due to a technical way that rules for the food benefits play out, according to a social services official in Erie County.

“It would be people outside of the city of Buffalo,” said Marie Cannon, first deputy commissioner in the Erie County social services department.

And that is only the first round of such losses, Cannon said.

“It will be ongoing,” she said of the benefit cut-offs. “This is the first wave of it.”

The reason for the benefits going away, Cannon said, lies in the provisions in the federal program for people who are classed as able-bodied adults without dependents.

Those people are adults up to a certain age who do not have children or other dependents and who are considered to be able to work.

The reason that people in Buffalo are not losing their food stamp benefits is because of the economic and employment conditions in the city.

As of last November, there were 83,574 households in Erie County getting the supplemental nutrition assistance, Cannon said.

In rating the proportion of local households getting food assistance, the Buffalo Niagara region ranked fifth out of the nation’s 50 biggest metropolitan areas in 2014. Erie County’s proportion of food stamp-receiving households was greater than New York State’s – 17 percent, compared to 15.6 percent for the state, a Buffalo News analysis of census data showed. The state late last year sent notices to Erie County residents who fell into the able-bodied without dependents category informing them that their benefits could be capped at three months’ worth of food benefits out of every 36-month period – unless they were occupied for 80 hours each month in an activity like looking for a job, job training or volunteering, Cannon said.

Erie County followed up with another notification to those same men and women, she said.

The first round of food stamp cutoffs happened on May 31, Cannon said.