Aliceville food stamp recipients Johnnie Lindsey (left), Moses Jackson (second from right) and Ricky Minor (right) pose at The Lord’s Pantry in Aliceville with the pantry’s lead organizer, Marie McKinzey. (Connor Sheets | csheets@al.com)

Ricky Minor receives $16 worth of food stamps every month. 

The 54-year-old, who lives in Aliceville, a small Pickens County town in Alabama’s impoverished Black Belt region, is certified as 100 percent disabled, unable to work because he has lung cancer.

“If you buy the chicken and the bread with the $16, you don’t have enough to get the grease to cook it,” he said Thursday.

Moses Jackson, also of Aliceville, used to get $16 in food stamps – also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits – on his EBT card each month, but the monthly infusion dropped to $15 when his disability benefit increased earlier this year.

The dollar amounts may be small, but for the two men and many other Alabama residents who cannot work, every buck counts and equals food in their stomachs.

Minor and Jackson are just two faces of the food stamp program’s impact on the Black Belt, but their stories illustrate the desperation of many government assistance recipients throughout the state.

Struggles like theirs have become a political flashpoint in recent months. The number of people on food stamps in 13 Alabama counties – most of whom are in the Black Belt – has dropped 85 percent since Jan. 1, when an exemption from a requirement that able-bodied adults without dependents work to receive recurring SNAP benefits was lifted in those counties.

Last month, President Donald Trump rolled out a federal budget plan that includes a new round of deep cuts to nutrition assistance programs including SNAP.

If Trump’s proposed budget is approved, the impact on many poor families across the state would be drastic, according to Jean Rykaczewski, executive director of the West Alabama Food Bank in Tuscaloosa, which serves people in eight Alabama counties including Perry, Greene, Hale and Sumter in the Black Belt.

“The real world impact on a family is the cabinets and the refrigerator are going to be empty,” she said.

“We’re going to turn into a Third World country where people are starving in Alabama, and people just don’t like to admit it. If these benefits are cut drastically, that could become the reality.”

‘A blessing’

Johnnie Lindsey, a 72-year-old retired Aliceville grandmother who is no longer able to work, currently gets $66 a month in SNAP benefits, assistance she describes as “a blessing.”

Having worked for decades and raised a family without ever being on welfare, she says she now relies on Social Security, food stamps and monthly distributions from a local food pantry to survive.

“I can eat for a month on $66, as long as my grandkids don’t come over. I know $66 is not much but it is to me,” she said.

“It’s a struggle, for real. You’ve got to be penny-pinching to survive, and it’s still hard to survive. I would hate for them to cut mine off. Like my grandmamma said, every little bit helps.”

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Source: AL.com / CONNOR SHEETS

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