12/12/2011 12:42 pm ET

Food Banks In Southeast Michigan Hit Hard By Food Assistance Cuts

Food banks in metro Detroit are struggling to keep up with demand as food assistance from federal and state programs is being cut.

John Kastler, a spokesman for Gleaners Community Food Bank, told Michigan Radio those funds, especially from federal programs, "really did make it a lot easier to stock the pantries and put food on the table."

"And when you talk about these programs being cut and the funding disappearing ... it really does put people in crisis," Kastler said.

In August, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that would take $12 billion away from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, and use the money to bail out school districts in cash-strapped states.

Michigan food assistance payments range from $16 to $200 a month for one person to $1,062 a month for a family of seven, according to the Saginaw News.

In October, the state began requiring financial reviews of food assistance recipients. The new regulations would disqualify those with assets of more than $5,000 in the bank, with second homes or with vehicles valued at more than $15,000, according to the Associated Press.

Michigan also removed about 30,000 college students from food assistance rolls in January.

Sue Figurski, coordinator of the Macomb Food Program, criticized Michigan's new asset test for food assistance.

"Do you think anybody really and truly wants to be on food stamps? Not be able to take care of their family? Not the people we talk to," Figurski told Michigan Radio.

In Macomb county, the number of people requiring assistance nearly doubled between 2008 and 2010.

And those Michigan families that did get state or federal food assistance were not necessarily getting enough to eat. A 2010 Hunger in America study found 58 percent of the Southeast Michigan households served by Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest, another food agency, were also receiving federal SNAP benefits.

Gleaners and Forgotten Harvest provide emergency food to an estimated 489,700 people in Southeast Michigan each year. But the food agencies also face challenges in offering their services. More than one-third of the neighborhoods in Southeast Michigan have limited access to a food pantry, according to a March United Way report.

That report found families in Wixom, Harrison Township and Southfield have the most trouble reaching a pantry.