HARRISBURG - A cut in food stamp benefits for 1.8 million low-income Pennsylvanians that took effect on Friday is putting pressure on an already strained network of food banks across the state.

Federal aid for the SNAP or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is being cut 5.4 percent with the expiration of additional funding provided under the 2009 economic stimulus package.

A family of four will receive $632 a month in food stamps, a $36 a month decrease as a result.

That translates to 21 fewer meals a month for the family covered by food stamps, according to the Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

"The federal reduction in benefits is a small decrease but unfortunately it will affect many households here in Pennsylvania," said state Department of Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth. "It is our hope that our local organizations and communities can pull together to help fill the gap for our citizens in need."

And the specter looms of a double whammy for the SNAP program.

Congress has been deadlocked on a farm bill which includes the regular SNAP appropriation. A House-approved bill would cut $40 billion from SNAP over a decade, while a Senate-approved bill would cut $4.5 billion.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., has urged negotiators on a farm bill conference committee to reject those cuts, including a plan to eliminate free school meals for about 280,000 low-income children by changing eligibility standards.

That leaves local food banks on the front line trying to help those facing problems putting enough food on the table.

The food banks have already dealt with increased demand as a result of bad economic times, said Caryn Long, executive director of Feeding Pa, the state association representing food banks. The need is especially acute during the last week of the month when SNAP benefits have been exhausted, she added.

Meanwhile, the price of food and fuel continues to go up, said Ms. Long.

The main conduit for state aid to food banks is the state Food Purchase Program.

The Food Purchase Program received $18 million in state aid in fiscal 2007-08 before the recession hit state finances, but that aid has gradually dropped to $17.3 million under the current state budget.

DCNR appointee

Brian Grove, a Tunkhannock resident and until recently an executive with the natural gas firm Chesapeake Energy, has been appointed deputy secretary for administration for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

He will oversee budgeting, personnel matters and technology support for the department managing state parks and forests.

Mr. Grove has previously worked as a chief of staff for Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp. and had positions in the Ridge and Schweiker administrations.

ROBERT SWIFT is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers, of which The Daily/Sunday Review is a part. Email: rswift@timesshamrock.com.