NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - People who work daily to help feed the poor, including people with jobs, are incredulous over word the state's food stamp program could be shuttered.
Meanwhile, Sen. John Kennedy said Wednesday he has a proposal to rescue the program if it is halted by the state.
At the Food Pantry of New Orleans in the eastern part of the city, workers know well the struggle many face to put food on the table.
"Eighty-percent of my clients are the working poor. They come to us, we don't supply them with enough food for the month, but we supplement," said Betty Thomas, Chief Operations Director at the pantry.
The La. Dept. of Children and Family Services is slated to be hit with a $34 million funding cut in the new budget year, according to the new budget approved by state lawmakers and signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards. As a result, DCFS says it will have to close the food stamp program because it would lack the funds to administer the benefits federal dollars pay for in Louisiana.
"Right now the Department of Children and Family Services is below the line to a large degree, and what we would risk is becoming the only state in the United States that actually wouldn't have a food stamp program, and clearly that's not acceptable," Gov. Edwards said in an interview with FOX 8 News Wedneseday.
"This would be a total devastation for the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," Thomas of that prospect.
The third special legislative session of this year kicks off Monday to again attempt to raise new taxes to prevent painful cuts due to a nearly $700 million budget shortfall for the new fiscal year.
Thomas was asked if her agency would be able to make up the slack in serving the public if food stamps are not available.
"I wouldn't able to meet the need," she said.
From Capitol Hill, Sen. John Kennedy, R-Lousiana, told members of the state's media he is introducing federal legislation to rescue Louisiana's food stamp program, if necessary, and prevent the loss of over a billion in federal funds to the sate.
"That says the following. If the governor decides to abolish the Food Stamp Program in Louisiana, it would give the state the option to turn to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and ask the USDA, as we call it, to administer the food stamp program for Louisiana," Sen. Kennedy stated.
Kennedy said his legislation would allow for federal dollars to flow to Louisiana non-profits already experienced with working with the needy.
"We would just have the USDA direct the money to existing food banks and to our churches that already have programs set up, and that way we would be able to still feed our people."
Kennedy conceded that his federal legislation would not result in an immediate fix.
"I hope I don't need to move it, but I want to get it in the hopper, get it assigned it to committee, I'm not going to let the state lose $1.4 billion because of a political spat," Sen. Kennedy stated.
And Thomas said given the need she sees every day her message to the governor and state law makers is do whatever necessary to find the dollars to save the Food Stamp Program.
"They need to find it, they need to do what the citizens put them in office to do and that's to work for the citizens, they need to handle it," said Thomas.
Sen. Kennedy told reporters on his conference call from Washington that he has not talked to the governor or his administration about his legislation.