The average low-income family of three in South Carolina will lose $30 worth of food purchasing power a month under a reduction in food stamp benefits that kicked in Friday.

Advocates for those who rely on the program say $30 may not appear to be a large sum of money for those in the middle or upper income range. But to those on the lower rungs, it can represent going for several days worth of family meals that have to be made up elsewhere.

“I think people in general are going to be fearful of not having enough to put on their table,” said Toby Brown, executive director of the Midland Park Community Ministries.

The group operates a food bank that provides for a large geographic swath of the population in North Charleston, including Liberty Hill.

The decrease also comes as the weather is beginning to change, with heating bill costs going up again.

“We expect to see our clients calling more,” Brown added.

Some 417,700 households in South Carolina — an estimated 877,500 people — use the federal food stamps to help stretch their food budgets each month. The benefits had commonly been referred to as food stamps, but in government terms today the program is referred to as part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

The amount each family gets in SNAP is tied to a variety of factors, some of which include food prices, inflation and take home pay. Under some situations, the maximum allowed for a family of three is about $525 a month.

Friday’s reduction had been long scheduled. It comes after a temporary increase in food stamp aid was enacted as part of the federal government’s 2009 stimulus package. That increase expired Thursday.

Susan Berkowitz, director of the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center in Columbia, said the $30 average family reduction might look small on paper but added there will be a ripple effect that hits other parts of the economy. She particularly named grocery stores that draw SNAP clients.

As those sales disappear, it will take more than $90 million out of the state’s economy, she estimates.

S.C. Department of Social Services spokesperson Marilyn Matheus said Friday the state’s SNAP recipients were given prior notice that the amount of benefits going into their accounts would drop as of November. Because it was only the first day of the reduction, she did not have a lot of field reports on how it was being felt.

In Charleston, Stacey Denaux, chief executive officer of the Crisis Ministries shelter on Meeting Street, said she expects her soup kitchen program numbers to increase as well, as a result of the change in SNAP allocations.

She did not have a firm estimate of where her visitation numbers would go up but said a variety of factors will affect the shelter’s meal numbers, including who has access to a car.

Nationwide, the SNAP program has become both costly and increasing in demand. SNAP expenditures more than doubled in cost since 2008 when the economy further soured, to almost $80 billion a year, according to national figures.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551