On September 19, the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation that would cut the food stamp program by nearly $40 billion over the next decade. President Obama has promised to veto the measure in the event it is passed by the Democratically-led Senate. But no matter what ends up happening in the ongoing battle over food stamps, come Nov. 1, more than 47 million beneficiaries will need to start doing more with less.
That date marks the scheduled end of the boost in food stamp funding provided by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. As a result, a family of three can expect to see $29 less per month in food assistance. The loss of assistance will leave families with roughly $1.40 per person to spend per meal, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The reduction will have a real impact on poor families, say food advocates, who are trying to get the word out to the households they serve.
“On Nov. 1, things are going to get painful for families,” predicted Catherine Benvie, of D.C. Hunger Solutions.
In the District, more than 144,000 people participate in the program, up 3,353 beneficiaries (or 2.4 percent) from the previous year.
Nationally too, food stamp rolls have burgeoned since the 2008 recession. But the rapid growth in spending on the food stamp program, officially known as SNAP for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has prompted demands from conservatives for a sweeping overhaul.
The House vote to cut the program, through passage of legislation titled the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, is being seen as a victory for Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican.
In addition to deeply cutting spending for food stamps, the bill would restrict the ability of able-bodied childless adults to receive the benefits without meeting work requirements. It would also allow states to impose additional work and job training requirements on such beneficiaries.
Conservative supporters of the bill say such steps are necessary to reduce waste and fraud in the program.
“The House Nutrition Bill will close up some loopholes. It gives to those who truly need it,” said Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation. “There is an option where states can create work programs for able-bodied adults so that food stamps don’t become a one-way handout.”
Yet at the same time, government statistics point to continuing problems with hunger across the country.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture just released information and a survey reporting that an estimated 14.5 percent of American households were food insecure at least some time during the year in 2012, “meaning they lacked access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.”’
And advocates for the poor say more spending on such programs is needed, not less. They said even the reduction scheduled to go into place Nov. 1 will take a serious toll.
“I think this will be hurtful for folks because they are used to having a certain amount of food in their homes and if just two dollars were cut, you would still actually see a difference in how much groceries you can buy,” said Reggie Black, a Street Sense vendor, writer, and activist.
“People need food,” Black added. “There are too many hungry people out there.”