Millions On Food Stamps Facing Benefits Cuts

Foodstamp Cuts in House Farm Bill
Food stamps are relied upon by some of the poorest Americans

AFRICANGLOBE – It is late October, so Adrianne Flowers is out of money to buy food for her family. That is no surprise. Feeding five kids is expensive, and the roughly $600 in food stamps she gets from the federal government never lasts the whole month. “I’m barely making it,” said the 31-year-old Washington, D.C., resident and single mother.

Starting Friday, the money is likely to run out even quicker.

That is when Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits are set to fall for more than 47 million lower-income people — 1 in 7 Americans — most of whom live in households with children, seniors or people with disabilities.

Barring congressional intervention, the maximum payment for a family of four will shrink from $668 a month to $632, or $432 over the course of a year.

That amounts to 21 meals per month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The cuts will leave participants in the program, better known as food stamps, with an average of $1.40 to spend on each meal. The amount people get could sink even more if Congress makes deeper cuts later this year when House and Senate lawmakers try to hammer out a farm bill.

The Nov. 1 benefit cuts “will be close to catastrophic for many people,” said Ross Fraser, a spokesman for Feeding America, the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, which estimates that this week’s SNAP reduction will result in a loss of nearly 2 billion meals for poor families next year.

Food stamps are the government’s biggest nutrition-assistance program for low-income people and, along with federal unemployment benefits, a key support system for the most vulnerable Americans. More than three-quarters of households getting food stamps include a child, elderly person or someone with a disability. Some 83 percent of families are at or below the official poverty line (roughly $11,500 for an individual and $23,500 for a family of four).

Not surprisingly, participation in SNAP has soared during the epic downturn and ongoing job slump that followed the housing crash, with an additional 21 million people added to the rolls since 2008. Today, more than 1 in 4 U.S. children live in a home that gets food stamps.

SNAP gets a lot of use: Statistics show that roughly half of all U.S. children go on food stamps sometime during their childhood; half of all adults are on them sometime between the ages of 18 and 65. The USDA estimates that, as of last year, nearly 15 percent of American families, or 18 million households, lacked enough food at least some of the time to ensure that all family members could stay healthy.

Another group with lots of members in SNAP: Veterans. U.S. Census Bureau data show that, in 2011, some 900,000 former U.S. military personnel lived in households that used food stamps.

Inflicting Hunger

The average SNAP recipient receives about $133 a month in benefits, while the typical family gets $278. Benefits are means-tested, meaning that poorer households receive larger benefits (The formula used to calculate payments assumes that families will spend 30 percent of their net income on food.)

With the vast majority of SNAP beneficiaries already destitute, the diminished assistance would hurt in the best of times. But the Great Recession has thrown millions more people into poverty, including a growing segment of working poor. Experts say the food stamp cuts will spread hunger in the U.S., undermine public health and tax food banks around the country struggling to cope with the upsurge in poverty.

“The cuts are going to make millions of people hungry,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a not-for-profit public policy firm focused on ending hunger in the U.S. “It’s going to send people into a charitable system that’s already overwhelmed and screaming for help itself. And it will make life harder and worse for millions of children, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.”

Another possible casualty — everyone else. The left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think-tank, says that the November benefit cuts will curtail the flow of money into every U.S. state, in some cases by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The concern? Economists have found that every dollar of SNAP spending generates roughly $1.70 in local economic activity. The USDA has calculated that food stamps generate an even bigger bang for the buck. So pinching food stamp recipients will ripple into the broader U.S. economy. Among other effects, that could dent revenues for the nearly 250,000 groceries and supermarkets around the country that accept SNAP payments, potentially affecting everyone from store workers and truck drivers delivering food to consumers, as food sellers raise prices to offset the loss of revenue.

Meanwhile, research suggests that reducing food aid could not only increase hunger, but also undermine public health. In a six-year study, Children’s HealthWatch, a nonpartisan pediatric research center, recently found that young children in families that got SNAP benefits were at significantly lower risk of being underweight, which is linked with poor nutrition, and of developmental delays. That jibes with research by Northwestern University economist Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. She has found that since food stamps were introduced in the 1960s, women in the program have seen a reduction in low-weight births and a decrease in infant mortality.

Part Two