When the Great Recession hit, food stamps were one of the ways the federal government tried to help struggling families keep their heads above water.
But on Friday, the country’s largest anti-hunger program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is set to take huge cuts to its budget that advocates say will make it even more difficult for poor people to avoid going to bed hungry.
The cuts will effect 47 million Americans and reduce the maximum benefit for a family of four to $632 per month from $668 — a loss of $432 over the course of a year.
The cuts average out to about 2 billion meals per year across the nation. In 2014, the total cut is expected to cost $5 billion, which is equal to the amount of food distributed for free by food emergency groups.
“It’s the first across the board cut where everyone in the program is getting a cut,” Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, told NewsOne in an interview. “For poor people, it was the scariest Halloween ever.”
The cuts come at a time when food pantries across the country are already stretched to the limit, Triada Stampas, senior director of government relations for the Food Bank For New York City, the nation’s largest emergency food organization, told NewsOne. The USDA says 49 million Americans are food insecure, meaning they cannot afford adequate amounts of food. That amounts to 1 in 6 Americans.
“We are talking about asking people to purchase a year’s worth of food with 11 months of money. The benefits were barely adequate to begin with,” said Stampas.
Instead of having just $1.50 to spend per meal, SNAP participants will see that drop 10 cents to $1.40 per meal. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that will add up to 21 less meals per month. With most SNAP participants running out of food by the third week of the month, advocates fear that will happen even earlier.
Today’s cuts can be traced back to 2009, when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act first boosted SNAP benefits while the country was experiencing an economic free fall. In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which sought to boost after-school meals for low-income kids and allow schools to provide healthier lunch foods.
But Congress agreed to pay for the program by cutting the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increases to the SNAP program.
Groups, such as the Congressional Black Caucus and anti-hunger advocates, opposed the bargain.
“Taking away a kids’ dinner is no way to pay for a nicer lunch,” said Stampas.
President Barack Obama vowed to restore the funding and the bill was approved. Since then, White House Spokesman Kevin Lewis says President Obama has worked to extend the benefits and “proposed an extension of the (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) adjustment until March 2014 in the 2014 budget request.”
Given the difficult relationship between the White House and Congress, it’s no surprise that President Obama’s budget restoration requests were never approved. Now, the White House is laying the blame on Congress.
“These cuts come at a time when many hardworking American families are still struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the worst recession in decades. That includes African-American households 24.6 percent of whom suffer from food insecurity and/or hunger,” said Lewis.
But anti-hunger advocates like Berg say Obama and Congress– both Republicans and Democrats– deserve blame for today’s cuts.
“He never fought for this. He never made any public speeches,” Berg said in criticism of President Obama. “There is a vast deafening silence on these cuts because the people who would normally be excoriating them are actually responsible for them.”