Cuts To Food Stamps Begin Friday

Credit: Associated Press
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Millions of Americans who already struggle to food on their plates could be facing more hardship as the latest round of government cuts takes effect Friday.

Food stamp benefits, something which nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population relies on, are being slashed by $5 million starting Nov. 1.
The cuts will mean less money for groceries for 47.6 million people. It's a tough time to have less food on the table, just a few weeks before the start of the holiday season.

Food stamp benefits were bumped up in the midst of the recession. The temporary provision expires Nov. 1. Congress had the power to halt the cutback, but with Republicans calling for even deeper cuts to food stamps, it didn't make it through the House.

As families have struggled during the recession and also the slow economic recovery, enrollment has soared in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In 2007, one year before the effects of the recession began to be felt, 26.3 million, or 8.7 percent of the population, received food stamps. The number has almost doubled since.

The average benefit per person is $133.19 a month.

Families nationwide have already received emails and letters warning that their benefits will be reduced. For a family of four getting the maximum benefit of $668 a month in food stamps, the cuts would trim $36 a month, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service.

Even though the economy remains on shaky ground, lawmakers are unlikely to extend the extra benefits. In fact, the discussion among Republicans is to what degree food stamps should be whittled down.

In September, the Republican-controlled House passed a bill that tightens eligibility for food stamps. It trims $40 billion from funding food stamps over the next decade.

"It's hard to imagine anything that could stop this happening in a week," said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator at CLASP, an advocacy group for the poor. "There are studies that this really did help people buy slightly higher quality food."

But conservatives say it was never intended to be anything more than temporary. They say extending the extra money is out of the question, mostly because they believe the food stamps program is already bloated and in need of changes.

"I don't think calling it (the Nov. 1 drop in benefits) a cut is the right way to frame it," said Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. "This was a temporary increase in spending."