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Lawmakers, Advocates Raise Concerns as SNAP Benefits Shrink

Food banks prepare for influx of families looking for help

Courtesy Department of Agriculture
Anti-hunger groups began raising the alarm about the impact of the drop-off of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits several months ago.

Millions of low-income people will see their purchasing power fall Nov. 1, regardless of the outcome of a larger fight between Democrats and Republicans over future policies and spending levels for the nation’s largest domestic food aid program.

That’s due to the end of a temporary boost funded by stimulus money that Congress approved in the months after the financial meltdown of 2008. The assistance comes through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now distributes benefits electronically but is still often referred to as food stamps.

Anti-hunger groups began raising the alarm about the impact of the drop-off several months ago. Food banks and pantries expect to see a surge in already rising requests for help once monthly SNAP benefits are automatically reduced.

“We’re expecting that demand will increase at our food banks, both with folks who are not current clients who have been getting by with SNAP and also with folks who are already coming to us,” said Lisa Davis, the government relations and advocacy leader for Feeding America, which maintains a network of 200 food banks nationally.

Under the upcoming change, a household of four receiving a monthly maximum SNAP benefit of $632 will lose $36 a month, or more than $300 in fiscal 2014. Overall, the Congressional Budget Office projects that SNAP spending for fiscal 2014 will fall by $5 billion.

Some lawmakers continue to believe there is a way to fix the situation.

“The SNAP program is in jeopardy, which means children’s health is in jeopardy, and we should extend the ARRA-created benefits as well as to fully fund, not cut, the SNAP program,” Rep. Rush D. Holt, D-N.J., said during recent floor debate on a motion to instruct for the House farm bill. He was referring to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 economic stimulus measure.

Apart from the Nov. 1 cut, the House farm bill (HR 2642) proposes nearly $39 billion in spending reductions to the SNAP program over 10 years. SNAP is under scrutiny because of the 135 percent growth in benefits from 2007 to 2012. The CBO attributes 65 percent of the increase to the growth in recipients to more than 47 million Americans and 20 percent to the stimulus money used to raise the maximum benefit levels.

Forty-three Democrats have signed on to a bill (HR 3108) by Rep. John Conyers Jr. that would extend the stimulus boost. The legislation seems more symbolic than anything else. The Michigan Democrat filed the bill on Sept. 17, less than two weeks before the start of fiscal 2014. The legislation has been referred to the Agriculture Committee, which proposed policy changes and spending cuts of $20.5 billion over 10 years in its farm bill. The House eventually approved the much larger spending cuts to SNAP of nearly $39 billion over 10 years.

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