Sarah Ford | October 31, 2013

Food stamps will get cut by $5 billion this week — and more cuts could follow

The U.S. food-stamp program is set to shrink in the months ahead. The only real question is by how much.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) currently costs about $80 billion per year and provides food aid to 14 percent of all U.S. households — some 47 million people. Those numbers swelled dramatically during the recession.

But the food-stamp program is now set to downsize in the weeks ahead. There’s a big automatic cut scheduled for Nov. 1, as a temporary boost from the 2009 stimulus bill expires. That change will trim about $5 billion from federal food-stamp spending over the coming year.

And that’s not all: The number of Americans on food stamps could drop even further in the months ahead, as Congress and various states contemplate further changes to the program. What can we expect?

1) The end of the stimulus boost. First up is a big automatic cut to SNAP scheduled for Nov. 1. This is happening because the food-stamp program was temporarily expanded in 2009 as part of the Recovery Act. That bill spent $45.2 billion to increase monthly benefit levels to around $133, on average.

That bump will end on Friday, and benefits will shrink by around 5 percent on average. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a short report calculating what this will mean for individual households:

All SNAP Households Will See a Cut in November 2013

So, for instance: The maximum monthly benefit for a family of four will drop from $668 per month down to $632. The maximum monthly benefit for an individual will drop from $200 per month to $189. (“The cut is equivalent to about 16 meals a month for a family of three based on the cost of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s ‘Thrifty Food Plan,’ notes CBPP)

Those snips add up: The end of the stimulus program will reduce federal food-stamp spending by $5 billion in 2014. Every state will be affected: California, for instance, will see a $457 million drop in spending over the upcoming year, while Texas will lose $411 million as a result.

2) Congress could cut food stamps even further. The stimulus lapse isn’t the only cut on the horizon. This week, the House and Senate will resume their haggling over a five-year farm bill. The main point of contention, as before, is…

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