BEYOND THE NUMBERS
As policymakers deliberate over the “fiscal cliff” and calls are coming from some quarters for major cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps), they should take this into account: SNAP benefits are already scheduled to fall next November 1, when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary benefits boost ends. Any further cuts would come on top of these significant reductions and would cause further hardship.
Benefits will decline for every SNAP household. For families of three, the cut likely will be $25 to $30 a month — $300 to $360 a year.
That’s a serious loss, especially in light of the very low size of basic SNAP benefits. Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits average only about $1.30 per person per meal. Nutrition experts have long held that these levels are inadequate to meet families’ basic food needs.
The Recovery Act boosted SNAP benefits beginning in April 2009, which helped to spur economic activity and assist low-income households during the Great Recession. The Recovery Act called for benefits to remain at their new, higher level until the program’s regular annual inflation adjustments overtook it. In 2010, however, Congress passed legislation ending the increase abruptly on November 1, 2013.
The exact amount of the cut that households will face in November won’t be clear until July, when the Agriculture Department (USDA) will calculate SNAP benefit levels for fiscal year 2014 based on June food costs. But, the cut apparently will be roughly $8 to $10 per person per month, based on the Congressional Budget Office’s current food-inflation forecast.
These cuts will likely cause hardship for some SNAP participants, who include 22 million children (10 million of whom live in “deep poverty,” with family incomes below half of the poverty line) and 9 million people who are elderly or have a serious disability.
USDA research has found that the Recovery Act’s benefit boost cut the number of households in which one or more persons had to skip meals or otherwise eat less because they lacked money — what USDA calls “very low food security” — by about 500,000 households in 2009.
More recent research finds that boosting SNAP benefits during the summer for households with school-aged children who don’t have access to USDA’s summer food program cut very low food security among these households by nearly 20 percent.
Thus, we can reasonably assume that the end of the SNAP benefit increase in November 2013 will significantly raise the number of poor households that have difficulty affording adequate food.