Revised August 14, 1996


The conference agreement includes $27.7 billion in food stamp cuts. [1] More than half of the non-Medicaid savings in bill stems from cuts in the food stamp program. When the Administration last year released its highly publicized analysis estimating that the welfare bill which President Clinton later vetoed would add more than one million children to the ranks of the poor, it found the food stamp reductions to be one of the principal factors responsible for this large projected increase in child poverty. The recent Urban Institute report on the effect of this year's legislation on poverty also noted that the food stamp cuts were a main factor behind its estimate that the bill would push 1.1 million children, and 2.6 million people overall, into poverty.

Under the bill, food stamp benefits would be cut almost 20 percent in 2002, with average food stamp benefits falling from about 80 cents per person per meal to 66 cents per person per meal. A substantial portion of the food stamp benefit reductions in both bills would come in the form of across-the-board benefit reductions that would affect nearly all recipient households, including families with children, the working poor, the elderly, and the disabled. Only about two percent of the savings in the bill would come from provisions to reduce fraud and abuse, impose tougher penalties on recipients who violate program requirements, or reduce administrative costs.

Despite the size of the food stamp reductions, little attention has been paid to their effect on the ability of poor households to purchase food. This analysis uses food stamp survey data to assess the magnitude of the food stamp benefit reductions that various types of low-income households would encounter, including families with children, the working poor, and the elderly. It finds the bill would result in substantial reductions in average benefits and food purchasing power for all of these groups.

Whom Do The Food Stamp Reductions Affect?

Families With Children [2]

Under the conference agreement, families with children would absorb $18.4 billion — or about two-thirds — of the food stamp cuts over six years. In 1998, families with children would lose an average of $435 in food stamp benefits. Approximately 6.7 million families with children are projected to receive food stamp benefits in 1998.

Working Poor Households

The food stamp program provides important assistance to working poor families. In 1994, some 2.3 million food stamp households included at least one worker. Working poor households, including both working poor households with children and those without children, would absorb $5.4 billion of the food stamp cuts — or about one out of every five benefit dollars cut — over the next six years. Stated another way, working poor families would see their food stamps cut an average of $356 in 1998. By 2002, these families would lose an average of $466 per year in food stamps.

Elderly Food Stamp Recipients

Over six years, the bill would cut food stamp benefits for households that include elderly members by $2 billion. On average, the 1.75 million households with elderly members would lose $167 per year in food stamp benefits in 1998. Elderly households would lose $243 per year in 2002. In dollar terms, the average food stamp cut for elderly households is lower than for other families because elderly households typically include fewer people and, therefore, receive smaller average benefits. (Food stamp benefits vary with household size.) The bill would reduce food stamp benefits for elderly households by one-fifth.

The Poorest of the Poor: Families Below Half the Poverty Line

Half of the food stamp cuts in bill would be absorbed by the more than three million food stamp households with incomes below half of the federal poverty line. Half the poverty line for a family of three now is $6,250. In 1998, food stamp households with incomes below half the poverty line would lose an average of $656 per year in food stamp benefits. By 2002, these households would face food stamp cuts averaging $790 per year.

Non-Elderly Adults Without Children

The conference agreement is particularly harsh on non-elderly adults that are not raising children. Under the bill, households without elderly members or children would face $8.4 billion in food stamp cuts over six years. Beginning in 1999, these households would see their food stamp benefits cut an average of 40 percent.


Under the conference agreement, most legal immigrants would be made wholly ineligible for food stamps. (Illegal immigrants are already ineligible for food stamps. A study conducted for the Reagan Administration found that less than 1/100 of one percent of the people getting food stamps might be illegal aliens improperly on the program.) This provision is more severe than the immigrant provisions in last year's House welfare bill, which would have permitted food stamp benefits to continue for those legal immigrants who have been in the United States more than five years and are at least 75 years of age or who are too disabled to naturalize. The new bill includes no such exemptions and would make poor legal immigrants who are over 75 or permanently disabled ineligible for food stamp assistance.

Food Stamp Cuts in the Final Welfare Bill (H.R. 3734)
Average Cut Per Food Stamp Household FY 2002Average Cut Per Food Stamp Household FY 1997-2002Average Cut Per Food Stamp Household FY 2002Average Cut Per Food Stamp Household FY 1997-2002
Alabama$253$356Montana $290$387
Alaska $342$459Nebraska $258$353
Arizona $402$495Nevada $346$446
Arkansas $236$338New Hampshire$360$466
California$537$603New Jersey$418 $506
Colorado$344$443New Mexico$350$433
Connecticut$440$532New York$629 $704
Delaware$360$459North Carolina$242$342
Dist. of Col.$300$409North Dakota$270$370
Florida $408$487Ohio $342$456
Georgia $262$366Oklahoma $274$378
Guam $384$518Oregon $423$522
Hawaii $327$422Pennsylvania $351$465
Idaho $303$398Rhode Island$668$755
Illinois$346$452 South Carolina$235$337
Indiana$295$402South Dakota$259$360
Iowa$293$396 Tennessee$299$413
Kansas$346$448Texas $433$514
Kentucky $272$382Utah $348$446
Louisiana $274$377Vermont $375$468
Maine $384$484Virgin Islands$312$423
Maryland$395$501 Virginia$298$399
Massachusetts$523$599Washington $559$654
Michigan $373$477West Virginia$216$314
Minnesota$386$479 Wisconsin$348$438
Mississippi$247$350Wyoming $282$387
Missouri $290$398
U.S. Average $394$488

Total Food Stamp Cuts in the Final Welfare Bill (in millions)
Total Food Stamp Cuts FY 2002Total Food Stamp Cuts FY 1997-2002Total Food Stamp Cuts FY 2002Total Food Stamp Cuts FY 1997-2002
State State
Alabama$79$363Montana $12$58
Alaska $8$36 Nebraska$16$76
Arizona$84$410Nevada $23$108
Arkansas $40$183 New Hampshire$12$57
California$781$3,987New Jersey$132$650
Colorado$49$235 New Mexico$41$203
Connecticut$59$286New York $762$3,885
Delaware$10$50 North Carolina$96$442
Dist. of Col.$19$89North Dakota$7$31
Florida$317$1,572 Ohio$231$1,084
Georgia$130$601Oklahoma$62 $287
Guam$3$14Oregon $78$381
Hawaii $28$133 Pennsylvania$2541,188
Idaho$13$64Rhode Island$32$164
Illinois$232$1,101 South Carolina$50$231
Indiana $67$312South Dakota$7$33
Iowa$32$148 Tennessee$123$565
Kansas$36$170Texas $501$2,505
Kentucky$78$357 Utah$20$97
Louisiana$106$492Vermont$13 $64
Maine$32$152Virgin Islands$6$28
Maryland$91$442 Virginia$105$491
Massachusetts$105$528Washington $147$735
Michigan $217$1,035 West Virginia$42$190
Minnesota$66$318Wisconsin $52$249
Mississippi $69$317Wyoming $5 $25
U.S. Total$5,680$27,707


1. This total includes $3.8 billion in cuts in food stamp benefits for legal immigrants and their families, $3.7 billion of which are in the immigrant title of the bill. This total also includes $345 million in reductions from freezing the food stamp standard deduction for fiscal year 1997. This standard deduction cut appears both in the welfare legislation and in the agricultural appropriations bill for fiscal year 1997. Because Congress gave final passage to the agricultural appropriations bill shortly before the welfare bill, CBO has attributed the $345 million in savings from this cut to the appropriations bill and has not included it in the CBO tables showing the savings in the welfare bill. Either way, however, food stamp households will feel the effect of this cut.

2. Households may be classified in more than one category. For example, a household may be defined as both a working poor household and a household that includes an elderly member.