As of last Friday, Nov. 1, 48 million Americans who receive money to buy vouchers under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as "food stamps," will see a cut to their monthly benefits.
According to Catherine Rampell at the New York Times, the cut will reduce spending on the SNAP program by $5 billion over the next year, and "another $6 billion over the 2015 and 2016 fiscal years." The decrease is a result of the expiration of a 2009 increase to the program that was part of the government's economic stimulus efforts.
Tim Fernholz at Quartz reported the average SNAP benefit is $278 a month, and a household of four will see that cut by $36. "More than 80 percent of households using the subsidy have incomes below the poverty line," he said. Rampell noted that during the recession, the number of participants in the program has grown dramatically, from 26 million in 2007 to 48 million in July.
The impact of the reduction will not only be felt by food stamp recipients, but also by retailers who sell food to those who receive assistance, reported Shelly Banjo and Annie Gasparro at the Wall Street Journal.
"On the business side of the equation, the cuts will fall particularly hard on the grocers, discounters, dollar stores and gas stations that depend heavily on low-income shoppers," said Banjo and Gasparro.
"Wal-Mart estimates it rakes in about 18 percent of total U.S. outlays on food stamps. That would mean it pulled in $14 billion of the $80 billion the USDA says was appropriated for food stamps in the year ended in September 2012," they added.
The food stamp cuts come as more reductions to the program are being proposed as Congress debates the new farm bill. According to Rampell, "The Republican-controlled House version of the farm bill proposes cutting $39 billion from the program over the next decade; the Democratic-controlled Senate would cut $4 billion over the same period."
Critics say reductions to the program are a political move that will harm the most vulnerable in society. "The way the program to provide the poor with the bare minimum of daily nutrition has been handled is a metaphor for how the far right in the House is systematically trying to take down the federal government," argued Elizabeth Drew at Rolling Stone.
"Food stamps are largely responsible for the near-elimination of the severe hunger and malnutrition that was widespread in many poverty-stricken areas," said Bob Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, to Drew. "Were it not for this program, we would see a lot more chronically hungry people and more illness related to malnutrition and undernutrition."
But Republicans say that the cuts will make the sure the program is only giving assistance to those who need it. "By reforming food stamps, we will save the program for the truly needy," said Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., to Monique Garcia at the Chicago Tribune. "An overextended, unchecked SNAP program won't be capable of serving the citizens it's purposed to help."