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December 07, 2016
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Food program cut for most vulnerable; Thousands in region impacted

Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which have replaced food stamps and are used by more than 18,000 people in the Upper Delaware River Valley, now buy less food than before because of an expired federal funding program.
Contributed photo

WASHINGTON, DC — Food pantries in the region have been putting extra effort into their operations since the economy collapsed in 2008. Now, they will have to put forward even more effort to help feed the hungry because benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formally known as Food Stamps) were cut by $5 billion beginning on November 1.

In 2009 Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which temporarily boosted SNAP spending levels to help the working poor survive the Great Recession, but that spending has now expired. The House and Senate have begun to work on the Farm Bill, which covers SNAP spending, but there are very large differences about what the ultimate size of the SNAP program should be.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the current cut is significant, with a family of three losing $29 a month, or a total of $319 through the end of the fiscal year, in September 2014. According to CBPP, “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.’ Without the ARRA’s boost, SNAP benefits in fiscal year 2014 will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.”

SNAP benefits go to individuals and families at the bottom of the income level. More than 80% of recipients receive income below the federal poverty level, which is $19,500 for a family of three, and 40% of recipients have less than half of that.

CBPP points out that the cut not only means less money in the hands of the hungry, but it also means less money in local economies across the country. In New York State, the cuts mean there will be $332 million less flowing to more than three million people who would spend those dollars in places like Peck’s Markets; in Pennsylvania the cuts mean about $1.7 million less, which would be spent in places lake Dave’s Super Duper.

There are thousands of residents impacted by the cut in benefits in the Upper Delaware River Valley. According to a survey done in 2009, in Wayne County, PA there were 5,107 recipients, or 10% of the population receiving SNAP benefits; in Pike County, PA there were 4,261 recipients, or 7% of the population; in Sullivan County, NY, there were 8,697 recipients, or 11% of the population.

As noted earlier, some lawmakers from the House and Senate are negotiating the Farm Bill, and the Senate proposal would cut SNAP by $4.5 billion. The proposal put forward by the House contains cuts that go far deeper than that. Their bill would cut $40 billion from SNAP over the next decade, and would deny benefits to about 3.8 million people next year. Many analysts say this difference will be the main obstacle to overcome if Congress is to pass the Farm Bill this year, which might not be possible.

Many see the steep cut proposed by the House as unacceptable. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand led a group of 38 senators urging their colleagues in the Farm Bill conference committee to fight against “harmful cuts” to SNAP. She said, “Families who are living in poverty—hungry children, seniors, troops and veterans who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the table—did not spend this nation into debt, and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs. They deserve better. Millions more won’t be able to put food on the table if draconian cuts to food stamps become law.”

Jamie Dollahite, a professor at Cornell University, and an expert in nutrition education for limited resource audiences, said the cuts that occurred on November 1, “hit those families that are most vulnerable. Approximately half the recipients are children, with one in four of all children in the U.S. receiving benefits. Almost 90% of SNAP households have children, seniors, and/or someone with a disability.”