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On November 1, 2013, every single person who relies on food stamps (SNAP) to help them feed their families will see a cut in the amount they receive. It has nothing to do with the federal shutdown, nor with the House of Representative’s bill that attempts to cut $40 billion from the program over the next 10 years. This is simply the expiration of a modest 2009 boost in benefits to SNAP recipients, which was included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to strengthen the economy and ease hardship.
Though it represents a relatively modest amount for the Federal Government, it will inflict a much more meaningful impact on recipients. For a family of four in Georgia, the cut will mean a reduction of $36 a month, or nearly 21 meals. On average, these families will now receive less than $1.40 per person per meal.
Again, the decreases that families will experience beginning in November do not include the drastic cuts implicit in a proposed $40 billion slice off the program passed by the House of Representatives in September. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that these proposed cuts would deny food stamps to approximately 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 and to an average of nearly 3 million people each year over the coming decade. As noted by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, those thrown off the program would include some of the nation’s most destitute adults, as well as many low-income children, families that work for low wages and seniors.
Most food stamp recipients who can work do so. More than 80% of food stamp households with at least one person able to work did work in the year before or after receiving food assistance. The average length of time a participant stays on the program is nine months. There are three unemployed people for every one job in this country. Are we supposed to believe that citizens are willfully passing up employment for $133 a month, which can only be used to buy food?
Additionally, private charities have already been pushed past their breaking point following a 46% demand in increase for food during the recession. The food stamp meals lost from the November 1 cuts and the proposed farm bill cuts would actually be more than the annual meal distribution by all the food banks in the country together - nearly 3.4 billion meals).
A final word about food stamp fraud, perceived by so many to be widespread. It is currently at its lowest level in history - less than 1 cent of every dollar. And, contrary to popular belief, food stamps can’t legally be used to purchase things like beer and cigarettes. They can’t even be used to purchase household essentials like diapers.
The vast majority of food stamp recipients are real people who are struggling for something everyone in America should have access to - enough nutritious food to live an active, healthy life. This isn’t a want. It’s a need. Do we expect our citizens to be able to give their best at work and school if they don’t have enough to eat? And the people affected aren’t just imaginary characters. They could be our neighbors, co-workers or our children’s classmates; and in many cases, they could even be our family members, our friends or ourselves.
If you or someone you know currently receives the SNAP benefit, your voice on this subject has power. I encourage you - and anyone else who cares - to contact your representatives. We can’t change the November cuts. But we can avert the disaster that would ensue from $40 billion more in SNAP cuts over the next 10 years.