By Erik Wasson
Millions of people are in for a shock at the end of the week when their food stamp benefits will be cut across the board.
There is little chance that Congress will act to avert what hunger activists call the “food stamp cliff” — a cut to benefits that will affect some 47 million beneficiaries, including children and the elderly.
For a family of four, the cut will be $36 per month, or about 20 meals under the Department of Agriculture’s estimate for the cost of a “thrifty meal.” Benefits for single adults will drop $11, to $189 per month.
“We have never seen a cut like this affecting all beneficiaries,” said Lisa Davis of the food bank network Feeding America. “With the government shutdown and other national and international issues going on, many people have no idea this is coming.”
Davis said that food banks are bracing for an influx of the needy as the holiday season approaches and are concerned about keeping up with demand after donations wane in January.
“We’re hugely concerned … this will affect 23 million kids,” said Tom Nelson of Share Our Strength, a group focused on child hunger. “At a minimum we can’t accept more cuts.”
Conservatives argue that food stamp spending has spiraled out of control under Obama, creating a disincentive to work and ballooning the budget deficit.
Food stamp cuts have emerged as the flashpoint in the fight between the House and Senate over farm bill legislation.
Hunger groups are fighting a House proposal to cut an addition $40 billion from food stamps in the farm bill. Those cuts come primarily from provisions that would make it harder to qualify for food stamps when receiving other aid, such as home heating assistance, and by stopping states from waiving work requirements.
Conferees from the House and Senate will begin negotiating the farm bill on Oct. 30.
Republicans defend the proposed $40billion cut, and say that even after the “food stamp cliff” is tacked on, projected spending on food stamps will never return to pre-recession levels.
Republicans also argue that overall means-tested welfare benefits will continue to rise even as the cuts take effect.
“Welfare spending at the end of this year will total out to $217 billion more than welfare spending in 2008,” said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
He added that in some states total benefits exceed $40,000.
“The current structure of welfare in America depresses cash wages and punishes work. Our compassion should compel us to reform welfare and promote wage growth," Miller said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said the food stamp cliff was ignored by Congress because of the fiscal fights that gripped Washington.
“Members haven’t been talking about it but I’m talking about it,” she said. “Budget negotiations, sequester, the government shutdown. These are big issues but the food stamp cut should also be an issue.”
But while DeLauro called the cuts “deplorable,” she conceded Congress wouldn’t be reversing them.
“It is not going to be averted,” she said.
Instead, the action appears to be in the conference committee on the farm bills. The Senate version cuts $4 billion from the program, on top of the reductions going into effect on Nov. 1.
“We have to fight any cuts in the farm bill,” DeLauro said.