By Erik Wasson
Millions of American food stamp recipients saw their benefits cut on Friday as a scheduled across-the-board reduction was allowed to go into effect.
Both the House and Senate were out of town as the nation went over the so-called “food stamp cliff.”
The cut to the benefits of an estimated 47 million recipients came as a result of the Nov. 1 expiration of provisions in the 2009 Obama stimulus law that temporarily boosted benefits.
Food stamps are being cut by $5 billion this year and a total of $11 billion over the next three years.
An individual receiving the maximum monthly benefits of $189 under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will see an $11 cut while a family of four will see $36 taken out of their monthly benefits. Under the Agriculture Department's often-criticized method for calculating food costs, this means 20 fewer meals for that family this month.
The NAACP denounced Congress Friday for failing to avert the benefit cuts.
"Our elected officials have dropped the ball during a time when too many American families are still suffering from high rates of unemployment and increased homelessness. It is deplorable that in this day and age some politicians are unwilling to take care of their fellow citizens in need," said NAACP Interim President Lorraine Miller.
Some House Democrats have proposed a one-year extension of the increased benefits, but that separate law appears to have no chance of passage. Instead, some compromise might be found in farm bill negotiations.
Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), who serves on the farm bill conference committee, vowed to try to reverse the cuts in the farm bill talks.
“I have heard from families who struggle to put food on the table at the end of each month because of insufficient SNAP benefits,” she said in a statement
“I dread the reality they will face next month when their food runs out even sooner because of this automatic cut. As we discuss the Farm Bill, I will speak for these families and hope to negotiate a better outcome for them.”
The House-passed farm bill has $39 billion in food stamp cuts on top of those already going into effect on Friday, while the Senate-passed version has $4.5 billion.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) on Wednesday held out the possibility that some of the across-the-board cuts could be reversed in exchange for keeping other types of cuts suggested in the House farm bill.
The House bill aims to focus some cuts on able-bodied adults rather than affecting seniors and children, such as by preventing states from waiving work requirements.
Lucas noted that the expiration of the enhanced food stamp benefits came because Democrats, when they were in the majority in 2010, used money from the program to pay for first lady Michelle Obama's anti-obesity efforts.
In addition to arguing over the size of food stamp cuts, farm bill conferees are arguing over how long the program should be extended. The House bill extends the food stamp program for three years and farm subsidies for five, effectively severing the connection between the two parts of the farm bill. Senate Democrats want a five-year extension of both parts.
— This story was updated at 1:04 p.m.