When the 1.8 million Pennsylvanians on food stamps wake up on November 1, they will have less money for their breakfast.
A nationwide cut will reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, by $183 million in Pennsylvania and $5 billion nationwide.
Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, said the reduction will average $29 a month for a family of three.
“What it really means for 1.8 million people in Pennsylvania on food stamps is an actual cut in their monthly benefits immediately after that regardless of whether they’ve been on benefits since the beginning of the recession or whether they’ve just became eligible for food stamps last month,” Regal said.
The cut is the result of an expiring provision in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that temporarily boosted SNAP.
Regal said poverty is still roughly at the level it was when the recession began.
“The idea that this was a temporary provision was built on the assumption that the overall economy would be in much better shape by now, and one can argue until the end of time about why that’s not the case and whose fault it is,” Regal said.
Dorothy Rosenbaum, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said researchers have found SNAP benefit levels are inadequate already in terms of being based on unrealistic assumptions on the cost of food, the time it takes to prepare food and the access that low income people have to grocery stores.
“There have been recommendations at the national level for evaluating ways of changing the benefit calculation to ensure households have enough resources to purchase an adequate diet,” Rosenbaum said. “Unfortunately, that kind of research has not been heated on Capitol Hill, there has not been the political interest in doing that.”
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture data, the cuts will take about 21 meals a month away from a family of four and 16 meals from a family of three.
“The downside consequences in peoples’ health, in children’s learning, in life expectancy itself of reducing the safety net for poor people in this country, those consequences are dire and again on simple grounds of humanity, these cuts are the wrong thing to do,” Regal said.
Regal said most people on food stamps are children, elderly or disabled and most of the rest have jobs.
“If there’s one stereotype-breaking issue it’s that understanding that we are talking primarily about people who our society either expects not to be able to work, it’s illegal for them to work because of child labor laws or they’re already working and just not making ends meet,” Regal said.
He noted the study from Moody’s Analytics that reported food assistance is the most productive category of government spending.
“If you think about putting money into building roads and bridges and you think about money being spent on education or you think about money being spent on the war effort in Afghanistan, none of those things do as much for the economy as a dollar spent on food stamps,” Regal said.
The U.S. House is considering deeper cuts to SNAP in the next few weeks.
“House Republican leaders are now talking about adding $20 billion more in cuts, which of course under that approach would take a very bad bill with deep cuts and make it even worse, threatening food assistance to millions more,” Rosenbaum said.