Millions of food stamp recipients can expect to see their benefits reduced beginning in November—and that could end up being just the beginning of deeper cuts to the food stamp program.
The modern-day food stamp plan, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is scheduled to scale back benefits for all recipients next month because a recession-era boost in benefits is expiring.
The cut comes as lawmakers also are considering billions of dollars of cuts to the overall SNAP program, which has grown substantially in recent years amid the weak economy and high unemployment.
The program is now serving more than 23 million households, or nearly 48 million people, according to the most recent government data through June. The average monthly benefit is about $275 per household, according to the USDA.
The exact reduction that families will see beginning Nov. 1 depends on the recipients' situation, but a family of four with no changes in circumstance will receive $36 less per month, according to the USDA.
Stacy Dean, vice president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said her analysis found that the change will mean that the average benefit will go from about $1.50 per person, per meal each month to about $1.40 per person, per meal.
"For those of us who spend $1.70 a day on a latte this doesn't seem like a big change, but it does kind of really highlight the millions of families living on an extremely modest food budget," she said.
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Others are less worried about the immediate cuts. Parke Wilde, associate professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition at Tufts University, said that in real dollars, the cuts brings the program's aid levels back in line with where they were in the mid-2000s, before benefits were boosted as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
"That's neither great nor terrible," Wilde said.
He said the bigger issue is the debate in Congress over whether, and how much, the SNAP program could be cut in years to come. The House of Representatives passed a bill in mid-September that would eliminate about $39 billion form the SNAP budget over 10 years, while the Senate has approved a bill that makes much smaller cuts to the program.