The debate in Washington about cutting federal food assistance for low-income people as part of the fight over the farm bill is getting a lot of attention, but a reduction in food aid for the needy is already kicking in with far less notice.
On Friday, a temporary increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — put in place by Congress to help low-income people get through the Great Recession — expires.
The country’s neediest, including most of the 536,900 Minnesotans receiving government food assistance, will lose about $5 billion from the program popularly known as food stamps.
As of Nov. 1, an individual who receives benefits of $200 will be allocated $189, a decrease of $11. A family of four receiving $668 will receive about $36 less a month.
That decrease, for anyone accustomed to forking over $3 to $4 for a fancy coffee, may not seem like much.
But the Nov. 1 reduction and proposals to cut another $40 billion over 10 years as part of the new farm bill worry advocates for the poor in Minnesota.
“The proposed cuts would increase hunger among Minnesotans who still struggle to put food on the table during the slow economic recovery,’’ says the Rev. Alison Killeen, director of organizing and practical theology with the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.
Further, Minnesota Budget Project Director Nan Madden argues cutting SNAP benefits is bad policy. SNAP, she writes in Minnesota Budget Bites, “is working the way it is supposed to: it grows when the economy is bad and more Americans are struggling; when the economy improves, its cost and caseloads shrink. The right way to reduce SNAP costs is to get the economy going and more people into good jobs.”
On the other hand, Republicans say their legislation, which carves out billions from the $80 billion food-aid program, is necessary to decrease the nation’s debt. They argue the program expanded even as the recession eased and jobless rates declined.
A study by Mark Nord and Mark Prell, published by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, said the temporary food-assistance increase improved the lives of the very poor:
We find that food expenditures by low-income households increased by about 5.4 percent and their food insecurity declined by 2.2 percentage points from 2008 to 2009. Food security did not improve for households with incomes somewhat above the SNAP eligibility range. These findings, based on data from the nationally representative Current Population Survey Food Security Supplement, suggest that the ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] SNAP enhancements contributed substantially to improvements for low-income households.
Research by Elton Mykerezi, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota in the Department of Applied Economics, and colleagues published in The Social Science Journal last month, corroborates the findings of Nord and Prell.
SNAP, by the way, is that program that most everyone keeps calling food stamps, though stamps have gone the way of the blacksmith and are now replaced by an EBT or electronic benefits card that looks a lot like a credit card. The 2008 farm bill renamed the program.