On November 1, 2013, Congress failed to renew an increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program. Without this addition to the 2009 stimulus package, 47 million Americans who rely on food stamps to feed themselves and their families will lose as much as $45 per month in areas where the average income is only $16,000. The program itself took a $5 million dollar cut at a time where the rate of food insecurity in the United States is still as high as it was during the financial crisis in 2008.
High food insecurity rates are a key challenge facing lower to struggling middle class families, according to a paper published by the Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution. According to that study, nearly 90% of SNAP recipients live in households with at least one child, one disabled individual, or one elderly individual. More than 20% of children in the United States face food insecurity in 37 states, including the District of Columbia.
According to a Congressional Budget Office calculation, 91% of all SNAP spending goes to participants living at or below the poverty line—which is approximately a $23,550 annual income for a family of four. Proponents of the cuts to the food stamp program argue that the severe cuts, and future cuts, are necessary due to increasing fraud from assistance recipients. This argument is based on the notion that participation in the food stamp program has ballooned due to lenient eligibility rules. However, SNAP participation has historically increased as a result of unemployment rates. From 2007 to 2011, unemployment increased by 94%, resulting in a 70% increase in SNAP enrollment.
The effects of the food stamp cuts have already been seen in communities around the country. In one public school district, students were given a half-day and allowed to go home at noon. However, many children stayed longer so that they could receive their free school lunches. Parents responded that their children were hungry due to the cuts to their food stamp allotments. Congress may continue to make cuts to the program in the future, which likely will continue to affect many more American families.
– Daren Gottlieb