As many of you probably know, the Recovery Act increased the maximum food stamp benefit by 13.6%. For a family of four, this has meant as much as $80 a month more for groceries.
The boost was originally supposed to last until the increase was no greater than the cumulative annual increases in food price inflation. That was expected to happen no sooner than some time late in 2018.
Then came the need to extend two expiring parts of the Recovery Act that provided states with some urgently-needed fiscal relief. The bill couldn’t get through the Senate without a pay-for, i.e., some budget changes that would fully offset the costs.
The Democratic leadership ultimately decided to offset nearly half the costs by moving the end date for the food stamp boost back to April 2014.
Next things you know, there was a need to pay for the reauthorized Child Nutrition Act. And the Senate decided again to tap food stamp benefits. This time it lopped five months off the already-foreshortened boost.
The President’s proposed budget for this fiscal year would have put the five months back. But his budget was effectively dead on arrival in Congress.
So as things stand now, food stamp benefits will revert to what they’d have been if adjusted only for inflation in November 2013.
The Congressional Research Service estimates the initial per person loss at somewhere between $10 and $15 a month — an average of about 10%.
This might not seem like a lot. But as I’ve written before, food stamp benefits are egregiously low, even with the boost.
We’ve got new evidence from the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself.
In 2010, it reports, 41.5% of households that got food stamp benefits had “very low food security.” This means that at least one member of the household sometimes had to skimp on meals or skip them altogether because there wasn’t enough money for food.
Now low-income families may have to get along on considerably less. And our anemic economy may lose the biggest bang-for-the-buck stimulus we’ve got.
The Food Research and Action Center has launched a grassroots campaign to get the cut-off months restored, along with a now-expired suspension of a targeted time limit on food stamp benefits.
It has an online letter we can send to the President asking him to restore the two Recovery Act measures as part of his proposed Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
It also encourages us to weigh in with our Members of Congress.
Not much use if we live in the District of Columbia. But we disenfranchised souls can still do our bit by passing the word along to friends and relatives who live anywhere else in the U.S.