Additional funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) provided under the 2009 stimulus bill will expire in three weeks, trimming beneficiaries’ finances just in time for the added budgetary strains of winter.
Congress raised the maximum allowable SNAP benefit on a temporary basis in 2009 in an effort to protect needy families and boost economic activity. SNAP is among the most efficient ways the government can achieve each of those goals, with one of the highest rates of economic return and lowest rates of fraud and abuse of any safety net program. It also lifted 4 million people out of poverty last year. The Recovery Act measure raised the benefits ceiling by 13.6 percent, but due to lower than expected food price inflation the benefit boost will end in November. The magnitude of the cut ranges from $36 a month for a family of four to $11 a month for a single person.
For families like Meghan Frye’s, the maximum benefit will fall by $20 per month. A Syracuse Post-Standard story about Frye, who works full time but still relies on $150 in monthly SNAP funds to help feed herself and her daughter Essence, caught at least one nearby family’s attention. Roberta Morgan decided to send the Fryes a gift card to help with food costs, and when her 7-year-old daughter Helaina heard that the Fryes can’t afford dessert she insisted on sending $10 from her own piggy bank along with a hand-written sticker-covered note to Essence.
In northern places like Syracuse, the expiring Recovery Act food stamps boost comes at an especially difficult time. “In cold weather states, even a slight decrease in the benefit can trigger a decision between heating and eating,” the Associated Press notes. The program that helps people like the Fryes keep their homes heated is also at risk of being unable to serve those who need it thanks to the combined strain of budget cuts and the funding uncertainty created by the ongoing government shutdown, as ThinkProgress previously reported. The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) has long been linked to SNAP, with eligibility for LIHEAP used as a shortcut for enrolling in the food stamps program. That linkage, known as categorical eligibility, streamlines the administration of the food stamps program and saves states money, but Republicans want to end the practice. Much of the $40 billion cut to food stamps that House conservatives passed earlier this fall comes from ending categorical eligibility.
The rest of the House’s cuts come through changes to the requirement that able-bodied food stamps recipients find work or attend job training programs. Those same work training programs will be shuttered in the coming days due to the government shutdown.