Expiration of Benefit Boost Comes as Congress Continues Debating Even Deeper Cuts to Vital Nutrition Program
A few days before voters decide whether to increase the minimum wage or give Gov. Chris Christie a second term, nearly one million New Jerseyans will see their federal food assistance benefits drop.
A temporary boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) is set to expire October 31, according to new data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discussed in a new issue brief from New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP) and national report from the DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The cut in food assistance is the result of the expiration of a modest boost in benefits to SNAP recipients that policymakers included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to strengthen the economy and ease hardship. It will affect all of the more than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, who receive SNAP. This includes a total of 858,000 New Jerseyans, or about one of every ten residents – of whom 413,000 are children.
For a family of three, that cut will likely mean a reduction of $29 a month – a total loss of $319 for the remaining 11 months of the federal fiscal year. This is a serious injury for families whose benefits, after this cut, will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.
“This small increase in SNAP benefits has helped half a million struggling New Jersey families stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression – a crisis that has not yet fully abated,” says NJPP senior policy analyst Raymond Castro. “For many of these families, this modest assistance is providing a lifeline to those who are struggling to find work, or are working at jobs that do not pay them enough to put food on the table.”
In addition to helping to feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to stimulate a struggling economy. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity.
The across-the-board cuts scheduled for November will reduce the program by $5 billion in fiscal year 2014 alone – New Jersey’s share of the cut will be $90 million. Cuts of that magnitude will have a significant impact on low-income families.
“SNAP has never experienced a reduction in benefits that impacts all participants, including 22 million children nationwide and 415,510 children in New Jersey,” says Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “Given the fact that benefits are already inadequate for many families, these cuts will be particularly painful.”
“Any reduction in SNAP funding will create unimaginable difficulties for children and families across New Jersey who are struggling to emerge from poverty,” adds Jim Jacob, chair of the New Jersey Anti-Poverty Network. “The economy in New Jersey is fragile, our neighbors struggle with unemployment, underemployment, extremely high housing costs and health care issues. SNAP is critical for households in every corner of our state.”
With nowhere else to turn, more struggling New Jerseyans may end up turning to the state’s food banks and soup kitchens, which are already struggling with increased demand brought on by the recession.
“We are here for emergency situations, to help prevent dire outcomes for New Jersey’s neediest families,” says Diane Riley, director of advocacy at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the largest food bank in the state. “But increasingly we are acting as a regular safety net for many residents. These cuts will only exacerbate that trend, and organizations like ours, frankly, won’t be able to pick up the slack.”
On top of these across-the-board cuts to the program, the U.S. House of Representatives recently defeated legislation that would have cut $20 billion from SNAP, eliminating food assistance for nearly two million people. That legislation would have provided strong financial incentives to states to reduce their caseloads. This could leave many families and their children without assistance to put food on the table when they need it most.
The GOP-dominated House is considering and could vote on even deeper cuts to the program in the coming weeks. Food stamp cuts proposed by Republicans could boot over 5 million people off of the program and create health problems that would cost the country more than the cuts save, according to a recent analysis by the Health Impact Project.
“This federal food assistance has been a powerful tool in helping to keep families out of poverty,” says Castro. “The majority of SNAP recipients who are able to work, do so. And for those who can’t or are temporarily unable to find a job, SNAP has helped to give them a leg up. With so many New Jerseyans still out of work or working for less money that they did before, it is certainly not the time to further reduce this already modest assistance to these struggling families.”
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