An automatic cut to the food stamp program--known as SNAP--will go into effect today after the temporary expansion from a 2009 stimulus expires, meaning about 47 million people will need to dramatically alter their food budgets.
The program may see more cuts over the next several years as well, as lawmakers intend to tighten restrictions on who can qualify. House Republicans have already voted on a bill that would cut around $39 billion from SNAP over the next ten years. According to the Washington Post, there would be two major changes:
First, it would reinstate limits on benefits for able-bodied, childless adults aged 18 to 50. These recipients would only be able to collect limited benefits — up to three months over a three-year period — unless they worked more than 20 hours per week or enrolled in job-training programs. The second big change is that the House bill would restrict states' abilities to determine a person's eligibility for food stamps based in part on whether they qualify for other low-income benefits. This is known as "categorical eligibility" and has generally allowed families just above the poverty line to receive food stamps if they have unusually high housing costs or are facing other hardships.
The way the cuts affect individuals will vary, because there is no set amount per family, but it's estimated that families will see a reduction in their benefits by 5 to 8%. Several states have started referring residents to churches and food banks to fill the gaps, but those organizations are already stretched to the limit.
“Food banks are really being hit,” said Lynn Brantley, president of the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington. “With the drop in commodities, the higher cost of food and the higher cost of gasoline, we have to be ever-creative at working at ways to fulfill a tremendous gap.”