WASHINGTON — More than 47 million Americans who get food stamps will see their benefits decrease starting today, just as Congress has begun weighing more cuts to the program.
Starting in November, a temporary benefit from the 2009 economic stimulus that boosts food-stamp dollars no longer will be available.
For a family of four, the reduction means about $36 less per month. For a family of three, it’s a cut of about $29 a month.
The benefits, which 1 in 7 Americans receive, vary on factors including income, food prices, and inflation.
The rolls have swelled as the economy struggled in recent years, with the stimulus giving higher benefits and many people signing up for the first time.
As a result, the program has more than doubled in cost since 2008, costing nearly $80 billion a year. That has turned the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, into a target for House Republicans looking to trim spending.
The cuts affect about 1.8 million Ohioans and nearly 1.8 million in Michigan.
“Thirty-six dollars is significant,” said Marilyn Tomasi of the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. “It might not be significant for some, but it certainly is to a struggling family who is hungry. You could have a whole chicken dinner once a week for that.”
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks said she expects the program will end up taking more hits.
A farm bill in Congress could cut food stamps by up to $40 billion over the next decade, she said.
The federal food stamp program distributed $242 million in benefits to Ohioans in July, according to the most recent data from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
In Lucas County, nearly 97,000 residents will be affected.
Not all families receive their benefits on the first of the month, so many will not notice the change immediately, said Deb Ortiz-Flores, director of Lucas County Job and Family Services. She said agency officials have been doing all they can in recent months to prepare clients.
Lucas County issues about $13 million a month in these dollars. The reduction will translate into a loss of more than $8 million a year that no longer will go into the local economy, Ms. Ortiz-Flores said.
In Toledo, the Seagate Food Bank of Northwest Ohio anticipates more need, said Mindy Rapp, operations and program manager. “I’m not sure what impact we are going to see, but we are gearing up,” she said. “A few dollars may mean the world to some families, but to other families it may be minor.”
In Washington, talks on a wide-ranging farm bill, including cuts to SNAP, began Wednesday. Five-year farm bills passed by both the House and the Senate would cut food stamps, reductions that would come on top of the cut that takes effect today.
The two chambers are far apart.
Legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House would cut food stamps by another $4 billion a year and tighten eligibility. It also would end government waivers that have let able-bodied adults without dependents receive food stamps indefinitely and allow states to put in place broad work requirements.
The Senate bill would cut a tenth of the House amount; Democrats and President Obama oppose major cuts.
Farm-state legislators have pushed the farm bill for more than two years, and Wednesday’s conference negotiations represented the opening round in final talks.
If a bill is not passed by year’s end and current law is not extended, certain dairy supports would expire that could raise milk prices.
The biggest obstacle to a final bill is the two parties’ distance over food stamps. U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas (R., Okla.), House Agriculture Committee chairman, said he hoped to find common ground, but GOP leaders such as Rep. Eric Cantor (R., Va.) have insisted on higher cuts.
Blade Staff Writer Marlene Harris-Taylor contributed to this report.