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Slashing the food stamps program

N.Y. Times, Nov. 1, 2013

By Dorothy J. Samuels

Even as negotiations proceed in Congress over a new farm bill likely to contain a large cut in food stamps, needy Americans who rely on the program are confronting an immediate drop in benefits.

As of today, the boost to the federal food stamps program included in the 2009 Economic Recovery Act expires, abruptly slashing benefit levels that were already inadequate for millions of poor children and their families, as well as impoverished disabled and elderly people, who will now find it significantly harder to afford adequate food.

The callous Republican obsession with eviscerating the program is only partly to blame. Today’s cut is the product of a shabby deal Democrats made in December 2010, which accelerated the sunset of the benefit increase contained in the economic stimulus plan. Essentially, Congressional Democrats, cajoled by the Obama White House, gambled that they could restore the lost money before the cut became effective — a convenient but unrealistic bet given that Republicans were about to take control of the House.

Anti-hunger advocates expressed concern at the time about the bargain and its potential to seriously hurt food-stamp recipients not too far down the road — a worry, unfortunately, that has now become reality.

As a result of today’s cut, a household of three will lose, on average, $29 a month in food stamp benefits. That might not sound like much. But consider that just two months ago, the Agriculture Department reported that 17.6 million households lacked sufficient resources at some point during 2012 to put food on the table. The Census reported that 15 percent of Americans live in poverty.

A newly-released study by the Food Bank for New York City found that even before the Nov. 1 cut, three-quarters of the food-stamp recipients using city pantries and soup kitchens reported that their benefits lasted only through the first three weeks of the month.

And a survey last year by the New York City Coalition Against Hunger found that 63 percent of local food charities were unable to come up with sufficient food to meet demand and were forced to ration food with steps like reducing portion size, closing doors early or turning people away — a situation replicated all across the country and bound to worsen given shrunken monthly benefit allotments.

Far from minor, today’s food stamp cut means more misery for the most vulnerable in New York City and beyond. Just in time for the holiday season.

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