We’ve all heard about the fiscal cliff, the shutdown and debt ceiling deadline but hardly anyone has heard of the food stamp cliff. This newest deadline will take place on November 1st when cuts to the food stamp allowance will go into effect.
The food stamp cliff will be precipitated by an end to a funding increase that Democrats wrapped into President Obama’s 2009 stimulus law.
Even the biggest supporters of food stamps, the Democrats, are not pressing for emergency legislation, their standard operating procedure for these periodic crises.
Conservatives argue that food stamp spending has spiraled out of control under Obama, creating a disincentive to work and ballooning the budget deficit. Food stamp cuts have emerged as the flashpoint in the fight between the House and Senate over farm bill legislation.
Hunger groups are fighting a House proposal to cut an addition $40 billion from food stamps in the farm bill. Those cuts come primarily from provisions that would make it harder to qualify for food stamps when receiving other aid, such as home heating assistance, and by stopping states from waiving work requirements.
“Welfare spending at the end of this year will total out to $217 billion more than welfare spending in 2008,” said Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
For a family of four, the cut will be $36 per month, or about 20 meals under the Department of Agriculture’s estimate for the cost of a “thrifty meal.” Single adults will see their monthly benefits reduced to $189 per month, for a cut of $11.
“We have never seen a cut like this affecting all beneficiaries,” said Lisa Davis of the food bank network Feeding America. “With the government shutdown and other national and international issues going on, many people have no idea this is coming.”
Meanwhile, the House-Senate conference committee is scheduled to start meeting on October 30th in an attempt to reconcile the different versions that each chamber passed on the Farm Bill.
The Republican-led House proposed a $40 billion cut to the nutrition program, while the Senate bill cuts $4.5 billion.
Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), one of the lawmakers selected by the House Democrats negotiate, called the cuts, particularly those in the House, unacceptable. “The farm bill should not be making people hungry,” he said.
Mr. McGovern said he has heard from a number of groups urging members of Congress to resist cuts to the food stamp program. “It’s going to be a fight,” he said, adding that if the program’s opponents insist on such huge cuts, “they’re going to ensure that there will be no farm bill.”
If the two chambers can’t come to an agreement then all spending reverts to 1949 levels. That would result in significant increases in government spending on farm support programs. There are a number of other divisive issues in both versions of the Farm Bill that will cause the negotiations to be long and drawn out.