People who rely on food stamps to support their household budgets are going to get a 13 percent cut in their benefits on November 1, as a key provision in the 2009 stimulus expires. But don't worry, low income people: the USDA website has tips on how you can avoid debilitating malnutrition.
Please note: this reduction is not related to the Republican-backed push to slice $4 billion out of funding for what's technically known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Instead, it's due to the expiration of part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That bill (better known as the stimulus) increased SNAP benefits during the worst of the recession. Now that the recession is over, however tepidly, the boost is rescinded. This chart of per-person benefits since 1988 shows the ARRA bump in 2009. (The numbers below are adjusted for inflation.)
That graphic also shows how the benefits have already been trimmed. While the USDA's explanation of the reduction points out that individual benefits will fluctuate depending on the size of household, income, and so on, it estimates that the average household will lose $36 a month. The graph below shows what that means for households over the past few years.
NBC News interviewed Stacy Dean, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“For those of us who spend $1.70 a day on a latte this doesn’t seem like a big change, but it does kind of really highlight that millions of families are living on an extremely modest food budget,” she said.
Another expert NBC spoke with points out that the cut brings SNAP benefit levels in line with pre-2009 levels — in other words, the relatively flat part of that first graph above. Which is true — but for families that rely on the benefits in order to cover food costs, losing 13 cents on every dollar is a significant adjustment.
But the USDA — whose hands are tied on such issues, of course — does provide one resource in its FAQ. "How can I eat healthy on a low budget?" it prompts, responding: "Here are some places you can find tips to help you prepare healthy meals on a low budget." One site that it links: Eat Right When Money's Tight. The last question on the FAQ points people in need of immediate food assistance to local food pantries.
The effects of the cut vary by state. We used data from the Census Bureau to map how food stamp use changes by state. In each map below, a darker color signifies a higher number. So, for example, no state has more benefit recipients than Texas. But on a per-household basis, the most food stamp recipients live in Oregon. The state with the most households with kids on food stamps is California. The most people on disability? West Virginia. And the most people who also worked at some point during 2012? Wyoming.
For everyone who relies on SNAP in each state, the effect is the same: Less money to spend on food, just in time for Thanksgiving.
Click to show:
- Percent of households on SNAP in state
- Percent of households with resident who is 60-plus
- Percent of households with resident who is 18 or younger
- Percent of households with resident who has a disability
- Percent of households with resident who worked last year