A boost to the nation’s federal food assistance program is set to expire Nov. 1 — and a new report says expiration will be devastating for the 1.8 million Ohioans who use the program.
In 2009, as part of the economic stimulus law, federal food assistance — also known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – increased maximum monthly benefits for food stamp recipients by 13.6 percent.
If the assistance is allowed to expire, a family of three would receive $29 less a month or about $1.40 per meal in 2014.
For Ohioans, that means 16 percent of the state’s population would see nutrition assistance cut by $193 million through September 2014, when the next fiscal year ends, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank.
In all, some 47 million Americans use federal food assistance.
“Not only is it mean-spirited, but it is going to cost us so much in the long run on lost worker productivity, lost educational attainment, increasing health care costs,” said Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks.
It could get worse, she cautions.
Congress has yet to pass a federal farm bill, which includes food stamp spending. The Senate has passed a bill that would reduce federal nutrition assistance by $4 billion over the next decade. The House last month passed a farm bill without the food assistance provision and is attempting to get a food assistance bill passed before the farm bill expires Sept. 30. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., recently suggested a proposal that would cut food assistance by $40 billion during that time.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, said last month that Republicans want to reform the current system, including by making sure there’s a real work requirement for recipients.
“It’s not the number so much as what reforms do you put in place that truly help people who are in need and over time save taxpayers money,” he said.
According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the current food stamp program cost about $81 billion in fiscal year 2012.
Cuts to food stamps could increase the risk of illnesses including diabetes for affected low-income Americans, according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts. That report found that under some of the proposals under consideration in Congress, as many as 5.1 million people could lose food stamp eligibility, including 1.4 million children and nearly 900,000 older adults.
Hamler-Fugitt said the “best-case scenario” may be if Congress can’t pass a farm bill and current food stamp benefits are extended another year.
But if they’re cut further, she said she worries not only about the poor who use the assistance, but for the overall economic impact.
“Grocery store hours will be cut (and) there will be layoffs of people stocking,” she said. “It’ll ripple completely through the food chain.”