SNAP Will Take a Hit Even Before the Farm Bill Battle Begins

May 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm

The House Agriculture Committee will soon take up a bill to reauthorize federal farm programs, and it’s expected to include even deeper and more damaging cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) than its version from last year.  And, those cuts would deepen the benefit cuts that SNAP participants already face this year.

SNAP benefits will fall for every SNAP household on November 1, when the 2009 Recovery Act’s temporary benefit boost ends.  For a family of three, the cut likely will be $20 to $25 a month — or $240 to $300 over 12 months, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates (see chart).  Our revised paper details the cuts, including the estimated effect in each state.

That’s a serious loss, especially in light of the already very low basic SNAP benefits.  Without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits average only about $1.30 $1.40 (in fiscal year 2014 dollars) per person per meal.  Nutrition experts have long held that these levels are inadequate to meet families’ basic food needs.

These cuts will likely cause hardship for some SNAP participants, who include 22 million children (10 million of whom live in “deep poverty,” with family incomes below half of the poverty line) and over 9 million people who are elderly or have a serious disability.

Moreover, they’ll reduce funds for a program that has proven its effectiveness.

  • SNAP provides a basic nutrition benefit to many low-income Americans. The program has largely eliminated severe hunger and malnutrition in the United States.
  • SNAP is highly responsive to need. As an entitlement, it responds quickly and effectively to support low-income families and communities during times of economic distress. 
  • SNAP is a powerful anti-poverty program. SNAP lifted about 4.7 million Americans above the poverty line in 2011, including about 2.1 million children.  Roughly 91 percent of SNAP benefits go to households with incomes below the poverty line.
  • SNAP is an important work support. The number of low-income working households on SNAP has risen dramatically over the past decade, reflecting both a substantial rise in SNAP participation among eligible low-income working households as well as wage erosion at the low end of the wage scale.
  • SNAP benefits are among the most effective forms of economic stimulus.  In a weak economy, every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates $1.70 in economic activity, according to Moody’s Analytics.
  • SNAP has one of the most rigorous payment error measurement systems of any public benefit program. Its payment error rates are at an all-time low.  In 2010, only 3 percent of all SNAP benefits represented overpayments.

The November benefit cut already will make it tougher for millions of families to put food on the table.  Congress should reject proposals that would increase this burden on our most vulnerable people.

Click here to read our full paper on the Recovery Act cuts, including estimates of the state-by-state impact.

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More About Stacy Dean

Stacy Dean

As Vice President for Food Assistance Policy, Dean works extensively with program administrators, policymakers, and non-profit organizations to improve the food stamp program and provide eligible low-income families easier access to its benefits.

Full bio | Blog Archive | Research archive at

4 Comments Add Yours ↓

Comments are listed in reverse chronological order.

  1. Leslie Weinberg #

    I am curious when SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) was originally developed, and how the expenses per meal were determined. If it dates back to President Lyndon Johnson, and his Fight Against Hunger, costs have certainly increased. Some members of Congress and others have tried to feed themselves well on the SNAP Budget, which will go down with the Sequester. Other cuts will most likely take place as well. Buying starches, noodle soups, pasta and crackers will fill one’s stomach but not be nutritious. Many must rely on Food Pantries, Soup Kitchens, and Social Service Agencies that have access to Food Banks.

    It appears the budget for an individual is the same, no matter where one lives. The costs of living are greater in some places than others.

    Does anyone have answers to my questions?

    Leslie Weinberg

    • CBPP #

      You can find some basic information about SNAP’s history, accomplishments, and current rules in this brief video ( and our backgrounder ( and chart book ( Food stamps began as a pilot program during the Great Depression, but President Carter and Congress greatly expanded it on a bipartisan basis in 1977.

      SNAP benefit levels are generally uniform across the nation but are adjusted each year to reflect changing food costs. The benefit formula assumes that families will spend 30 percent of their net income for food; SNAP provides enough benefits to meet the cost of the “Thrifty Food Plan,” the Agriculture Department’s estimate of a bare-bones, nutritionally adequate diet.

      SNAP isn’t affected by sequestration, but benefits will shrink in November when a temporary benefit boost ends, as my post points out. Also, the farm bill before the House would cut SNAP substantially; see this report for details:

  2. 3

    The battle had already begun. The farm bill spending issue is grossly misunderstood, which is a major factor why it’s such a tough fight. It does little good for me to explain it, as there’s hardly anyone who has any frame of reference for understanding what I say, so poor is farm bill knowledge.

    SNAP is in the farm bill, but really compensates (with other welfare programs,) for the failure of a larger body of economic policies, (minimum vs living wage, unemployment vs full employment) mostly located elsewhere. Lower SNAP funding could only be handled with major changes in minimum wage levels, and discussion of the two should always go together.

    The farm bill pot of money, such as for farm commodity subsidies, works in the same way. Farm commodities “lack price responsiveness” “on both the supply and the demand sides” for the groups of crops grown in the various regions. We fixed that without subsidies in New Deal farm programs, especially 1942-1952 when they were set at “living wage” farm price levels. Congress lowered all of that, under corporate pressure, by about $4 trillion, while paying farmers about $500 billion, for a net reduction of about $3.5 trillion (all adjusted for inflation). That’s ballpark. We could have saved the $500 billion by keeping the earlier programs, so today we need the key “Farm Justice Proposals for the 2012 Farm Bill.” Unfortunately, few farm bill leaders know of them.

  3. Paula Cheeves #

    I feel that the cuts in the few benefits that the nation’s impoverished get is unjustified and seriously immoral. Why don’t the congresspeople willing to make these cuts openly state as Dickens’ character, Ebenezer Scrooge did, “Are there not enough workhouses and prisons to care for the poor? Then why bother me?”

    It is the moral responsibility of any government to care for its people, all of the people,not just those who can afford care. The idea of government is to have a legislative body that will handle the problems that the populous may have regarding hunger, illness, education etc. Governments that have failed in caring for their people have fallen into ruin. Cases in point: the Romans, the Greeks more recently in history, the aristocracy of France and Tsarist Russia.

    When a government disregards the needs of its people, that government becomes null, defunct and unnecessary to the people it is suppose to serve. It is then, that the people will consider a new and different government that will answer to their needs and severely discard the government that doesn’t. Check the history books and see if I am right!

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