Deep cuts to country’s food stamp program kick in as Congress debates more

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Forty-eight million Americans will have their food stamps benefits slashed starting Friday, when a recession-era boost in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) expires.

The move to cut back benefits will be the first wide-scale change to the program affecting nearly every single participant. The 13.6 percent cut comes out to about $36 a month less for a family of four getting government assistance or $420 a year, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Since 2000, the costs for the plan have increased more than 358 percent.

Michael Tanner, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, cites lax eligibility requirements as one of the reasons behind the increase.

Enrollment in the food-stamp benefits also rose during the 2007-2011 recession.

Many anti-poverty groups have warned that cutting the program will leave millions of Americans vulnerable.

“People are living at the margins,” Ellen Vollinger, legal director and SNAP advocate at the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger organization, told Reuters. “It’s not an abstract metric for people. It’s actual dollars to keep food in the refrigerator.”

The slash in the program also means less money for discount grocers, dollar stores and gas stations that rely on low-income shoppers.

SNAP is the largest anti-hunger program in the country.

Negotiations on a wide-ranging farm bill, including cuts to the SNAP program, began Wednesday. Five-year farm bills passed by both the House and the Senate would cut food stamps, reductions that would come on top of the cut that will go into effect Friday. But the two chambers are far apart on the amounts.

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