Funding Cut to Nutrition Assistance Impacts Over a Million Pa. Children, Seniors, and People With Disabilities
Co-released with Public Citizens for Children and Youth
HARRISBURG, PA (October 31, 2013) — A major funding cut to federal nutrition assistance takes effect Friday, impacting 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Washington, D.C. The cut amounts to 21 lost meals per month for a family of four.
The benefit reductions will disproportionately impact the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, including 766,000 children and 494,000 seniors and people with disabilities. 59,300 veterans in Pennsylvania will also see a decline in benefits.
Nutrition assistance is our nation’s first line of defense against hunger and a powerful tool to help keep families out of poverty. Benefits are modest, offering many Pennsylvania families a crucial bridge in this slow economic recovery.
The Nov. 1 cut is the result of an expiring provision in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that temporarily boosted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP — formerly known as food stamps) ) to strengthen the economy and ease hardship in the wake of the recession.
“This small increase in food assistance has been a lifeline for working parents and seniors whose income isn’t enough to put food on the table,” said Sharon Ward, Director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. "It has allowed many Pennsylvania households to stay afloat during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression."
In addition to helping to feed hungry families, SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective ways to spur the economy. Every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity. Benefits boost demand for farm produce, helping to keep our nation’s farms strong.
All of the more than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, who receive SNAP benefits will be affected by the across-the-board cuts taking effect Nov. 1. The cut will reduce SNAP benefits by $5 billion total in the remaining months of the fiscal year (November 2013-September 2014), including $183 million in Pennsylvania.
Nearly 66 cents of every dollar cut in Pennsylvania ($120 million) will reduce the benefits of households with children. Another 37 cents out of every dollar cut ($68 million) will reduce benefits for Pennsylvanians who are elderly or living with disabilities.
The cuts may force some Pennsylvanians to choose between food and other priorities. Ruth Vesa, a 78-year-old widow in Pittsburgh, said in August when the cuts were announced: "I’m very thankful for the food stamp program because it enables me to have good food to eat and not be worried about my medical prescriptions. Otherwise I would have to make a choice. Any cuts to the program would be hurtful to me personally."
For a family of three, the cut will likely mean a reduction of $29 a month — $319 for the remaining 11 months of the fiscal year. This is a serious loss for families whose benefits, after this cut, will average less than $1.40 per person per meal.
This cut will be the equivalent of taking away 21 meals per month for a family of four or 16 meals for a family of three, based on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ calculations using the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Thrifty Food Plan (the cost for a family of four to purchase and prepare a bare-bones diet at home).
Additional cuts to SNAP could be on the way. In September, the U.S. House narrowly approved legislation that would cut $39 billion in SNAP funding over the next decade. The Senate has not taken up the bill.
A cut that large, if enacted, would deny SNAP to approximately 3.8 million low-income people in 2014 and to an average of nearly 3 million people each year over the coming decade, according to Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates. Those who would be thrown off the program include many low-income children, seniors, and families that work for low wages.
"Nutrition assistance has been a powerful tool in helping to keep families out of poverty and putting dollars into the economy," said Kathy Fisher, Director of Family Economic Security for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. "Many working families simply earn too little, so SNAP helps them make ends meet. For them, and for those who can’t work or are temporarily unable to find a job, these cuts are further damaging an already frayed safety net."
 The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates of the number of people affected in an average month of fiscal year 2014 and dollar amount for the remaining 11 months of fiscal year 2014, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) SNAP data and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) May 2013 Baseline.
 The total number of Pennsylvania children enrolled in SNAP as of September 2013 is lower than the estimate of 766,000 Pennsylvania children affected in an average month of fiscal year 2014.