Nearly 1 million Louisianans will see their food assistance benefits cut this week, when a temporary boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) expires. The total loss to Louisiana families from November 2013 through September 2014 is projected to be $98 million.
The temporary increase in SNAP benefits was included in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was designed to strengthen the economy and ease hardship for struggling families. The increased funding expires after Oct. 31. In total, more than 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, who receive SNAP will see their food assistance reduced.
For a family of three in Louisiana, the cuts to SNAP will mean a decrease of $29 each month — the equivalent of taking away about 16 meals per month, based on calculations in the Thrifty Food Plan — reducing the average benefit to less than $1.40 per person per meal.
Numerous studies have proven SNAP’s effectiveness at blunting the damaging effects of severe poverty on families, and especially children. The food assistance program served a critical need in Louisiana, which has the nation’s third highest poverty rate and the fourth-highest rate of child poverty. In addition, the number of people who can’t afford healthy food in Louisiana has grown significantly since the Great Recession. Nearly 16 percent of Louisiana households struggled against hunger from 2010 to 2012, compared to 10 percent from 2007 to 2009.
SNAP benefits provided essential help to 1 in 5 Louisianans last year. The program proved successful at keeping families, children and seniors living near the poverty line from going hungry. Overhead costs are low, as are rates of fraud and misuse. Increases in food stamp enrollment over the last five years are not a permanent trend as some critics suggest, but rather a predictable response to the Great Recession.
By making it easier for low-income families to buy healthy food, SNAP reduces the number of people who skip meals or develop unhealthy dietary habits. SNAP also is one of the fastest, most effective ways to stimulate a struggling economy. Every $1 increase in benefits generates about $1.70 in economic activity.
On top of the automatic cuts that take effect this week, the U.S. House of Representatives recently proposed to decrease SNAP funding by an additional $40 billion. Cuts of this magnitude would be devastating to more than 71,000 Louisianans who rely on food assistance and nearly 4 million recipients nationwide, including low-income families with children, seniors and the disabled.
Louisiana lawmakers should reject any additional cuts to the SNAP program – both because it will have a devastating impact on low-income families and because it will hamper the state’s economic development.