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October 30, 2013

For Halloween, Congress Gives Out SNAP Cuts

Halloween is the spookiest day of year, but for hundreds of thousands of children living in Virginia and across the country, the day after Halloween will be even scarier. On Friday, Nov. 1, more than 415,000 children in Virginia – about 1 in every 4 kids – may see less in their lunch box.

To help ease hardship caused by the Great Recession and to boost the economy, Congress included a modest increase to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Even though the state’s unemployment rate remains higher than it was before the recession and many people continue to struggle, this enhanced benefit will expire for all SNAP recipients at the stroke of Midnight, Oct. 31.

This means that a mother with two children will get $29 less each month to help buy food at her local grocery store. Without the additional assistance, SNAP will only provide $1.40 for each meal for each person, causing a family of three to lose about 16 meals each month, based on the cost of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s “Thrifty Food Plan.”

Many who receive SNAP struggle to pay for basic necessities like shelter and food, especially in high cost areas of the state like Northern Virginia. Nationally, about 80 percent of households that receive SNAP live below the poverty line – roughly $19,500 for a family of three – and about 40 percent of recipients live at half of the poverty line. Research shows that ARRA’s boost to SNAP has helped parents provide enough food for their families throughout the recession and the continuing weak recovery.

But more cuts could be on the way. In addition to the decrease in assistance starting this Friday, Congress is currently debating proposals from the Senate and the House that would slash SNAP even further. The House bill whacks nearly $40 billion from the food program over the next 10 years reducing or eliminating food assistance for at least 68,000 Virginians. The Senate bill trims a more modest $4 billion over 10 years. That’ll still hurt, but not as much. Right now, a select group of legislators from the House and the Senate are meeting to try to iron out the differences between their two bills.

Tomorrow, kids across Virginia will dress up as ghosts, ghouls and gremlins, but the House plan and the prospect of an empty cupboard are the real frights. Congress should stick with the Senate proposal and help make sure Virginia’s children have the food they need.

–Jeff Connor-Naylor, Program Director


The Commonwealth Institute

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