The US Congress on Friday allowed an estimated $5 billion cut to the US federal food stamps program, slashing the social safety net for the poor, elderly and disabled.
Almost 48 million Americans have had their food subsidies cut after a 2009 recession-fighting measure expired Thursday with no congressional action to extend it.
A household of four will see $36 less a month in benefits, as a maximum $668 allotment is cut to $632, according to the US Department of Agriculture, which runs the program.
The food stamp cuts come as the country endures tepid economic growth and persistently high unemployment, while political gridlock in Washington raises uncertainty about fiscal policy in the world’s largest economy.
The government had boosted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits temporarily in 2009 as part of efforts to help the most vulnerable weather the worst US economic crisis since the 1930s.
But the extra SNAP benefits enshrined in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act fell by the wayside this week as a bitterly divided Congress resumed budget negotiations.
SNAP is a major part of the five-year Farm Bill, which the Senate and the House of Representatives began negotiating on Wednesday.
The Republican-controlled House has been pushing for cutbacks in SNAP spending as part of a strategy to cut the US deficit.
But Democrats say the program is still vital.
“For American families, SNAP provides a lifeline when they face an economic disaster,” said Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate’s agriculture committee, said as the Senate-House negotiations team met.
“For those getting food help, that means every child, every senior citizen, every disabled veteran, every person who’s lost their job will have a more difficult time putting food on their tables.”
As of July, 47.6 million people were in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) , an increase of 1.7 percent from a year ago, and monthly benefits rose 0.4 percent to $6.3 billion, according to USDA data.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency for Congress, the SNAP program has grown significantly between 2007 and 2012, “largely related to the severe recession and slow recovery.”
The number of people receiving SNAP benefits jumped from about 26 million to 47 million, and annual spending more than doubled from $35 billion to $80 billion, the CBO said.