HELENA – All of the nearly 130,000 Montanans on food assistance will see reductions in benefits Nov. 1 when a temporary increase to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ends, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.
This would result in an estimated 8 percent reduction in monthly benefits for those in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps.
The average benefit cut would amount to $10 a month per person on SNAP, said Jackie Semmens, a policy analyst for the Montana Budget and Policy Center, an advocacy group based in Helena.
Last month, the average SNAP benefit per Montana recipient was $124 a month, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said.
In July, 129,450 Montanans received SNAP benefits, the state agency said.
At issue is the scheduled ending in November of the temporary boost to SNAP. It was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the 2009 federal stimulus law, which was intended to strengthen the economy and ease hardships.
About 47 million Americans, including 22 million children, draw SNAP benefits.
A Montana family of three will have $29 less a month to put food on the table if the temporary boost ends, Semmens said.
“This increase in SNAP benefits has meant tens of thousands of families in Montana do not have to choose between buying medicine or cooking dinner, keeping the lights on or feeding kids breakfast,” Semmens said. “As we are still climbing out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, now is not the time to cut back on a program that benefits Montana workers, families and economy.”
The cuts scheduled for November would reduce the SNAP program here by $13 million in fiscal 2014, Semmens said. About 55,000 children and 9,000 seniors in Montana rely on the program.
“SNAP keeps people out of poverty,” Semmens said. “The majority of recipients, who are able to work, do. And for those who are struggling to find work, or work at a job that doesn’t pay enough, SNAP is a vital lifeline.”
These benefits, she said, also help famers and grocery stores sell their goods to customers who otherwise might not be able to afford them.
The U.S. House recently defeated a bill that would have cut $20 billion from SNAP, eliminating food assistance for nearly 2 million people.
The House also voted recently to separate SNAP out of the farm bill, but Semmens said she assumes Congress won’t eliminate the program.
“Never before has SNAP experienced such across-the-board cuts that would impact all participants – the working, the elderly, the disabled and even children,” Semmens said.