A reduction in funding for the federal food stamp program that was effective on Nov. 1 is really just the end point in a federal nstimulus program that began in the spring of 2009.
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, that funding is separate and apart from cost-of-living increases that have also been built into the program, and from the fight in the U.S. Congress over funding for the entire program.
“In April 2009, the federal government increased food stamp benefits by 13.6 percent to help stimulate the economy,” explained Tom Shanahan, spokesperson for IDHW. “This stimulus funding expired Oct. 31.”
But while the net effect of the stimulus funding expiration results in a slight reduction in the amount of benefits that each recipient receives, there have nonetheless been other increases to the program along the way.
According to Shanahan, the maximum food stamp benefit a single person can receive in Idaho is $200 a month, and with the expiration of the extra “stimulus” increase the benefit reduces to about $189. The minimum food stamp payment for a single person is $16 a month, which has now been reduced to $15.
“Because there have been cost-of -living increases adjusted in the food stamp benefits each year since April 2009, the net impact on the stimulus funding expiring is about 5 percent. This will vary slightly because of household circumstances related to income, rent, utilities, etc., but generally people received about 5 percent less in their November benefit payment.”
The food stamp program—more technically referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP—was began in 1964. Initially created by Congress and President Lyndon Johnson, its intent was to provide financial assistance for low income people for the purchase of food products. The benefit program is funded with federal tax dollars and is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The benefits are distributed by individual state governments, with both state and federal tax dollars used to fund that distribution.
Overall funding for the program has fallen under scrutiny in Washington, as a split among the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives has halted additional funding for the program beyond the calendar year 2014. While funding for food stamps has historically been built-in to a broader funding bill for agricultural concerns (generally referred to as a farm bill,) a portion of Republicans in the U.S. House wants funding for food stamps to be detached from a farm bill, and for food stamps funding to be legislated separately.
In August of this year, a committee of the Idaho State Legislature heard testimony from spokespersons representing both Congressman Mike Simpson, and Congressman Raul Labrador, on the matter. While Labrador has voted to detach food stamps funding from the farm bill and has advocated for overall reductions in food stamp funding, Simpson voted earlier this year to support the funding of food stamps via the every-five-years farm bill.
Federal funding for the program has been allocated and remains in place through calendar year 2014.