(UPI) -- Food stamp benefits will drop today for millions of Americans who depend on the assistance to pay for food each month, as a temporary increase from 2009 expires Friday.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funding falls automatically by $5 billion beginning November 1 as the 2014 fiscal year begins, and drops against by another $6 billion over the next two years.
Some 47 million people -- about 14 percent of U.S. households -- receive aid from the SNAP program, which costs about $80 billion per year. Earlier this summer, House Republicans voted to strip the nutrition assistance policy from the farm bill, where it had traditionally provided political counterbalance to the agricultural subsidies unpopular with many Democrats.
The House version of legislation would strip $39 billion from the program, while the Senate passed a bill that would shave off $4 billion. So far, they have failed to come to an agreement.
While the cuts beginning Friday seem small overall, for a family depending on the assistance, it could mean a dramatic shift.
For a family of four, payment will shrink from $668 per month to $632. The Department of Agriculture allocates an average of $1.40 per meal -- meaning that family will have 21 fewer meals each month.
"The cuts are going to make millions of people hungry," said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, a not-for-profit public policy firm. "It's going to send people into a charitable system that's already overwhelmed and screaming for help itself. And it will make life harder and worse for millions of children, seniors, veterans and people with disabilities."
Analysts at Moody's say the cuts in SNAP spending also impacts the economy as a whole: on average, every SNAP dollar spent generates $1.74 in local economic activity.
Before the recession began, in 2007, some 26 million people were on food stamps, a figure that has nearly doubled as the economy went into free fall, then endured a slow recovery.
The cuts to SNAP are expected to slow that even further, shaving 0.2 percentage points from annualized consumption growth in the fourth quarter of 2013 and 0.1 percentage point off the annual growth rate of the GDP, according to Michael Feroli, the chief United States economist for JPMorgan Chase.
And if, as seems likely, the emergency unemployment benefits expire on January 1, growth could fall another 0.4 percentage points next year.