CONCORD, N.H. — A temporary increase in food stamps expires Oct. 31, meaning for millions of Americans, the benefits that help put food on the table won’t stretch as far as they have for the past four years.
Food stamps — actually the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — go to 47 million Americans a month, almost half of them children and teenagers.
Every week is a struggle for many, who are living paycheck to paycheck and having to decide what gets paid.
Starting in 2009, the federal stimulus pumped $45.2 billion into SNAP, increasing what would have been a monthly benefit of $588 to $668 for an average household of four. In November, that same family will start getting $632 a month, about a 5 percent cut.
The benefits, which go to 1 in 7 Americans, fluctuate based on factors including food prices, inflation and income.
Families and providers worry that the expiration of the stimulus bump comes at a particularly bad time:
— Though Census figures from September show poverty remains stuck at around 22 percent, in some states the number of children living in poverty is climbing.
— The House voted to cut almost $4 billion a year from the roughly $80 billion-a-year program in an effort to find savings in the budget. A Senate bill would cut around $400 million a year.
— In cold weather states, even a slight decrease in the benefit can trigger a decision between heating and eating. Heating fuel prices are expected to increase this year too, the government warned this week.
And the program could face another shortfall if the government is shuttered past Nov. 1.
But the stimulus was never intended to be a permanent source of money, said former New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg. He opposed the stimulus, calling it at the time “a great deal of money not well spent.”
“All stimulus funding was to be temporary,” said Gregg, now the CEO of a banking industry group.
Edlyn Contee, 61, of Oakland, Calif., will lose $11 from the $200 she gets every month in food stamps.
“That’s three days’ worth of food for me,” Contee said.