Lawmakers are working to pass a farm bill before they take their holiday break, but proposed cuts to the 80-billion dollar a year food stamp program are holding up the process.
In November $5 billion in extra funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, expired. It was part of the 2009 economic stimulus. That reduction means families are getting less each month. Now, with threats of more cuts, area food banks are bracing for greater demand by their clients.
"The need is growing. We distributed 20 percent more in the community last year than we did the year before because people are moving into Central Texas," Hank Perret, president of the Capital Area Food Bank, said.
The November cut in funding dropped the average amount available per meal from $1.50 to less than $1.40.
"While the numbers per family may look small, it's on the order of $5 billion dollars a year across the country,” Perret said. “That's huge, that's absolutely huge."
New talks of cutting additional funding from the food stamp program are putting even more stress on the local food pantry, according to its president.
"As those SNAP benefits get reduced or even taken away, they will get in the food line either sooner in the month than they have been, or if they haven't been in the food line, they will come in the food line,” Perret said. “Our problem just gets exacerbated."
The proposed cuts mainly fall along party lines. Democrats say they're standing firm against the deepest reductions while Republicans say the program has grown too big and must be overhauled.
"Our goal is to get the Senate to agree on reforms to nutrition assistance that stop program abuse and ensure your taxpayer dollars are going to families in need—not people who are gaming the system," Texas Republican Congressman Randy Neugebauer said in a statement on his website.
But Perret says cuts to SNAP aren't his only concern. There are also talks about reducing the emergency food assistance program. His food bank gets about one third of its supply from that fund each year.
"We could have almost a double or triple whammy here where people are getting less benefits and we could end up getting less food from the federal government,” Perret said. “That would just create the perfect storm."
Farm Bill negotiators are working against a New Year's deadline which is when some dairy subsidies are schedule to expire. Should they expire, consumers could expect to pay more for a gallon of milk.