Next week food stamp recipients will start receiving less money than they're used to, and Congress is debating a bill that could cut benefits even more. Washington bureau reporter Michael Scotto filed the following report for NY1.
As the holiday season approaches, poor families across the country may have a harder time paying for food. That's because extra food stamp funding put in place during the Great Recession is set to expire on November 1.
Anti-poverty advocates say a family of four will see their food stamp benefits slashed by $36 a month.
"It may not sound like a lot to many families, but for those who are struggling in poverty to afford food, it's a huge amount. It can represent days of meals for them," said Stacy Dean of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Since 2008, a growing number of people have had to rely on food stamps to keep from going hungry. Currently, the program has about 48 million participants - an increase of nearly 20 million in five years. The cost is about $80 billion a year.
Those numbers have ignited a heated fight on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are debating larger cuts to the program. A bill passed by the House last month would cut $40 billion from food stamps over the next decade.
A Senate-passed bill would cut $4 billion over the same time period. Congressman Eliot Engel, who opposes the cuts, sits on the panel trying to reconcile the deep differences.
"I'm hoping that there can be some kind of agreement between the House and the Senate, but frankly I don't think there can be," Engel said.
House Republicans are being pushed by Conservative groups to hold firm on the proposed cuts which would be achieved through beefed up rules.
"We need a strong work requirement that would make it mandatory for states receiving federal food stamp dollars to put into place a work requirement for able-bodied adults," said Rachel Sheffield of Heritage Foundation.
Reaching an agreement is a priority of President Barack Obama. And it's possible the negotiations could get wrapped up in contentious talks to reach a budget agreement by the middle of December.