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Food Stamp Cuts: Families Will Face Tough Choices, Says Marion Nestle

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Starting Nov. 1, food stamp recipients will receive less money each month because a temporary $5 billion stimulus provided by the 2009 Recovery Act has expired. For a family of four, that’s a cut of $36 per month.

One in seven Americans, or about 47 million people, depend on the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to help pay for their groceries. The average beneficiary received $133.41 in food stamps per month last year – less than $1.50 per meal. Children, seniors or people with disabilities account for 83% of SNAP benefits and the average SNAP household has a gross monthly income of $744.

Related: Marion Nestle: Americans Aren't Just Fat, They're Hungry Too

“Families will either buy less food or they will buy cheaper food” as a result of the cutback, says Marion Nestle, a widely recognized food expert and author of several books including Why Calories Count. “Food stamps don’t last the entire month. People will have to make much more careful choices in order to make the money go as far as it can.”

SNAP spending has doubled in the past four years and now costs nearly $80 billion a year. Lawmakers in the House passed a bill that slashes SNAP funding by $39 billion over the next 10 years, a 5% cut from the current law. Republicans have also proposed imposing restrictions on the types of food and beverages food stamp benefactors can buy (President Obama said he would veto the House’s plan). Earlier this year the Senate agreed to cut $4 billion from SNAP; both the House and Senate bills would kick at least 3.8 million people out of the program.

Related: How Americans Will Adapt to Lower Living Standards

Nearly 1 in 2 Americans are now living at or near the poverty line according to recent Census Bureau data. Mother Jones, citing research from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, reports that the “13.6% temporary boost in food stamp dollars helped more than half a million Americans.”

“We can’t have people starving in the streets in the United States,” laments Nestle. “That’s just not who we are as a society.”

Grocers, dollar stores and gas stations will also be deeply impacted by the drop in SNAP benefits. Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) are lowering their sales forecasts for the rest of the year because of the “drain on consumer spending," writes The Wall Street Journal. Nestle says food stamp purchases account for 25% to 40% of sales for some Walmarts across the country.

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