NASHVILLE -- Beginning Friday, some 1.3 million low-income Tennessee men, women and children, including an estimated 50,000 military veterans, will see a cut in food stamps as the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's temporary benefit boost ends Nov. 1.
The state's Department of Human Services says the reductions are caused by the end of the federal government's short-term boost in monthly Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits during the recession.
A Tennessee family of four receiving the maximum allotment will see their monthly SNAP benefit cut 5.4 percent or $36, going from $668 to $632, according to the Tennessee Department of Human Services.
Hunger activists and others have called it a "food cliff" that millions nationwide face. Conservative Republicans have criticized the program's high levels of recipients and emphasized the recession-related increase was supposed to be temporary.
According to the state DHS' Sept. 13 figures, there were 680,808 Tennessee families of all sizes receiving SNAP benefits. Figures for Hamilton County show 31,135 families, representing 60,274 people in the program in mid-September.
State officials say that on Oct. 1, the federal government's annual cost-of-living adjustment increased benefits for recipients. But it isn't covering all the reductions.
The Washington-based Center for Budget and Policy Priorities on Monday estimated 50,000 men and women who served in the military are among those affected in Tennessee.
"For low-income veterans, who may be unemployed, working in low-wage jobs, or disabled, SNAP provides an essential support that enables them to purchase nutritious food for their families," the liberal-leaning center said in a new report.
The report said that nationwide "SNAP is a powerful anti-hunger and anti-poverty tool: in 2011, it kept 4.7 million people above the poverty line, including 2.1 million children. SNAP has been shown to reduce hardship and to allow struggling households greater access to food."
Liberals have also touted the increased spending's stimulative impact on the economy during the recession and the nation's slow recovery.
But at the state and national levels, Republicans have criticized the program's historic high level of recipients and the accompanying spending.
The GOP-led U.S. House voted in September to go further, cutting federal aid to the poor through SNAP by $40 billion over 10 years.
On its blog, the conservative Heritage Foundation has criticized the increases and arguments that such spending benefits the overall economy.
"First, food stamps are intended to serve as a temporary safety net for those who face economic hardship, not as an economic stimulus," Heritage says. "To justify food stamps as a stimulus to raise government revenue ignores the long-term economic consequences of welfare spending."
Later this week, members of a House and Senate conference committee are expected to begin to try and resolve differences.