More than 47 million Americans who receive food stamps will see less money in their accounts starting Friday, as a temporary benefit passed as part of the 2009 economic stimulus runs out.
The end of the benefit means that beginning Nov. 1 a family of four receiving nutrition assistance will get $36 less a month.
The benefits, currently used by 1 in 7 Americans, fluctuate based on factors that include food prices, inflation and income. The rolls have swelled in recent years as the economy has slumped.
Many people signed up for the food stamp program following the recession that hit the country in 2007. As a result, it has more than doubled in cost since 2008, now costing almost $75 billion a year. That large increase in spending has turned the program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, into a target for House Republicans looking to reduce spending.
Many Republicans now want to cut the program beyond the reductions that begin Friday.
Legislation passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives would cut food stamps by an additional $4 billion annually and tighten eligibility requirements. The House bill would also end government waivers that have allowed able-bodied adults without dependents to receive food stamps indefinitely, and would allow states to put broad new work requirements in place.
A Senate farm bill would cut a tenth of the House amount, with Democrats and President Barack Obama opposing major cuts.
It is not clear how close Democrats and Republicans are to reaching any agreement on a farm bill, which in addition to funding the food stamp program provides various forms of support for farmers and incentives for growing certain crops.
As Congress debates the cuts to the program, charities say they are already preparing for the farm bill reductions as well as the changes taking place Friday.
"Charities cannot fill the gap for the cuts being proposed to SNAP," said Maura Daly of Feeding America, a network of the nation's food banks. "We are very concerned about the impact on the charitable system."
Daly said food banks may have to as much as double their current levels of distribution if the House cuts were enacted.
But even without the proposed House cuts, many are warning that Americans will feel the pain starting Friday.
"Thirty-six dollars is significant," said Marilyn Tomasi, spokeswoman for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. "It might not be significant for some, but it certainly is to a struggling family who is hungry. You could have a whole chicken dinner once a week for that."
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press