America hurtled past the "hunger cliff" deadline Friday and whacked the country's 47 million food stamp recipients with an across the board cut.
The recession-era increase to food stamp funding in 2009 automatically expired Friday, removing $5 billion from the program. This means the average four-person household on food stamps will receive $36 less for the month of November. That might not sound like much, but when the average monthly disbursement amounts to less than $3 per day for each family member, a $36 monthly cut means a lot of lost meals.
Charities, already struggling with historic levels of demand for their services, are now bracing for the even greater food stamp cuts they fear might be coming.
"Don't romanticize charity, we can't make up for these cuts," Margarette Purvis, president and CEO of Food Bank For New York City, told MSNBC.com in September. "No one is more afraid of these cuts than charity, because we cannot cover it."
Negotiations began this week between the House and Senate on the 2013 Farm Bill as the two sides try to reconcile their differences, including on food benefits for the country's poor. The Senate version of the bill would cut about $4 billion more from food stamps over the next decade. But the House bill would cut $39 billion, causing nearly four million people to lose eligibility for the program.
Democrats made clear their opposition to the House bill's deep cuts In the first meeting of the conference committee on Wednesday.
"Our farmers deserve a farm bill, America deserves a farm bill, but I will not support a bill that makes hunger in America worse," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.
Given the likelihood of billions in cuts no matter which side wins, progressive Democrats seem limited to simply trying to blunt the damage. The only alternative would be to block the passage of a new Farm Bill, forcing Congress to pass another extension of the 2008 version of the legislation—a move which the White House's Secretary of Agriculture firmly opposes.
Republicans, and even some Democrats, on the conference committee insist that crafting a 2013 Farm Bill is the only option.
"This has been going on too long, and I think I speak for all of us when I say it's long past time to finish this Farm Bill," said Minnesota's Rep. Collin Peterson, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, during the first meeting of the conference committee on Wednesday.
Even if progressive Democrats did manage to strip all of the food stamp cuts out of the 2013 Farm Bill, there would still be more cuts on the way. As more of the additional funding in the stimulus act expires, food stamps are expected to receive another automatic cut of $6 billion between 2015 and 2015.