11/18/2013 07:33 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

Can You Feed a Family on Less Than $7.42?

If the Black Friday ads arriving in our mailboxes are any indication, the holidays are upon us and with them the opportunity to relax with family and enjoy a good meal. Unless you're a family in poverty that is. It's hard to celebrate the season when you don't know how you'll put food on the table.

This month as stimulus funding provisions expired, those relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps) were made to face a sobering reality - they may soon be going to bed hungry. A family of four saw their benefits decrease by $36 this month. Single individuals lost $11. Most of us have the good fortune to be able to accept a cut such as this in the food budget. But for those relying on these benefits, such cuts can be catastrophic. Before, the maximum benefit for a family of four was just $668 per month, giving them just $7.42 to spend per meal. That's $1.85 per person. Imagine trying to put dinner on the table on this budget. Now imagine trying to do it with even less.

As if that wasn't enough, further cuts are all but assured as the House and Senate debate SNAP funding for the upcoming year. Both chambers are proposing significant decreases, with cuts of nearly $40 billion and $4.1 billion over the next 10 years suggested by the House and Senate respectively. It's enough to make you do a double take. With a family of four already living on $7.42 per meal, any cuts mean it will be all but impossible to make ends meet.

Among those facing this realization are some of the citizens who have sacrificed the most - veterans. The House bill would eliminate eligibility for non-elderly jobless adults who can't find work (or an opening in a job training program), a profile many veterans fit. Should this provision pass, 170,000 veterans would suddenly find themselves unable to receive benefits. The guile it takes to propose taking food off of a veteran's table in the same month we celebrate their service is simply unconscionable.

At Heartland Alliance, we look budget cuts like these in the eye every day. We see them in the eyes of the single mother of a sick child, desperately hoping she's eligible for Medicaid insurance. We see them in the eyes of a man who's trying to get off the streets, but finds that there is no public housing available. We see them in the eyes of a father searching for job training, only to find that the programs he needs have closed.

These are the faces of the social safety net. These programs, once conceived to keep people from falling into hunger, homelessness, illness, danger, and unemployment, are today leaving people teetering on the edge. With each cut to programs such as SNAP, we remove the opportunities people need to pull themselves out of poverty. As a nation that values hard work, determination, and climbing the rungs into success and independence, cutting funds for the safety net that makes those first steps possible is not only against our values, it's cruel. We don't have to accept that millions will face hunger this holiday season. We have to invest in policies that build our social safety net, not erode it.