Catholic Charities USA and other agencies across the country harshly criticized a $21 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program included in the Farm Bill introduced recently to Congress.

"SNAP meets critical needs for low-income working families, seniors, children, and individuals struggling to get by," said Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

 "We as a society have a special obligation to consider first the needs of the poor, even as we act through government. The proposed cuts to this vital program put a disproportionate burden on the very people our Catholic tradition teaches us to elevate in our public consciousness."

The May 15 statement, put out by Feeding America, national network of food banks and another critic of the food assistance budget cuts, also included statements by leaders of Bread for the World and United Way Worldwide.

The statement followed the introduction of the Farm Bill by the House Agriculture Committee to Congress earlier that day.

The Farm Bill is the primary guide for agricultural and food policy in the United States, and includes a variety of programs and regulations in the food and agriculture industries. The Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, currently regulates the agricultural industry until it expires on September 30, 2013.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the nation's largest nutrition assistance program.  The statement noted that the cuts in funding "would restrict states' flexibility" in administering food aid.

The statement warned that if the cuts take effect, "2 million individuals would lose their SNAP benefits entirely, 210,000 children would lose access to free school meals, and 850,000 households would see their SNAP benefits cut by an average $90 per month," resulting in an estimated 8 billion lost meals.

These cuts would be in addition to existing reductions in benefits for families who use the program to feed their families. Effective Nov. 1, the average household will receive $20 to $25 less in benefits, "increasing hardship for participants and shifting even more need to charitable food providers that are facing high demand and few resources," said the statement.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries currently receive, on average, $133.79 a month, or a little less than $1.50 a meal.

Feeding America president and CEO Bob Aiken said that there "is no way that charity would be able to make up the difference" for food assistance that would be lost through these cuts. The statement cited declining donations to churches and charities coupled with a rise in families seeking food assistance as contributing factor for the inability of charity to meet the demand for food.

The statement explained that food "from federal nutrition programs totaled $96.9 billion in 2011, compared to an estimated $4.1 billion worth of food distributed by private charity."

"We are already stretched thin meeting sustained high need, and we simply do not have the resources to prevent hunger in all of the families who would be impacted by these cuts," Aiken said.

The signers urged congress to restore the cuts to the program as the bill continues through the revision process.

"Strong communities require public-private partnership," said Steve Taylor, Senior Vice President and Counsel for Policy at United Way Worldwide.

"Every day local charities see this partnership reflected in the generous support of volunteers and donors, and this value is reflected in Washington through important programs like SNAP. We're all in this together. SNAP and the families it serves must be protected from cuts."