The Biden administration today announced a 25 percent increase in food stamp benefits, the largest jump in the history of the program.
By revising nutrition standards last updated in 2006, the administration will increase the average monthly benefits under the program now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to $157, $36 more than pre-pandemic levels.
“Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”
American anti-hunger advocates have fought for years to increase food benefit amounts, extend aid to more people and make it simpler to apply to federal food and nutrition programs.
The pandemic exposed millions to food hardship, prompting advocates to lobby to make permanent several emergency Covid-19 relief increases that helped feed an average of 42 million people each month from April 2020 to 2021 at a cost of more than $106 billion.
[In May, the last month for which figures are available, 3.33 million Floridians in 1.9 million households were on food stamps, or almost one in six residents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at a cost of $845 million statewide. In Flagler County, as of January 2020–the last month for which county-level data is available–14,809 people in 7,546 households received food stamps.]
In addition to the increase in SNAP benefit amounts the Biden administration announced today, which will raise the cost of the program by about $20 billion a year, advocates are pushing for the adoption of a new summer meals program for children.
But while that safety net enjoyed some degree of bipartisan support during the pandemic, several emergency provisions also have attracted criticism from Republican lawmakers and conservative economists who say they discourage work.
Advocates who argue that low-income families need more food aid fail to account for the overlapping, trillion-dollar patchwork of welfare programs already available to them, said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who supported some temporary SNAP expansions early in the pandemic.
Already, at least six states—which have broad flexibility in how they administer federal food and nutrition programs—have begun to reduce food assistance again. That pivot concerns advocates who imagined a new consensus on hunger had emerged after the crisis.
“It would be a shame if we didn’t learn anything from the pandemic about the needs of low-income people,” said Ed Bolen, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which supports the expansion of the food safety net. “Because I think it became very apparent how fragile lots of folks’ lives are … [and] there’s a real chance to strengthen nutrition programs.”
The momentum for expanding America’s food safety net represents a sharp reversal from even 18 months ago. The Department of Agriculture repeatedly moved to tighten SNAP eligibility under the administration of former President Donald Trump, attempting to reinstitute work requirements in many states and preventing families from automatically qualifying for nutrition benefits through participation in other safety net programs.
But priorities shifted with the onslaught of the pandemic when, for a period last summer, more than 1 in 10 adults surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau reported that their household “sometimes or often” didn’t have enough to eat. The surge in hunger upended a decade of consistent progress on food insecurity, which in 2019 fell to its lowest point since measurement began in the 1990s.
In response, Congress and the Department of Agriculture gradually expanded the scope and depth of federal food assistance, boosting benefits and easing administrative rules that made it difficult for state agencies to serve clients in a locked-down environment. The federal government suspended, until the end of the public health emergency, a rule that limits unemployed, childless adults to three months of assistance. Child nutrition programs, such as school lunch and community summer meals programs, gained the flexibility to deliver meals to homes or distribute brown bags.
Most significantly, families participating in SNAP—by far the country’s largest anti-hunger program—saw average assistance increase by roughly three-quarters since the start of the pandemic, thanks to a combination of emergency supplementary benefits and a 15 percent, across-the-board boost due to expire in September. The new permanent benefit increase goes into effect in October.
Under a new program called Pandemic EBT, more than 8.4 million families also received extra aid to cover the meals their children would usually eat in school cafeterias. The Biden administration upped those payments in January, from $5.86 per child per day to almost $7. That program will remain available for the duration of the public health emergency, extending into next summer.
“The SNAP benefit has never been enough to get folks through the entire month anyways,” said Sue Berkowitz, the director of South Carolina Appleseed, a left-leaning advocacy group. “And so, if there was any upside in the pandemic, it was knowing that while families were struggling with all these other things … they at least had additional benefits so they could be in a better place to purchase food.”
For a family of five, like Shauna Gray’s, the additional benefits have indeed helped: Her family’s SNAP benefits jumped from $450 per month in February 2020 to $600 per month a year later. The 42-year-old mother of three worked in the restaurant industry before school shutdowns forced her to stay home with her children, one of whom is autistic. Even before losing her job, Gray used to visit a food pantry twice a month to cover the gaps in her grocery budget.
But thanks to the extra assistance, Gray said, she has been able to afford all her groceries herself. She has shopped near her Washington, D.C., home instead of driving to multiple suburban big-box stores in search of lower prices. She has also “splurged,” she said, on higher-quality fruit snacks and juice boxes for her children.
“The cost of everything has gone up, even just the simple staples—things like eggs and milk,” Gray said. “That extra little bit was completely transformational.”
An extensive body of academic research shows that SNAP reduces food insecurity and poverty, and may also improve some health outcomes, among its participants.
One recent report, last updated by the left-leaning Urban Institute think tank in July, found that current benefit levels are insufficient to cover the cost of the government’s own model meal program in almost every county in the United States, with more severe shortfalls in high-cost areas.
“The challenges COVID unearthed were not new challenges,” said Robert Campbell, the managing director of policy at the national food bank network Feeding America.
Expanding food assistance over the past year was generally nonpartisan, said Tracy Roof, an associate professor of political science at the University of Richmond. All 50 states initially opted-in to both Pandemic EBT and extra food assistance, eager to capture federal dollars and address “the lines at food banks,” Roof said.
As with other safety net programs, however, conservative economists and lawmakers have grown increasingly concerned about the effects that government assistance may have on both federal spending and the labor market.
Six red states—Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Montana and North and South Dakota—have voluntarily ended extra benefits in recent months. Proposed legislation in Missouri would tighten work requirements in the food stamp program, a move intended to screen out participants who “can work but won’t,” said the bill’s sponsor, GOP state Sen. Rick Brattin, in an emailed statement.
Any increase in SNAP assistance creates a disincentive to work, argued Angela Rachidi, a senior fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, because households no longer need that income to cover their expenses.
“I do think that, similar to the [unemployment insurance] expansion, many states now are rolling back [SNAP], because they’re concerned about employers not being able to find enough employees,” Rachidi said. “Those SNAP dollars are basically the same as [unemployment insurance] dollars, in the sense that if they can replace the need to work, people are going to be less likely to seek out employment.”
Bipartisan consensus may prove easier to find on issues such as program administration, Rachidi said, where Republicans support temporary, pandemic-era tweaks that reduced SNAP’s overhead costs. Some states adopted new technology and procedures to help certify applicants over the phone, for instance.
Rachidi also sees potential for a program like Pandemic EBT to permanently help address child hunger over the summer—a recent Biden administration proposal. Similar programs already had been piloted pre-pandemic in several states, including Michigan and Texas, and a 2014 evaluation concluded that they reduced extreme hunger.
The permanent increase in benefit amounts that the Biden administration announced today does not require congressional approval. Lawmakers in 2018 authorized the Department of Agriculture to revisit the mathematical model it uses to set benefits.
A panel of researchers convened by the National Academies in 2012 identified a range of factors that model fails to account for, from a household’s ability to cook from-scratch meals to regional differences in food prices. The Biden administration has called it “outdated.”
“It’s an important step in the right direction,” Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach, an economist and the director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, said of today’s announcement. “The fact that it’s so sizable to me highlights how inadequate this benefit has been for years and decades.”
–Caitlin Dewey, Stateline
The Geode says
WOW! A whole $36? I can add it to my 401k. I will have $36…
Ernie Landers says
There’s a near 100% chance that no one receiving SNAP benefits has a 401k, including yourself.
Karen Curry says
So you’re unhappy that you are getting an additional $36.00 per month of FREE food? Donate it to a food bank where the needy unlike you, will be grateful to get it.
BONNIE FAYE GRAVES says
Be grateful you are getting anything as there are others that dont draw foodstamps that really need help but because they have worked for years and paid for a house and draw 20.00 over the limit they get nothing even tho they have medicine and dr bills to pay which most on the snap program also get free. Many ss people arent able to get them so just thank the Lord you are getting 36.00 raise.
Biden has billions of taxpayers money to burn. Unreal.
Ernie Landers says
Really? Exactly how does this effect YOUR tax money? Did YOUR tax burden suddenly go up $36? Did YOUR tax burden even go up .01? C’mon you economic genious… show your work. Show how YOUR life has been effected in any negative way whatsoever by our federal government upping a benefit that hasn’t been raised in decades despite astronomical rises in food costs.
Lemme take a gander… YOU also likely moaned and groaned about upping the federal minimum wage? But, perhaps no so ironically, if you’re one of these retired boomers still living in the 50’s, or even your parents are retired, and you probably had nothing to say about the federal government raising the Social Security benefits.
TV Trey says
Thank you President Joe. We finally getting some action. I will be getting me some crabs legs when that money comes in to celebrate.
Help wanted signs all over the place. Why should taxpayers support deadbeats.
Feed the Needy says
Oh Boy, now the people who need the Food will be able to buy an extra bag of potatoes and another gallon of milk so they can make mash potatoes . Or they can use it to purchase an extra lb of butter and dozen eggs . They may be able to buy some pretzels for the kids snacks.
Why not give taxpayers a break and get job? We’re hiring signs are everywhere.
BTW to commenter above. 401k’s are money earned by their owners, not funds
confiscated from tax payers.
“Those SNAP dollars are basically the same as [unemployment insurance] dollars, in the sense that if they can replace the need to work, people are going to be less likely to seek out employment.”….really?
I was unemployed here in Florida from October 2011 until October of 2014 with only 2 part-time low paying jobs for a time, and a month of a full-time job that was so understaffed that a 14 hour day was common. With its low salary and my commute -because I DID want to work – it ended up with me in the hospital.
I was getting the MAXIMUM unemployment benefit in Florida – $275 a week. The SNAP program was about the only thing that got me through – and that was only $200 a month.
For anyone who thinks large numbers of people are luxuriously living on these sums rather than work….try it yourself.
Land of no turn signals says says
Great I can have more kids and crab legs.
For a single adult in FLORIDA (could be disabled, elderly, etc.) you generally receive $16 to $19 per month in SNAP benefits, which if you received $19 per month, then it would go up to $23.75 per month. Try surviving on that! Here is the real kicker….Florida has refused expanded Federal SNAP benefits for some time now. And to top it off, our wonderful governor Deathsantis refused to extend an emergency Pandemic status with the Feds, which ended the Pandemic SNAP added benefit, which recipients are eligible for until the end of September 2021, unless their state does not file the necessary declaration. So, while the entire state of Florida is once again paralyzed by the Delta Covid pandemic and people are once more unable to gain employment, etc. he has cut off all support for those struggling to feed their families. Instead he is living in loo-loo land attacking mask wearing, bullying school districts and withholding previously acquired Pandemic relief money (not to mention threatening to withhold state aid to school districts who are desperately trying to protect students and staff), denying benefits to people, all the while making big mouth self-serving political commentaries on Fox Network. All the while the lines (at the few food pantries still operating) are growing longer and longer and food is in shorter supply than ever. What is wrong with this picture? Don’t even start on a “people just don’t want to work” diatribe. People WANT TO WORK, but can’t in this current state of affairs caused by Deathsantis and his cronies in Tallahassee. The guy has gone off the deep end and the lemmings are following, while the people who are trying to do the right thing are being punished and being forced to live the hell he has created.
I hear you and i love my granbabies and want all children to not be hungry but i was rasied to repect my elders and if it wasnt for r elders we wouldnt be here and they need to help the elderly more people on ssi social securty it so bad i know a lady 3 kids 3, 5, and 8 and she gets 1000 in foodstamps and works i couldnt work in 90 cause they going take my foodstamps and kids medical the system need make sure they gets extra as same as kids when i know these kids r not going eat 1000 in food that bs they need get it together
There is nothing supplemental about SNAP.
A family of four will get up to $835 per month after adjusting for inflation. The average four-person household in the U.S. spent only $537 per month on food at home in 2019.
Democrats buying votes as usual.
Pissed in PC says
Wow! So under the state guidelines I’ll only get a whopping $4 more a month. Where the hell can I buy a months worth of groceries for $20? The USDA guaranteed the pandemic SNAP till the end of September but DeathSantis cut everyone off the 1st of August so what’s he doing with that money? At least I was able to eat healthy while I had those benefits so now it’s back to high starch foods.
Pissed in PC says
To all you ignorant assholes commenting about buying crab legs, get a job, etc. you try living off $1300 a month in disability or social security! The average benefit for those people is $16 a month. Look how many low wage jobs are here (hospitality pay the least, then you have the stingy ass ones that think $9-10 is a livable wage for a receptionist). DeathSantis cut off the emergency food stamps August 1st that was paid to the state to last until the end of September per the provisions set forward in the Cares Act/USDA. So where’s our money? At least most seniors/disabled were able to get fresh fruit, vegetables, less processed foods and since some of us can’t get to the few food banks it was a big help.
So before you bash us try living in our shoes for a month! I didn’t ask to become disabled, and seniors need to be treated better as we paved the way for your ignorant asses! Now stick those crab legs up yours! I’ll even bet you’re the type that would stiff a waitress that’s a single mom out of a tip.
To “DOWN SOUTH”, your ignorance shows no bounds. IF you read my post, I indicated within the ( ) “elderly, disabled, and those UNABLE to work”. To explain it to dolts like you… many elderly who worked their entire adult lives working during years when wages were much lower receive a very low amount of Social Security each month. This is of no fault of their own, as Social Security bases your stipend upon your highest average salary over a period of time. If you were only making minimum wage, which could have been anywhere from $2.00 to $5.00 per hour during that era, then your monthly Social Security check is going to be very low. In regard to persons with disabilities which prevent them from working, there are two types of Social Security programs. One is Social Security Disability Income (SSDI), which is for people who have worked their entire adult lives and through no fault of their own become temporarily or permanently disabled and are not able to work. The second type is Supplemental Security Income (SSI), which is meant for those who have not been able to work due to long standing disabilities, such as Developmental Delays, etc. usually from birth, or for those who had a very short work history before becoming severely disabled. SSI payments are significantly lower than SSDI. Some people on SSI only receive about $500-$800 per month to live on. These SNAP recipients, receive often a minimal benefit if they are a single adult. And our wonderful governor “Deathsantis” has made it a living hell for the most vulnerable people in our state.
And since when did “doing the right thing” become the “wrong thing”? For those of us who were taught morality, a sense of community and caring and empathy for others in need, we ARE doing the right thing by following the rules, taking the moral high ground, and following our religious beliefs which compel us to DO the right thing for all and not just be a selfish, self-serving jerk, as your very ignorant comments illustrate. Elderly and disabled people would LOVE to be able to work and aren’t just using “lame excuses to stay home”. You are obviously a troll who enjoys trying to argue with and humiliate others on- line. Your ignorance is glaring and is noted by anyone with half a brain.