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SNAP benefits are getting a major boost with a new order from the Biden administration. Photo: Getty Images

SNAP gets record benefit raise as COVID-19 relief nears expiration

The average benefits for recipients will increase by more than 25%.

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May 27th, 2022

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The nutrition assistance program formerly known as food stamps will provide the largest benefits increase in its history during a crucial time when families are still struggling financially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The revisions, announced on Monday, Aug. 16, will raise the average benefits for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), by more than 25% from pre-pandemic levels.

When the changes go into effect in October, all 42 million people enrolled in SNAP will receive additional aid.

Tom Vilsack, secretary of the Agriculture Department, said on Monday that these new changes are beneficial to everyone.

“It’s in our collective best interest to make sure that we’re helping folks through difficult times,” Vilsack said. 

Many of the food assistance resources provided in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bills are set to expire soon, including one that boosted benefits by 15%. Throughout the pandemic, many families relied on government assistance to keep food on their tables, including those that never had to before. 

Under the new measures, the average benefit of $121 per person before the pandemic will rise by $36. The Agriculture Department is making these shifts by revising the Thrifty Food Plan, which is a list of food groups that the government uses to estimate the cost of an affordable and nutritious diet. 

According to Vilsack, families have changed their consumption habits since the program was last updated, necessitating these changes. 

Jamie Bussel, a senior program officer at the philanthropic Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, told The Washington Post that this is a “game-changing moment.”

“The changes have enormous potential to reduce, and potentially eliminate, child hunger and poverty in this country. This will reflect much more accurately what food actually costs in communities,” Bussel said. 

Anti-hunger experts have been advocating for updates to the Thrifty Food Plan for some time now, claiming that its metrics are out of date when compared to the economic realities many households are experiencing. 

The plan was formulated in the 1960s and experts argue that it was designed during a time when many American families still had only one working parent, giving the other parent more time for labor-intensive, but inexpensive, cooking from scratch. 

Yet, throughout the past two decades, more working families consist of two wage earners, or a single parent, leaving a lot less time for this kind of meal preparation. 

In 2018, Congress passed a farm bill which mandated a reevaluation of the program’s math, and in an executive order from earlier this year, the Biden administration asked the Agriculture Department to revise the Thrifty Food Plan to better reflect the modern costs of a basic healthy diet. 

During the Trump administration, COVID-19 relief bills increased the number of people receiving the maximum amount of benefits, but no changes were made to SNAP. In January, Biden signed an order permitting states to increase SNAP emergency allotments, allowing an additional 12 million people to receive enhanced benefits. 

Although the SNAP, updates are permanent, and are directly addressing a pandemic-related surge in hunger. Yet advocates say the increase in funding corrects benefits that fall short of demonstrated need, which is a problem they say has existed for at least 10 years. 

According to Lisa Davis, senior vice president of hunger charity Share Our Strength, nearly 90% of SNAP recipients report running out of benefits by the end of the month. This statistic clearly illustrates the disconnect between the program calculations and the lived experience of its recipients. 

“An updated Thrifty Food Plan would better reflect the way families live today, where working households do not have unlimited hours to prepare food from scratch and modern dietary guidelines advise a wider variety of foods,” Davis told the Post

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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