Food stamps: Historic increase in benefits begins in October

Benefits will jump 27% above pre-pandemic levels, on average – the largest increase in its history. The change stems from a revision of the Thrifty Food Plan, which sets benefit amounts for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the official name for food stamps.
The update comes as part of the USDA’s review of the food stamp program required under the 2018 Agriculture Act. The then Republican-led Congress ordered the agency to reevaluate the plan by fiscal year 2022 — and every five years thereafter. It was last modified in 2006.

Under the revision, which is permanent, beneficiaries will see an increase of $36 in average monthly benefits. They received $121 per person before the coronavirus pandemic.

Including the annual cost of living adjustment, which is based on food price inflation and kicks in October each year, the average monthly benefit would jump to $169 per person, according to the agency.

However, beneficiaries will actually receive more than that because one of Congress’s pandemic relief programs is still in place in most states, even though the 15% boost expires on September 30. The legislators also raised monthly food stamp allowances for registrants to the maximum amount allotted to them. Family size during the pandemic — a move President Joe Biden extended earlier this year to an additional 25 million people in very low-income families who did not originally receive fringe benefits.
With that in mind, recipients will receive $251 per person on average. More than 42.3 million people were enrolled in the program in June, up from about 37 million in February 2020.

too late

The adequacy of food stamp benefits has long been in question. Advocates of low-income Americans argue that money runs out before the month is up. But conservative experts point out that the program is designed to supplement a family’s food budget.

Left-leaning advocates have said for years that the Thrifty Food Plan, introduced in 1975, is outdated. They argue that it makes unrealistic assumptions about the affordability and availability of food today, as well as about the time families have to shop and prepare meals.

said Elaine Waxman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “All of these things have changed so dramatically. So it’s too late.”

The average meal cost in the United States is $2.41 — 22% above the maximum benefit for food stamps, according to a recent report by the Urban Institute co-authored by Waxman. In 2020, the maximum benefit did not cover the cost of the modestly priced meal in 96% of US counties. However, the review will reduce that number to an estimated 21% of counties.

However, some advocates argue that more remains to be done.

“The Thrifty Food Plan is still really minimal. What’s the least amount of money a struggling family should spend to get a healthy diet?” said Lisa Davis, Senior Vice President of Share Our Strength, which strives to end childhood hunger and poverty.

“It’s by no means generous,” she added. “This is really important toward the adequacy of the benefits of SNAP, but we’re not quite there yet.”

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