SNAP Expansion Extended Through End Of September
The American Rescue Plan Act contains new extensions for people receiving food assistance during the pandemic.
People receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits will continue to get a 15% boost through the summer.
The 15% benefit increase was first authorized by the December 2020 Covid-relief package, but was slated to expire in June. The American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package that became law on March 11, extends it through September 2021.
An individual receiving SNAP benefits (sometimes referred to as food stamps) will get an average $28 additional per month on top of their existing benefit amount, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). A household of four will have about an additional $100 to $120 per month to spend on food.
With this increase, an individual could receive a maximum allotment (the allowance SNAP provides) of $234 per month, while a household of four could be eligible for up to $782 per month.
Other Food Assistance Programs Extended Through September
The American Rescue Plan Act also expands two other food assistance programs:
- The P-EBT program will be extended for the duration of the pandemic. P-EBT provides money for families to buy groceries for meals their children would have received at school but can’t access because school is closed or they’re attending remote classes.
- Recipients of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) will get an extra $26 per month (for a total of $35 per month) through September to use on fruits and vegetables. Typically, WIC recipients can only purchase $9 worth of these items; WIC also provides funds for formula and other nutrition-rich food for pregnant women and mothers of children up to age 5.
Relaxed Requirements Widens Eligibility for Food Assistance
If you’ve considered applying for SNAP in the past, but didn’t meet eligibility requirements, you may find that you’re now eligible for aid.
Typically, there’s a three-month limit on SNAP benefits if you’re unemployed, under 50 and don’t have kids at home. That three-month limit usually applies for a three-year period, which can severely limit how much aid you might receive if you don’t fit into one of those groups.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) made it easier for people to apply for food assistance, removing the work requirement for the duration of the pandemic.
If you’re dealing with long-term unemployment or haven’t returned to work due to health concerns, you may want to reapply for aid. If you have previously exhausted your benefit period, you may be able to begin receiving SNAP funds again.
Widespread Hunger Expected to Persist
The American Rescue Plan Act also provides additional funding to states for the next three years, to accommodate increased demand for SNAP benefits.
More than 10% of households said they sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat as of March 1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse survey. If you only count households that have children, that rate goes up to more than 14%.
That rate of food insecurity is consistent with data from December, indicating that as the pandemic wears on, many families’ struggle to access food has continued. States and cities continue to reopen and vaccination rates have increased, but people are still dealing with the health and financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, especially those who haven’t been able to return to work yet.
And the country’s hunger problem could actually worsen in 2021. Last year, about one in seven Americans experienced food insecurity, defined by the USDA as having limited or uncertain access to nutritious food; this year, hunger relief network Feeding America predicts that rate will still be higher than pre-pandemic levels, with one in eight Americans facing food insecurity.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan components, including direct payments, the child tax credit expansion and food assistance funding, have the potential to cut child poverty in half in 2021. It takes a considerable investment to start seeing those gains: $12 billion of the funds from the legislation will go toward food assistance.
But analysts often laud food assistance as one of the most effective ways to support low-income households and bolster a weak economy. For every dollar the federal government spends on new SNAP benefits, the national gross domestic product (GDP)—a major indicator of the health of the economy—increases by about $1.50 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
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