Americans battling food insecurity will soon get even more relief — permanently.
Beginning October 1, all 42 million beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly referred to as SNAP and formerly known as food stamps — will receive a permanent increase of more than 25% to their pre-pandemic monthly aid. That marks the largest single increase in the program’s 46-year existence, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday.
“This technical revision will mean a more adequate benefit level for SNAP [that] will help lots of families,” Dr. Diane Schanzenbach, director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, told Yahoo Money. “This is a long overdue change that pushes SNAP to be more aligned with reality.”
The average per-person SNAP benefit will rise by $36 — from $121 to $157 per month— under the Thrifty Food Plan. Under the new sliding scale that accounts for household size and income, the new monthly maximum for a family of two adults and two children will increase to $835, up 27% from pre-pandemic levels and up 21% during the pandemic when food aid was increased.
The re-evaluation of the Thrifty Food Plan was based on four factors identified in the 2018 Farm Bill: the cost of food, nutrients in food, nutrition guidance, and what Americans eat. Beneficiaries can anticipate a modest 7% increase to their daily caloric intake and the inclusion of pre-prepared foods like hard-boiled eggs, salsa, baby carrots, boxed macaroni and cheese, and bagged salad greens.
Consumer advocates welcomed the expanded pandemic-era measures that increased benefits by 15%, arguing that the expansion should become the baseline to keep up with current grocery prices for nutritious meal planning.
“When you have more money, you buy more of it,” Schanzenbach said. “I expect this will mean that we’ll see somewhat healthier diets and less food insecurity."
While the latest measure improves circumstances for vulnerable Americans, some aspects of the program are still out of touch with modern demands, Schanzenbach said. For example, benefits are not adjusted or scaled for geographic grocery price differences and are especially “inadequate” for “families with teenagers who drive up family food costs," Schanzenbach said.
Government aid and intervention in the form of Child Tax Credits, stimulus checks, and unemployment assistance have helped the country’s hunger and food insecurity crisis since extra SNAP benefits began to roll out in April 2020. However, the latest expansion to SNAP marks a permanent fixture against the wide field of temporary government aid in the ongoing pandemic.
“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan is more than a commitment to good nutrition — it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Ensuring low-income families have access to a healthy diet helps prevent disease, supports children in the classroom, reduces health care costs, and more. And the additional money families will spend on groceries helps grow the food economy, creating thousands of new jobs along the way.”