Embedded in the nearly 5,600-page stimulus package approved by Congress on Monday, there are provisions to address the country’s growing food insecurity crisis amid the pandemic. The president still must sign the bill for it to go into law, which remains uncertain.
The package includes a $400 million injection into the Emergency Food Assistance Program and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, otherwise known as SNAP. The money will be used to prop up the program that has supported millions of food insecure individuals and families prior to and as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and allow it to help a broader swath of people.
The other provisions pertain to easing the financial strain felt by families with very young children by providing a benefits extension as the pandemic continues.
The deal is “too little” and “too late,” said Lauren Bauer, a fellow in economic studies at the Brookings Institution. But she conceded it’s “absolutely necessary for addressing the food and security crisis right now.”
“The stimulative effects of SNAP are that for every dollar that you spend on the program it generates between $1.70 and $1.85 in economic activity,” Dr. Bauer said, calling it “really well-timed” to address the need of getting groceries in the homes of those who need it, but also getting money circulating in the economy.
Here’s what to know.
What can beneficiaries expect?
The monthly SNAP benefit has increased by 15% through June 30, 2021. The monthly benefit amount differs based on state and the number and ages of household members.
Beneficiaries can also expect an upgraded shopping experience thanks to $5 million being allocated to the program’s expansion into online shopping and mobile payments. At present, shoppers rely on shopping in physical stores or farmers’ markets and paying with an electronic benefit transfer card, or EBT, that works similar to a debit card wherein funds are electronically dispersed monthly.
Parents of young children will receive relief
In the absence of in-person schooling, parents who rely on school meal programs like free or reduced lunch are now on the hook to provide up to an additional 15 meals a week per child.
New provisions in the bill ensure that parents of children age six and under who receive SNAP benefits and live in areas where schools or childcare facilities are closed or have decreased hours of operation will be granted nutrition benefits through P-EBT.
There will also be emergency financial relief provided to school meals, and child and adult care food programs. In addition, the bill establishes a new Department of Agriculture task force dedicated to implementing safe food delivery models like curbside pickup for beneficiaries as the pandemic continues.
Eligibility is now broadened to previously ineligible groups
College students who are eligible for federal or state work-study who do not receive support from their parents or families of origin are now eligible to apply for SNAP benefits.
Coverage has also expanded to include those living in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
The second stimulus deal includes a provision that Pandemic Unemployment Compensation will not be counted toward household income for SNAP.
As part of the first stimulus package — the CARES Act — Americans who filed for unemployment insurance received an additional weekly $600 on top of what their state provided. The supplemental money was a welcomed addition for individuals and their families, but paradoxically the increased income made some Americans ineligible for SNAP.
Each state manages its own SNAP program, and $100 million of federal money will be funneled to states for administrative costs through the fiscal year 2021.
Nonprofit organizations like food banks and pantries will receive donated milk as part of a $400 million benefit to bring dairy and associated products through the USDA.