As part of its historic effort to end hunger in the United States, the Biden administration did unprecedented things during this week. The USDA announced on Monday that all 42 million Americans registered with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) will receive an increase in aid that is larger than ever before. There is an increase of 25 percent, on average, compared to pre-pandemic levels. In 2020 and the early part of this year, a number of COVID-era changes took effect as temporary emergency measures. The new rule changes, however, will be permanent.
Benefits will increase from $121 per person to $157 per person, or $36 a month under the new policy. At the end of September, SNAP recipients will no longer benefit from a 15 percent pandemic boost. This is when the new, higher adjustment will be put into place permanently. In addition to reducing hunger, the extra funding is expected to improve nutrition among the food insecure population of the United States.
A boost to SNAP benefits is a step toward democratizing food access in the United States, says Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN. “Families will have more dollars to spend on healthy food.” Wholesome ingredients provide, of course, an abundance of vitamins and minerals, and support optimal growth and development, which is especially critical for children, Feller says. Produce, animal proteins, and plain or fermented dairy are among the most common of these foods.
Vilsack also stated that the new rules will allow the U.S. to “do a better job of providing healthy food for low-income families.” Critics of the previous cap on monthly benefits noted that the maximum amount was simply insufficient for many Americans. Over 75 percent of recipients, for example, run out of their benefits in the first half of the month; in order to save funds, beneficiaries often choose cheaper, less nutritious food options.
Research has shown that over half of food stamp program benefits are spent on meat, sweetened beverages, prepared foods, desserts, cheese, salty snacks, candy, and sugar. It is often less expensive to purchase all of these than fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables-previously, just under 24 percent of benefits go towards buying fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans, seeds, and spices. The majority of SNAP beneficiaries are children, making developing healthy eating habits even more important.
In addition to more dollars, Feller points out that more choices around food means more autonomy. “In areas where SNAP benefits can be utilized for farm-fresh foods, families have the opportunity to shop at farmer’s markets and CSAs.”
USDA’s Thrifty Food Program, which analyzes grocery purchases on a low-cost, health-conscious basis for a family of four, has also been revised to go along with the increase in the monthly allowance. A family of four now pays $193 more per year with an extra $34 per week. $47 is dedicated to protein items such as poultry, nuts, and eggs; $46 to vegetables (both canned and fresh); $31 to grains; $27 to dairy; $27 to fruit; and $14 to other items such as candy, coffee, and prepared foods.
It will cost $20 billion more each year for a family of four to receive the increased benefits, an increase that will result in a maximum monthly benefit of $835. These changes do not require Congress’ approval. During a conference call with reporters, Vilsack said, “Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, this program is important to everyone.”
In addition, Vilsack noted that COVID-19 has shown how important programs like SNAP are despite the current pandemic. He said many people never expected to get SNAP benefits ended up needing them. During the pandemic, many people were shocked into believing this was someone else’s program.
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