The most significant increase to food stamp benefits in the program’s history has officially begun. Recipients are seeing a 27% upgrade on their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to spend on soda pop, corn chips, and Halloween candy. The uptick in added monies results from an overhaul to the Thrifty Food Plan by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – a requirement of the 2018 Farm Bill.
In power at the time, it was the Republican Congress that ordered the USDA to get busy on an evaluation of the program, which had seen its last revision and adjustment in 2006. The deadline for review was Fiscal Year 2022, with subsequent oversight every five years to follow. Now federal government attacked said revision with zest, rolling out the edict for permanently increased benefits – with no pandemic expiration date.
The Golden Ticket – Er, EBT Card
The amount of assistance one receives can vary wildly based on income and how many people there are in the home, and even that varies from one state to the next, so 27% more SNAP money a month means different things to different people. On average, though, the increase translates to $36 a month per person. Although most states are open for business and job opportunities are plentiful, 42.3 million people were listed as enrolled beneficiaries in June 2021 – an increase from just shy of 37 million in February 2020.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this past August the $79 billion program would help stabilize the economy, suggesting, “We may have a Constitution and a Declaration of Independence, but if we had 42 million Americans who were going hungry, really hungry, they wouldn’t be happy, and there would be political instability.” It is said that hungry people do not die quietly.
SNAP bills itself as supplemental. Yet, a third of American households use the maximum for which they can qualify. The working poor need a boost. The elderly, attempting to live on Social Security, simply do not make enough in many locations to stay afloat. The vast differences in cost of living in cities versus rural areas is not taken into account: rather, the upgrades and changes are across the board, and many feel it is not enough.
Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, wants more: “We really haven’t revisited the underlying assumptions since the ’70s, which is a little bit horrifying given how different the way we eat, the price of foods, how families acquire and prepare foods.” And she is correct. There are many ways to buy food for families – and most are quick fixes, high in preservatives and low in nutrition. People do not cook much anymore. Loading up on bags of chips, sugary drinks, and packaged meats makes for a poor diet. Waxman co-authored a recent report published by the Urban Institute, which shed light on hunger in 2020 and revealed that the average cost of an American meal is $2.41, which is a great deal higher – 22% more – than what someone receiving the average maximum benefit could keep up for a whole month without running short.
An American Reality
America has a large number of folks who depend on SNAP. So, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, yes, we still need to help our most vulnerable citizens. And you can thank the Republican Congress in 2018. As Secretary Vilsack was quick to give kudos, “A majority of Republicans in the Senate and House voted for this. They deserve credit.”
~ Read more from Sarah Cowgill.