See also: “Lawmakers Must Strengthen SNAP in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Areeba Haider
As America continues to grapple with the devastating public health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing is clear: The relief packages passed by Congress months ago are not doing enough to address hunger.
For example, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, passed in March, included important temporary provisions for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). One of the most impactful provisions authorized “emergency allotments” that gave all SNAP households the maximum level of allowable benefits for their household size. For example, any SNAP-eligible household of one received the maximum $194 in food assistance, regardless of their calculated net incomes. That extra support is making a real difference in the lives of millions of people struggling to afford the basics in a time of extreme economic uncertainty.
However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interpretation of the law excludes households who were receiving the maximum benefit before the passage of the relief package. This means that the more than 7 million households across the country who received the maximum in fiscal year 2018—those already deemed to be the poorest and most in need by SNAP eligibility guidelines—received no extra aid as the economy plummeted into a recession. Despite challenges to the interpretation, almost 40 percent of all SNAP households are left without a needed increase in federal food assistance even while facing an unprecedented rise in food insecurity.
Center for American Progress analysis shows that numbers are just as stark across states: In more than half of all states, one-third or more of all SNAP households received no emergency benefits. The table below uses FY 2018 data to provide state-by-state estimates of who emergency SNAP allotments have not reached.
A 15 percent increase in maximum SNAP benefits for all households for the duration of the economic crisis would capture the 12 million individuals excluded from previous legislation and provide a much-needed boost to many of the 6 million new people using the program since the start of the coronavirus crisis. To ensure that no one continues to go hungry, Congress must prioritize increasing SNAP benefits in the next round of legislation—for everyone this time.
Areeba Haider is a research assistant for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress.
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