WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration has approved a significant and permanent increase in the levels of food stamp assistance available to needy families—the largest single increase in the program’s history.
Starting in October, average benefits for food stamps (officially known as the SNAP program) will rise more than 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The increased assistance will be available indefinitely to all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries.
The aid boost is being packaged as a major revision of the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan. In concrete terms, the average monthly per-person benefits will rise from $121 to $157.
“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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release. “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.”
A local food bank director says these revisions are long overdue.
“The calculation of SNAP benefits that we are currently using was actually created in the seventies, and it hasn’t taken into consideration changes food costs… what people are actually eating, and how the prices of various components of a healthy diet have shifted over time,” said Randi Quackenbush, Food Bank of the Southern Tier Director of Community Impact.
The increase is projected to cost an additional $20 billion per year, but it won’t have to be approved by Congress. A farm law passed in 2018 by the then-GOP-led Congress and signed by former President Donald Trump already directed the department to reassess the Thrifty Food Plan.
“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, I think there’s a shared understanding of the importance of this program,” Vilsack said in a conference call with reporters.
The increase is part of a multi-pronged Biden administration effort to strengthen the country’s social safety net. Poverty and food security activists maintain that longstanding inadequacies in that safety net were laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic, presenting an opportunity to make generational improvements that reach beyond the current public health crisis.
Activists say the previous levels of pre-pandemic SNAP assistance simply weren’t enough, forcing many households to choose cheaper, less nutritious options or simply go hungry as the funds ran low toward the end of the month.