SNAP Benefits Raised by 25%, the Highest Increase in U.S. History

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Raising SNAP benefits will impact the (more than) 42 million Americans facing food insecurity.

When the pandemic lifts and you're able to get back out into the real world, take a moment to look around. An estimated 1 out of 9 Americans are hungry or worried about where they'll find their next meal.

According to Feeding America, more than 42 million Americans face food insecurity, including an estimated 13 million children. Yes, the pandemic worsened the situation, but more than 35 million experienced hunger in the U.S. in 2019, before COVID-19 was fully identified and the economy took a nosedive.

In an attempt to combat hunger in America, the Biden administration has approved a permanent increase in the amount of food stamps available to families that need the help. Beginning in October, the average food stamp benefit will increase by 25%. This increase will be available to all participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Why the increase matters

Hunger is no secret in this country, even if it's a topic we don't like to think about. While the government spent around $74 billion in 2020 providing SNAP benefits to Americans, that amount fell short of how much it costs to prepare a simple meal.

According to the Urban Institute, the average cost of preparing a meal is $2.41. The national average SNAP benefit per meal is $1.97. That's a shortfall of 22%. While a SNAP increase of 25% won't make anyone rich or plump their bank account, it will help the average recipient buy the groceries they need to put a meal together.

Unraveling the tall tales

Any one of us can run into tough times. A senior citizen can run into medical costs that eat up their food budget. A corporate VP can find themselves unemployed and with more debt than they can manage. A business owner can lose everything to a pandemic. A young parent can become suddenly single.

Life happens, and it's not always pretty. Despite that fact, legislators at both the local and federal levels have spent years painting an inaccurate picture of how food stamps are used by "greedy, lazy, dishonest" recipients. It's their way of humiliating people into pulling themselves up by invisible bootstraps.

If you've heard tales of people using their SNAP benefits to buy alcohol and cigarettes, just know that the average estimated monthly benefit for a family of four in 2021 is $477. That breaks down $3.90 per day, per family member -- or $1.30 per meal. All those stories of SNAP recipients using money to pay for steak and lobster? Pretty ridiculous when you consider how little they receive.

Retailers cannot legally accept food stamps for the purchase of:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Hot prepared foods
  • Foods that can be eaten immediately (like a deli sandwich)
  • Vitamins
  • Medicine
  • Soap
  • Pet food
  • Toilet paper
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Diapers

Does food stamp abuse exist? Yes. Some people are really good at skirting rules. Still, the vast majority of people who participate in SNAP appear to use their benefits precisely as prescribed. The next time you hear otherwise, you might want to question the motives of the person telling the story.

The working poor

As of 2016, a work requirement for food stamps has been implemented in 40 states, meaning those who can work are expected to. Still, a person earning $12 per hour and working full-time earns $24,960 before taxes. After taxes, that's more like $18,000 to $19,000. Given that the average cost of providing center-based care for an infant in the U.S. costs $14,760 per year and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment nationwide is around $13,000, it's easy to see how paying for food can be a problem.

Around 66% of SNAP recipients are not expected to. They may be a senior citizen, disabled, or a child. Of the remaining recipients, more than 50% work while receiving SNAP (and the rates are higher than 50% for families with kids).

Those left behind

According to the advocacy group Just Harvest, only 55% of food insecure households are eligible for food stamps, meaning people must depend on community organizations and food banks for the groceries they need to get by. It's hard to imagine that someone receiving food stamps is better off than someone who's not quite "poor enough" to qualify, but they may be.

SNAP benefits are set to increase in October, leading an average family of four to go from receiving $477 in benefits each month to $596, or just shy of $20 per day. It's not much, but hopefully, the boost will help families pay for the meals they need to keep going.

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