Seth Wenig/AP/File
A supermarket displays stickers indicating they accept food stamps in West New York, New Jersey, Jan. 12, 2015. Starting in October, average benefits for food stamps will rise more than 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels.

Biden administration boosts food stamp benefits by over 25%

The largest increase in the history of the food stamp program has been approved to start in October, providing a raise from an average of $121 to $157 in per-person monthly benefits.

President Joe Biden's administration has approved a significant and permanent increase in the levels of food aid 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 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – will rise more than 25 percent above pre-pandemic levels. The increased assistance will be available indefinitely to all 42 million SNAP beneficiaries. SNAP is the largest nutrition assistance program for low-income Americans.

The increase coincides with the end of a 15 percent boost in SNAP benefits that was ordered as a pandemic protection measure. That benefit expires at the end of September.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that with the change, the U.S. “will do a better job of providing healthy food for low-income families.”

The aid boost is being packaged as a major revision to the USDA's Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the cost to purchase groceries for a family of four and guides the way the government calculates benefits. In practical terms, the average monthly per-person benefits for qualified recipients will rise from $121 to $157.

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,” Mr. 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 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.

Mr. Vilsack said the increased funding will allow families to “be able to make healthy choices” all month long.

The changes are not directly connected to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Mr. Vilsack said the crisis helped underscore the importance of the food assistance program. Researchers at Northwestern University estimated that food insecurity more than doubled during the pandemic, affecting up to 23% of all households.

“A lot of people who thought they'd never take part in the SNAP program found themselves in need,” he said. “The pandemic sort of shocked people out of the belief that this was a program for someone else.”

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

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