The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) confirmed on Sunday, Aug. 15, that it will announce updated nutrition standards on Monday, Aug. 14, thus significantly boosting average food stamp benefits.
As first reported by the New York Times, the intention is to introduce the largest permanent benefits boost in the history of the government’s major anti-hunger program, known as SNAP. The Times claimed that the adjustment would result in average benefits climbing by more than 25% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The change is based on a statute passed by Congress in 2018 that mandates a review of the plan within four years, which President Joe Biden requested the Department of Agriculture to expedite when he took office, Newsmax reported.
Under the 2018 law, the government has been revising its standards for estimating the cost of a nutritious diet known as the Thrifty Food Plan, which is used to compute food stamp benefits, formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.
The measure does not require congressional approval.
According to the Times, starting in October, average monthly benefits, which were $121 per person before the pandemic, will increase by $36 per person, bringing the total number of participants in the program to 42 million.
Simultaneously, a temporary 15% increase in benefits as part of pandemic relief is due to expire on Sept. 30. Reuters reported that the $3.5 billion increase passed earlier this year gives an extra $27 per person, per month in food stamp benefits, or over $100 per month for a family of four.
The new strategy would increase the $79 billion yearly program’s costs by $20 billion over pre-pandemic levels.
According to the USDA, the program covered around 11% of the U.S. population in 2019.
The re-evaluation was dubbed “a critically important step towards ensuring that SNAP benefits adequately support a nutritious diet” by House Democrats on the Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee managing nutrition problems last week.
“Research shows that, while SNAP reduces food insecurity and improves health outcomes for recipients, benefits are too low to fully meet their nutritional needs,” the Democrats noted.
Also last week, the senior congressional Republicans on two agriculture committees asked the Government Accountability Office to do a study of the USDA’s update of the Thrifty Food Plan.
Critics argue that the expenses, which have increased by $20 billion per year since the pre-pandemic period, are unsustainable and that the aid reduces people’s willingness to work.
As stated, the change results from updates made by the Department of Agriculture to the Thrifty Food Plan, which calculates the cost of a healthy, low-cost diet. Its value was established in 1962 and has not increased since then, except for inflation adjustments, despite huge differences in what Americans consume over time.
Opponents of a benefit increase argue that the program is only supposed to cover a portion of a family’s diet, not all of it, as its technical name suggests: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Critics also argue that if the poor used their aid more wisely, it would last longer, citing research that reveals over 10% of it is spent on sweetened drinks.
However, Elaine Waxman of the Urban Institute recently discovered that in 96 percent of counties in the U.S., the maximum aid could not afford a modest diet.
Officials employed a larger pricing index in the new plan than the previous one, based solely on the poor.
Dr. Hilary Seligman, a nutritional aid researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, believes that expanding the program will considerably enhance health, claiming that “this may be the most important change in the half-century history of the modern program.”
Others, however, point out that nothing ensures that the poor will be able to purchase healthful food due to the additional aid.
According to Angela Rachidi of the American Enterprise Institute, an increase in SNAP could even affect poor people’s health “to the extent that SNAP contributes to poor diet.”