The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides valuable assistance to millions of Americans who need help because they have lost their jobs, do not earn sufficient money to meet their needs, or have been emergency victims of the COVID-19 pandemic. A study by USDA’s Economic Research Service found that a hypothetical $1 billion increase in SNAP benefits … “during a slowing economy would increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $1.54 billion and support 13,560 jobs, including nearly 500 agricultural jobs (farming, forestry, fishing, and hunting).”
SNAP, formerly called the Food Stamp Program, currently serves nearly 43 million Americans, many of whom are families with children getting extra Pandemic benefits to make up for schools meals that are not being served.
USDA has been involved in multiple lawsuits regarding the administration of SNAP. Recently the United States District Court for the District of Columbia blocked USDA’s rule that would have severely limited states’ ability to provide SNAP benefits to able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) impacting more than 700,000 unemployed Americans. There are also suits in Pennsylvania and California challenging USDA’s interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act wherein USDA is limiting emergency SNAP benefits to the maximum provided under the basic program, effectively denying additional benefits to those who may have been hardest hit.
A key issue in negotiations over additional COVID-19 relief efforts are provisions from HR 6800, the HEROES Act, to temporarily increase all SNAP benefits by 15% and permanently increase the minimum benefit from $18 to $30. This increase is strongly supported by many national organizations. This is in contrast to the administration’s proposal to change the calculation of the Official Poverty Measure, which would reduce eligibility for more than 80 anti-poverty programs such as nutrition and healthcare assistance. Add to the mix criticisms of USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan suggesting that the plan does not sufficiently take into account nutrient standards, food group requirements.
And all of this is in addition to other questions about how to improve the SNAP program, the access people have to grocery stores, the quality of food available at those stores, and the essential link between good nutrition and good health. Health costs can be lowered through good nutrition, as suggested by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
All of this means that the SNAP program will continue to be a focus in the balance of this Congressional session and again in the next farm bill. While the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 runs through September 30, 2023, it takes a long time to complete action on this multi-faceted bill which authorizes the SNAP program. The reauthorization process will likely receive increased attention in the 117th Congress as both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees begin to undertake survey work in anticipation of the next Farm Bill.
So, watch this space for what we expect to be a series of ongoing reports regarding food, nutrition, and agriculture programs.
Roger Szemraj and Marshall Matz are both with OFW in Washington, D.C. and helped craft food program legislation while working for Congress.