Washington: US President Joe Biden’s administration announced that average benefits under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Supplemental Nutritious Assistance Program (SNAP) will see the largest increase in the program’s history to help poor families struggling during the pandemic make ends meet.
According to the announcement by the USDA on Monday, SNAP’s average per-person monthly benefits will increase by $36, or over 25 per cent, from the pre-pandemic levels, reports Xinhua news agency.
In concrete numbers, the benefits will rise from $121 on average to $157, and will be permanently available to all of the over 42 million SNAP beneficiaries.
The adjustment, which food security advocates said was long overdue, was made based on an update to the algorithm that governs the Thrifty Food Plan, which estimates the lowest cost of a “nutritious, practical, cost-effective” diet for a family of four.
“To set SNAP families up for success, we need a Thrifty Food Plan that supports current dietary guidance on a budget,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition, and consumer services at the USDA. “Too many of our fellow Americans struggle to afford healthy meals. The revised plan is one step toward getting them the support they need to feed their families.”
The pandemic sparked a surge in food stamp participation as hunger grew nationwide.
The number of SNAP enrollees has now jumped to more than 42 million, up from nearly 37 million in February 2020.
The average cost of a meal in the US is $2.41, 22 per cent higher than the average per-meal SNAP benefit of $1.97, according to a July report by Urban Institute report.
“Even the maximum benefit in 2020 fell short of low-income meal costs in 96 per cent of US counties,” the report said.
Congress and the Biden administration have engaged in efforts to alleviate the plight of poor families during the pandemic.
But even with a temporary 15 per cent boost to SNAP’s maximum benefit, which is set to expire in September, the benefit does not cover the cost of a low-income meal in 40.5 per cent of US counties, Urban Institute has found.
A silver lining, however, has appeared after the first tranche of congressionally approved child tax credit payments hit bank accounts in mid-July.
A major provision in the American Rescue Plan, those payments lowered the rate of families with children that reported sometimes or often having not enough to eat from 11 per cent to 8 per cent, the lowest record since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the US Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey published on August 11.