The Families First Coronavirus Response Act — which the House passed, and the President is expected to sign — will give states broad, temporary flexibility and authority to supplement and modify SNAP (food stamps) and other nutrition programs during the current public health emergency.
If implemented quickly, this new flexibility and authority will play a key temporary role in helping many who experience an economic shock due to the COVID-19 pandemic and may struggle to meet their food needs. State and local agencies that run the nutrition programs are working to understand their communities’ needs and the changes they can make quickly to address them while keeping their workforce safe. The Agriculture Department (USDA), which oversees SNAP and the child nutrition programs, also is working to assess needs and develop specific state options under existing and new flexibilities.
The bill’s most important provisions related to food assistance include:
SNAP and the child nutrition programs are designed to respond to rising need by expanding as poverty and unemployment rise, making more people eligible for help. In the current emergency, people experiencing food hardship can apply for help, and state and local agencies are adapting their processes to accommodate the need for social distancing for both those seeking help and agency staff administering the programs.
Beyond the pending Families First bill, the current emergency also warrants a further federal funding boost for SNAP. SNAP benefits are among the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus because they get money into the economy quickly as SNAP participants use their benefits to buy food at local stores. Given the serious risk of a sharp economic downturn and SNAP’s effectiveness at reaching many low-income households, policymakers are wisely seeking additional, longer-term SNAP-based stimulus, similar to what the 2009 Recovery Act included to help the economy recover from the Great Recession.
Low-income individuals generally spend all of their income meeting daily needs such as shelter, food, and transportation, so every additional SNAP dollar enables a low-income family to spend an additional dollar on food or other items.