BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The Heroes Act, which the House passed May 15, includes an important SNAP (food stamp) benefit increase that would help families put food on the table when many are struggling and provide stimulus for the economy when it’s most needed. We urge the Senate to quickly approve this SNAP boost.
The severe economic downturn has hit low-income households the hardest, early evidence shows, many of which faced challenges making ends meet even before the pandemic-driven downturn. Most job losses have occurred in industries that pay low wages, and the downturn has worsened conditions for other families with low incomes and few resources. Food need and other hardships are spiking, with millions of households — disproportionately people of color — struggling to meet basic needs.
Moreover, supermarket and grocery store food prices jumped by 2.6 percent in April, the largest one-month increase in more than 45 years. SNAP benefits won’t rise automatically to reflect higher food prices until October so, unless policymakers raise benefits, SNAP households will face even greater risk of food insecurity.
Raising SNAP benefits, which evidence suggests were already inadequate for many before the pandemic, is a fast and effective way to help households hit hard by the downturn. A similar benefit increase in the 2009 Recovery Act, in the midst of the Great Recession, cut food insecurity among SNAP recipients. While the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of March raised SNAP benefits for many households, that will only last during the public health emergency, and it leaves out nearly 40 percent of SNAP households, including those with the lowest incomes.
Raising SNAP benefits is also effective economic stimulus. States can issue benefits quickly and low-income households spend them quickly, letting families buy food and freeing up income to buy other necessities. This spending has a “multiplier” effect by enabling the businesses that supply the food and other goods purchased — and their employees — to make purchases of their own. In a weak economy, every $1 increase in SNAP benefits generates about $1.54 in economic activity, the Agriculture Department (USDA) estimates; earlier studies put the figure as high as $1.80.
The Heroes Act would raise SNAP’s maximum benefit by 15 percent from June 1, 2020 through September 30, 2021, an increase for all SNAP households averaging about $25 per person per month. It would also raise the minimum SNAP benefit, which goes to some households of one or two people (many with elderly members), from $15 per month to $30. In enacting these increases, policymakers should amend them to remain in place as long as the economy remains weak or until SNAP’s regular inflation adjustments overtake the increase.
The bill’s other important SNAP provisions would:
- Suspend, for two years, SNAP’s harmful three-month time limit on benefits for jobless adults not raising minor children and the program’s sanctions for people not complying with SNAP work requirements.
- Raise, by 15 percent in 2020 and 2021, the nutrition assistance block grants that Puerto Rico and American Samoa receive in lieu of participating in SNAP. These territories also face increased hardship due to the economic crisis, but their programs — unlike SNAP — can’t automatically expand to meet this demand because their funding is fixed.
- Raise administrative funding over the next two years to help state SNAP agencies facing sharply rising enrollment process benefits quickly and accurately.
- Prohibit the Administration from implementing three proposed rules that would cut benefits and eligibility for millions of SNAP participants.
The Act also would strengthen and expand “Pandemic-EBT,” which lets states use SNAP’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to provide meal replacement benefits to children who are missing out on school meals due to school closures. The bill extends P-EBT through the summer, includes children in child care programs who are missing meals, and lets Puerto Rico and other territories participate once USDA determines that they can implement the program.
And the Heroes Act’s many other crucial provisions, such as significant state and local fiscal relief, more housing assistance, additional stimulus payments for households, and expanded unemployment insurance, would also ease hardship while lessening the severity and duration of the crisis.