Apr 2, 2021 - Politics & Policy

USDA to boost SNAP benefits for 25 million Americans

A person picking up a meal at Garfield High School in Los Angeles in February 2021.

A person picking up a meal at a food drive at Garfield High School in Los Angeles in February 2021. Photo: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced on Thursday that households already receiving the maximum monthly benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will now be able to receive emergency benefits approved by Congress last March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The action, a reversal of Trump administration policy, will allow about 25 million Americans to receive $95 per month in increased benefits.

Context: Previously, the lowest income households were unable to get the additional emergency payments approved through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act because they were already receiving the maximum monthly benefits from SNAP.

  • Plaintiffs in two lawsuits in Pennsylvania and California argued that former President Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, misinterpreted a section of that act and denied the emergency allotments for millions of families, according to the Washington Post.

What they're saying: “The emergency SNAP increases authorized by Congress last year were not being distributed equitably, and the poorest households — who have the least ability to absorb the economic shocks brought about by COVID — received little to no emergency benefit increases,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

  • “As part of President Biden’s commitment to deliver economic relief, and ensure every family can afford to put food on the table, today’s actions will provide much-needed support for those who need it most.”
  • The department said benefit levels will remain unchanged for households that have already been receiving the increased payments.

The big picture: About 40% of the households that received little to no emergency allocations have children, while 20% include someone who is elderly and 15% include someone who has a disability, according to the Agriculture Department.

  • Since the start of the pandemic, the department has distributed about $29 billion in emergency benefits.
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