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Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

The U.S. government spent almost $90 billion on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in fiscal year 2020, compared to the $60 billion price tag the year prior, according to data from the Agriculture Department released this week.

Why it matters: Millions of Americans newly received SNAP benefits last year as a result of the pandemic. The coronavirus increased federal spending on the program by an average of 28% per month in April and May alone, nearly double the largest monthly growth seen during the Great Recession, Axios' Dion Rabouin wrote.

By the numbers: 43.8 million people were on the program in 2020, up from 35.7 million in 2019.

  • The average monthly benefit per person increased to $161.12 last year, from about $129.83 in 2019.

The big picture: The data, first reported by Politico, was released after President Biden signed an executive order increasing the scope of SNAP and other food assistance programs, prompting the USDA to increase the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer by approximately 15%.

  • Context: The P-EBT "connects low-income families with kids with food dollars equivalent to the value of the meals missed due to COVID-related school and childcare closures."

Of note: "Data are as of January 08, 2021; FY 2020 and 2021 numbers are preliminary and are subject to significant revision," USDA wrote in its release.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Jan 29, 2021 - Health

WHO says most pregnant women can now receive coronavirus vaccine

A doctor administering Moderna's coronavirus vaccine at a university hospital in Essen, Germany, on Jan. 18. Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has altered its guidance for pregnant women who wish to receive the coronavirus vaccine, saying now that those at high risk of exposure to the COVID-19 or who have comorbidities that increase their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated.

Why it matters: The WHO drew backlash for its previous guidance that did not recommend pregnant women be inoculated with vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, even though data indicated that pregnancy increased the risk of developing severe illness from the virus.

Jan 30, 2021 - World

Science helps New Zealand avoid another coronavirus lockdown

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) visits a lab at Auckland University in December. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

New Zealand has avoided locking down for a second time over COVID-19 community cases because of a swift, science-led response.

Why it matters: The Health Ministry said in an email to Axios Friday there's "no evidence of community transmission" despite three people testing positive after leaving managed hotel isolation. That means Kiwis can continue to visit bars, restaurants and events as much of the world remains on lockdown.