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Lawmakers Must Strengthen SNAP in Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic

If you get food stamps, they are talking about giving you a $1200 refund and uploading it to your EBT Snap Card.

The recently passed Families First Coronavirus Response Act begins to answer this need, allocating $1.2 billion to food security programs. State and local governments are also acting, requesting waivers to forgo in-person interviews for SNAP benefits and requirements for school meals to be held in group settings, among other changes to limit community spread. But while the Senate-led third stimulus package, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, includes incredibly important provisions to help workers—such as expanded unemployment insurance and direct checks for individuals—it does not do enough to ensure food security, which means it does not do enough to help the people who need it most.

As lawmakers move quickly to limit the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic, any future legislation must include considerable support for SNAP. The following three recommendations highlight just a few of the improvements that can be made to ensure that low-income people do not go hungry.

Increase and expand SNAP benefits

Many advocates have long acknowledged a basic truth: Current SNAP benefits are not enough. The average amount is $1.40 per person per meal, and almost half of all families use up all or nearly all their benefits in the first weeks of a normal month. For families already struggling to stretch their budgets, it is nearly impossible to follow advice to stock up on supplies in response to a public health emergency. And as more and more households apply for food assistance in order to get by, they will quickly realize that these benefits are not enough to make ends meet.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act includes emergency supplemental benefits for SNAP households, but future legislation must also include a longer-term, overall increase of benefits. In 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act increased the maximum SNAP benefit by 13.6 percent—which is now seen as one of the most effective investments the country made during this period. At the height of the Great Recession, every dollar increase in SNAP benefit generated $1.74 in economic activity. With another recession looming, Congress must make a similar investment, increasing maximum benefits by at least 15 percent to both stimulate the economy and keep people from going hungry.

Conclusion

During an unprecedented pandemic and a rapidly approaching economic recession, lawmakers must prioritize directing assistance to individuals and strengthening programs such as SNAP to ensure that no one goes hungry. There are a number of emergency measures that must be taken as quickly as possible, but ultimately, the improvements that are made to SNAP cannot be temporary. Even when a public health emergency declaration is lifted, the consequences of an economic downturn will linger long after. Congress must strengthen SNAP so that it is ready to help as many people as necessary, in times of national crisis and beyond.

Visit your Department of Human Services website for more information.

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