On Monday, the Biden administration increased the benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka SNAP by 25%. With the increase, the monthly benefits of the program grow from $121 per person to $157.
This all stemmed from the 2018 Farm Law which sets the federal agricultural and food policy for 5 years. It instructed the USDA to review the program over the next four years, but the Biden Administration requested it fast-tracked in order to help those who were hit hardest by the pandemic.
The benefits don’t affect every situation evenly. For instance, a family of four will see a rise to $835, an increase of 21% from $690. The average benefit will increase 27% from pre-pandemic levels.
While any progress is great news for the 42 million people that benefit from the program, it still has one main fundamental problem - who actually qualifies for SNAP.
For a person to qualify for SNAP, they must make no more than 130% of the federal poverty level. In other words, a person living alone would have to make less than $16,744 annually. A family of four would have to make less than $26,500 to qualify. If those seem like really low thresholds, it’s because they are.
How do we expect an individual to afford groceries when they are only making $17,000 annually while also putting a roof over their head, transportation to and from work, and any other bills they may have. Housing alone can eat up their entire budget. Someone making the federal minimum wage which equals about $15,000 annually (if they work 40 hours per week), would only be able to afford a 1 bedroom home in 28 counties in the United States. So if all of someone’s money is going to housing, there’s very little left, if any, for food.
To share one more example, a single parent with 3 kids could make $30,000 per year (above the $26,500 SNAP threshold) therefore not receive any extra assistance from SNAP. Mint estimates the average grocery cost for this family would be about $950 per month. If someone does qualify for SNAP, the $835 would make a big impact in their lives, but for families who don’t qualify, the $950 would take up half of their budget. But again, that’s assuming half of their budget is event available because most of their take-home pay is going towards lodging.
In order for the program to be truly effective, the program needs to raise its thresholds for qualifications in order to support more Americans and truly live up to its name of being a “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”. This would allow millions more Americans to be a part of the program and allow them to spend their income on transportation resources, better housing, and educational opportunities that will all inevitably help better their situation.