Higher SNAP benefits backed by House Democrats for coronavirus relief

With the Senate stymied over a coronavirus relief bill, House Democrats drafted a 1,200-page alternative on Monday that called for a 15 percent increase in SNAP benefits and the donation of $300 million worth of food to food banks. Anti-hunger groups say the increase, equal to $25 a month per person, would help poor people buy food and act as a business stimulus in the looming economic showdown.

The draft also would bar the Trump administration from implementing three regulations that would tighten SNAP eligibility and end nutrition benefits for nearly 4 million recipients. One of the regulations, affecting 700,000 able-bodied adults without dependents, was scheduled to take effect on April. It was temporarily barred by a law that took effect last week. The Democratic draft would bar action in “any fiscal year” to implement any of the three proposals.

“We know this works,” said Bob Greenstein, head of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities think tank and an advocate of higher benefit levels, on social media. “The pandemic will disproportionately affect low-wage occupations. Workers will see layoffs and much longer periods of joblessness. Some won’t qualify for unemployment benefits.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the draft, dominated by aid to families and health care, provided a contrast to the Senate Republican bill that, “as presented, put corporations first, not workers and families.” In public, senators blamed each other’s political party for blocking progress on the coronavirus relief bill that could total $2 trillion, but negotiations continued in private to find a compromise. The Senate bill included a $20 billion increase in spending authority for the USDA agency that was the vehicle for mammoth trade-war payments to farmers and ranchers.

Unemployment rates are expected to rise sharply in the weeks ahead. Jobless claims could top 2 million in a weekly report due on Thursday, according to JP Morgan Funds.

Food stamp enrollment, 36.2 million people at latest count, rises during times of economic distress. Data lags by three or four months, so the latest figures on participation are for November. SNAP enrollment was a record 47.6 million, with a cost of $80 billion, in fiscal 2013, during the slow recovery from the 2008-09 recession.

The $300 million in donations for food banks would be divided into $150 million in specialty crops, $75 million in dairy and $75 million in meat and poultry purchases.

The 2009 economic stimulus bill temporarily raised SNAP benefits by an average of 17 percent, or $80 a month for a family of four.

To read the Democratic draft, courtesy of NPR, click here.