SNAP tabbed for $15.5 billion increase to handle coronavirus needs

Senate and Trump administration negotiators agreed on a $15.5 billion increase in SNAP funding on Wednesday to pay for growing enrollment due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they rejected a request by anti-hunger groups for higher benefits. The relief package includes $8.8 billion for child nutrition and $450 million for the government to buy and donate food to food banks.

The nonprofit group Hunger Free America said the decision against higher SNAP benefits “will both increase hunger and harm grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and corner stores.” Advocates had pressed for a 15 percent increase, equal to $25 per person, per month. The issue could be revived when Congress considers the next relief bill, said one advocate.

Congressional leaders said they hoped to pass the bill this week, with President Trump expected to sign it immediately. The $2 trillion relief bill is the third to be considered by lawmakers.

The additional funding for public nutrition programs would be available for 18 months, through September 2021, and would accommodate large increases in expenses. SNAP was forecast to cost $68 billion this fiscal year, with an average enrollment of 38.1 million people, for example, and child nutrition, headlined by school lunch, was expected to cost $23.6 billion. The new money for child nutrition is for “food purchases and demonstration projects to increase flexibility for schools,” said a Senate summary of the bill.

Besides $450 million in the new bill for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, lawmakers earmarked $200 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories and $100 million for food distribution on Indian reservations.

A week ago, Congress passed a “phase two” relief bill that suspended work and job-training requirements for SNAP recipients for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency, a step that was expected to preserve benefits for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Most SNAP recipients are required to register for work and accept a suitable job if one is offered. Since 1996, able-bodied adults aged 18 to 49 without dependents (ABAWDs) have been limited to 90 days of food stamps in a three-year period unless they work at least 20 hours a week, are in a job-training program, or perform workfare. The administration is pursuing restrictions on SNAP eligibility that would end benefits for nearly 4 million people.

The “phase two” bill also allows states to provide assistance to low-income families to make up for the loss of free and reduced-price meals for their children due to school closures.

The Senate Appropriations Committee summary of the bill is available here.

The text of the relief bill is available here.