While people debate and disagree about how much responsibility rests on the government’s shoulders in providing hunger relief to its citizens, millions are going to bed hungry. One solution to this problem is to expand the SNAP Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is the nation’s largest anti-hunger program that comes in the form of financial assistance given each month to buy food.
SNAP was once referred to as food stamps. The program was developed to provide nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency. The supplement now comes in the form of a debit card that is reloaded each month with funds to purchase grocery items. Recipients may purchase:
- fruits and vegetables
- meat, poultry, and fish
- dairy products
- bread and cereals
- other foods such as snack foods or non-alcoholic beverages
- seeds and plants which produce food
In 2020, throughout the pandemic, approximately 43.87 million Americans received help to purchase food through the SNAP program. This number was up from 35 million from the previous year. Throughout the pandemic, since the government program temporarily allowed all beneficiaries to receive the maximum amounts of benefits, SNAP spent $85.6 billion in the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2020.
Once these SNAP benefits came to an end in September, 2020, Americans who were suffering financially were once again left with no additional assistance. In December, 2020, Congress voted to approve a 15% increase for all SNAP recipients as part of the $900 billion relief package. These benefits began the following month in January, 2021. This additional assistance came with changes that were to make it easier for college students and those receiving unemployment benefits to receive SNAP.
Typically, even during the strongest economy, people who receive SNAP benefits use more than three-fourths of their monthly benefits before the month is halfway over. This leaves SNAP recipients without funds to buy food for the rest of the month. Many turn to food pantries for help. More than 40% of food bank clients are said to be enrolled in SNAP.
Even with this additional assistance, many Americans still found themselves in need of food. Many still turned to food banks and food pantries. A government survey conducted in January, 2021 discovered that about 11% of all American adults and more than one in 7 of US households with children were having difficulty getting enough to eat. These numbers were well above the pre-pandemic levels.
SNAP benefits that were in place prior to the pandemic were based on the cost of the Thrifty Food Plan which was devised by the Department of Agriculture in 1975. This has been used as a national standard for a nutritious diet at a minimal cost. The government program has maintained the same inflation-adjusted cap on spending for decades. With a new administration in government as of 2021, new orders are being put into place that instructs the USDA to carry out a mandate that many hope will fix problems within SNAP. These changes would potentially increase the amount of SNAP benefits regardless of economic upturns or downturns.