Biden Admin Announces Largest Increase to Food Stamps in Program History

The Biden administration announced on Monday that benefits of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes called food stamps, will increase for all 42 million participants, amounting to the largest expansion in the program’s history.

Payments will go up by about $36 per month for the average recipient, a 25 percent increase from current benefits. The average weekly increase of food stamps for a family of four will rise from $159 to $193. Changes to the payment structure will not go into effect until October. Barring legislation undoing them in the future, the changes will remain permanent.

The changes were facilitated by a law passed in 2018 calling for a review of the program, and do not require approval from Congress. After expediting a review earlier this year, the Biden administration revised nutrition standards for the program, specifically the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Thrifty Food Plan. Food security activists had maintained that pre-pandemic assistance wasn’t enough, forcing recipients to buy less expensive (and less nutritional) food options.

“A modernized Thrifty Food Plan, based on current food prices, consumption data, the nutrients in food, and the latest dietary guidance, is more than a commitment to good nutrition – it’s an investment in our nation’s health, economy, and security,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Twitter.

SNAP helps to feed around one in eight Americans who struggle to afford food. The new payment structure will mean that spending toward the program will go up by about $20 billion per year.

A 2018 law passed by Republicans required a review of the SNAP program within four years of its passage. At the time, critics worried that the review would result in stricter work requirements in order for people to receive food stamp benefits. The Biden administration, however, through the review process, found that recipients were getting too few benefits, based on what a healthy diet should be. No additional requirements for those in the program will be needed to receive the increases.

The author of the law that prompted the review in the first place, former Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), criticized what he described as a “unilateral overreach” of potential changes by President Joe Biden’s administration.

But organizations aimed at addressing hunger in the U.S. lauded the increases Monday.

“We are pleased to see this long overdue update to the Thrifty Food Plan, which, for decades, grossly underestimated the amount it cost to feed a family a basic, healthy diet,” said Lisa Davis, vice president of Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to ending childhood hunger and poverty.

Davis added, however, that there was “more to be done,” particularly amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We urge Congress and the White House to work together to close the summer meal gap, strengthen school meals and ensure struggling families have resources for essential needs,” Davis said.