Congress extends SNAP benefits, provides for additional food assistance

Congress approved several major food assistance initiatives in the latest Covid-19 relief package passed Wednesday by the House at a time when just over 1 in 10 Americans are going hungry. 

About 10% of Americans, or 22.5 million people, reported they sometimes or often do not have enough to eat on a weekly basis, according to the latest Household Pulse Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau on Wednesday. 

The latest relief plan calls for about $1.15 billion to extend the 15% increase to the maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through September 2021. The increase, first approved in the December relief package, amounts to a boost of about $25 per person each month and is expected to keep 40 million Americans out of hunger.

The increase was set to run out at the end of June, but will be extended by about three months under the American Rescue Plan.

The average SNAP benefit per person was $125 per month during the fiscal year 2020, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That's about $1.39 per person per meal. 

Lawmakers also provided about $25 million to update SNAP's online system and make technological improvements to the program. 

In addition to the SNAP funding, the relief package also provided for enhanced food assistance. Here's some of what that includes:

  • $5 billion to maintain and expand the Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) program, which provides families with a voucher to purchase groceries to replace the breakfasts and lunches their children lost when schools closed
  • $880 million for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which is used to support low-income mothers and their children
  • $37 million to the Commodity Supplemental Assistance Program, which supports low-income elderly Americans
  • $1 billion in funding to provide food assistance to Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands

"As our communities face extreme levels of hardship, our lawmakers' greatest risk is doing too little — not too much — for people facing new uncertainty about how they will receive their next meal," Vince Hall, interim chief government relations officer with Feeding America, said in a statement earlier this month. 

"Feeding America looks forward to President Biden signing this Covid relief bill into law that ensures our neighbors who have faced over a year of heightened crises can get access to the nutritious food they need to thrive," Hall said, adding that the food bank nonprofit also hopes to see Congress enact additional food assistance measures.

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