All 42 million Americans who receive food stamps will soon see their benefits rise, the largest permanent increase in the program’s history, the Biden administration plans to announce on Monday.
Under rules to be put in place in October, average benefits will rise by more than 25 percent from prepandemic levels. The move does not require congressional approval, and, unlike the large pandemic-era expansions, which are starting to expire, the changes are intended to last.
For at least a decade, critics of the benefits have said that they were too low to provide an adequate diet. More than three-quarters of households exhaust their benefits in the first half of the monthly cycle, and researchers have linked subsequent food shortages to problems as diverse as increased hospital admissions, more school suspensions and lower SAT scores.
Under the new rules, average monthly benefits, $121 per person before the pandemic, will rise by $36. Although the increase may seem modest to middle-class families, proponents say it will reduce hunger, improve nutrition and lead to better health.
The changes are the result of a law passed in 2018 by a Republican-controlled Congress, which ordered a review of the program’s assumptions and gave the Agriculture Department four years to do it. In January, President Biden urged the department to speed up the process so that benefits “reflect the true cost of a basic healthy diet.”
Opponents of a benefit increase say the program is meant to supply only part, not all, of a household’s diet, as suggested by its formal name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. They also say the aid would last longer if the needy spent it better, citing research showing nearly 10 percent goes to sweetened drinks.